Body, Mind, Fitness
So what’s with turning every challenge into an Olympic feat?
-Mary Beth Sammons
OK. So maybe it’s all the Olympic hype, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about exploring new adventures, about testing my resolve against uncharted terrain and pushing myself past all my physical and emotional limits.
And, patting my little adventurer/risk-taker self on the back, I have done exactly that: “Run, Mary, run … and run faster… and farther” has been my mantra for the last few years, hoping that by tapping into my inner athletic contender, I’ll explore a deeper part of myself. You know, like if I can cross that finish line on race day, nothing can stop me from other life challenges. Or, guess who else is standing at the starting line before the race? Lots of men!
On a serious note, exploring my inner athlete for the first time after decades of having sidelined her, became a powerful tribute to the lives of two close friends who didn’t make it to their 40th birthdays. I carried their names in my heart during every moment of the races celebrating that I do have a life, and I am lucky for the chance to be in the race of living. And, I need to celebrate that. It became a spiritual experience as well. In the moments when I’m diving into frigid pool waters in January at 5 a.m. and thinking Why the hell am I doing this? I am transformed. At least it gets me out of bed.
But, lately, I’m witnessing myself sounding a little too cocky and feeling pretty smug as I smirk at walkers, and think, Hey, I used to think that was exercise too! or as I sprinkle little challenge phrases like “during my last triathlon” and “the heat during the marathon.” I’m finding myself a little too into the competition and not into the reasons I signed up to challenge myself to new feats.
Until the air was let out of my little ego balloon. I spotted this article about the newest herculean challenge among my 30-to-40 ish peers: Primal Quest, as in swimming, biking and running is the old black. The new exercise du jour for would-be-life explorers is ultra-endurance racing, in which runners risk subfreezing, hypothermia-inducing temperatures or tropical heat stroke through 10 days of running, climbing, hiking, paddling and biking. The idea is to test your resolve against weather, uncharted terrain and chance run-ins with wild animals. Suddenly, a mere 5K, half-mile swim and 14-mile run seemed slackerish in comparison. I found myself thinking, I better notch this up. For a moment.
Apparently this is the thing for amateur athletes, if you want to tap into your emotional inner you and test your physical and mental discipline – and not die shivering on some riverbank after your kayak overturns. Enthusiasts say they do it to detach, to find themselves. And LOTS of people are into this sport, which is an offshoot of the French sport that spread abroad in the mid-1990s. It has grown five-fold in the last decade, and now there are more than 400 races a year. The men and women in their 30s and 40s who participate typically have full-time careers and train six hours a day. OMG is all I can say.
Which brings me to wiping the smirk off my face and pondering the purpose of these defining moments and the events themselves. Like why can’t I just watch real athletes win gold medals on TV, instead of thinking that to win a medal in life, it has to be a gold one, instead of just the pride in doing something I never could. I’m realizing that when you think you’ve accomplished an amazing feat, you have … but you also need to realize someone else has probably climbed a higher mountain. So, I ask myself why I gave up walking. OK, how about speed walking? Maybe that isn’t so bad after all. Besides, you get to see more of the scenery along the journey.