“If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want to Go Far, Go Together” ~ a proverb
A couple of weeks ago, the Ohio version of the Backyard Ultra crowned its winner. For those of you who aren’t weird running types like me and my husband, I will give it to you as succinctly as possible. The original event is called Bigs Backyard Ultra. The format is as follows:
The course is 4.1667 miles long. Yes, you read that correctly. That is how long the course is for the original race and the sister events that you can now compete in to win your entry into Bigs.
The race goes like this, every hour it begins, you must complete your 4.1667 mile course, also known as “a yard,” in an hour or less to remain in the race. Whatever time you have left in the hour you can use to rest, eat, change clothes etc but the next hour the race begins again until the last man/woman is standing.
To answer a few questions that frequently come up because people just can’t quite wrap their minds around this:
Yes, the race keeps going, even at night, it never stops until there is a final participant standing.
Yes, they often run for days.
Yes, it’s perfectly fine for your health and your knees.
Yes, it is possible.
Yes, they run in the dark, in the rain, in whatever weather is happening.
Ahem, now that we have the parameters down. The Ohio Backyard ultra started at 7:30 am on a Saturday with more than 100 participants. By late Sunday, about 36 hours later, after not stopping, running all day and all night and day again, there were 10 remaining, then there were 7.
And before midnight, there were just two. A 44-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman. Now that I have your attention, let me tell you why this is beautiful.
This race is deceptively straightforward, run 4 miles an hour. For anyone who has never run all that much in their life, this “sounds” easy. That is where easy begins and ends. This is an endurance event that when you begin, essentially has no end. You don’t know when you’ll hit your limit. You don’t know how long the race actually will go. You don’t know how many miles it will take. All you can bank on is that every 60 minutes, you begin again.
It can conjure comparisons to Groundhog Day but it’s far from it. The course may stay the same, the whistle to signal the start of each “yard” may be also but each time the runners begin again, they are different. They have more miles on their legs. They know more about their inner world. They know if they are in pain and where. They know just how much drain the experience has taken to that point. Each hour-long race within a race is it’s own microcosm and commentary on the human condition. How well do you deal with uncertainty? How well do you deal with adversity? How well do you suffer? How well do you manage your emotions and your physicality? Deep down, just exactly who are you? Yard by yard, the layers are revealed. Some rounds the answers are not attractive but that’s part of being human as well.
When this race really becomes a piece of art, in my estimation, is when the field has atrophied down to two. This is where the truth of this adventure is revealed. This is where the truth of humanity is acutely exposed as well. These runners need each other. They need the camaraderie because this experience is long, arduous and painful and nobody except your nearest, and now only, opponent knows just how grueling it’s been. They also need each other because if one or both of them are going to reach a mileage goal, they need the other to continue. As you will recall, the race ends the moment the other can’t continue. In order for the winner to do something epic and legendary he or she needs their counterpart to be capable as well. Your closest competition is also one of the most critical elements of your success.
It’s poetic in its contrast. It’s unwieldy in its unwillingness to be categorized. This, I think, is the crux of the human condition: together but separate, individual and yet indivisible. If we learned nothing else in 2020, we learned we NEED each other in every way you can fathom. Last year taught us that achieving anything on our own is actually a lie we tell ourselves and each other. We can do nothing without help, ever! Even these runners who were demonstrating unfathomable athletic endurance would be nothing without their crew. And this is not a criticism. I feel confident that if you asked any single one of the runners over the weekend, including the final pairing they would utter the same sentiment. I know for myself, every single physical event I have ever successfully completed has never been a solitary act. EVER. I have received moral and emotional support. I have had someone give me food, helping to fill my water bottle and pushing me to keep going when I am at a low point.
There is a brilliance in our interconnectedness. It isn’t a weakness it’s how we weave together our most resilient strength. It’s how we build fortitude and are able to forge on.
Needing each other is a truth of our beingness, not a flaw in the design.
Over 2.5 days virtually, and for a brief time in real time, John and I watched humans reach and push themselves to unbelievable ends. Their performances at times were awe-inspiring and their failures were palpable and perfect in their eagerness hold nothing back and yet none of them got their alone. Not a single one. Nobody who reached greatness got there in isolation. This isn’t what it means to be a runner. This is what it means to be human. It’s our greatest asset and we squander it all the time. We mishandle it. We misunderstand it. We mistake it for our Achilles heel when it’s our amazing grace.
After 54 yards, Jennifer Russo was not able to continue, which meant that the final loop was to be run by Harvey Lewis. He was then only 4.1667 miles from victory. After 55 hours and 229 miles, he was officially the last man standing and yet he wasn’t alone.
It’s a reminder that if we want to go far in life, in running and in saving ourselves, we must do it together.
Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G