The grind, the hard hot highway, the unending mile, the eternal night, all have their moments on the route that winds its way slowly around Oahu. The fun and excitement slip quickly and silently away until there is little but the push, the effort, the concentration on the pace; which monopolizes and then consumes perception. Fatigue entrenches itself, mad fantastic ideas fill the thoughts, clothing gets rank, and deep at the core the body marches on, the muscles fire, the legs pump, and the pace continues. If one wavers, if slowness is perceived, the chant reasserts itself, thoughts are redirected, and eternal meter of the pace is reset, One, two, One ,two, three,four, One, two, Alu Loa, Alu Loa, Alu, alu, One two.
To be sure there is good conversation with friends who are kind enough to run alongside for a while, and who offer welcome assistance and care. The rush of energy of a new and friendly face can do wonders for the weary body. But underlying the camaraderie, there is the constant effort, the internal battle to look into the moment and ignore the fears of coming hardship and memory of the long hard way.
Running the road, far from anywhere, alone with one’s thoughts, one's desires become tools of the devils of the mind, and one is often harried by perceptions of an out of kilter universe, a fractured negative of long held understandings. The fatigue of the body, the muscle pain and soreness, are heightened by mental delusions, strange visual images and viral thoughts that tatter comprehension and test one’s ability to maintain the pace. Fantastic worlds appear at the side of the trail, cities as grand as those of Kubla Khan open their gates, dancers and clowns wander alongside. The temptation to stop, to enjoy an offered glass of cool iced liquid, to test a fine soft bed, are seen at the edges of one’s perceptions, but the focus must be on the road, the path, the trail, and deep within the eternal drum beat sounds, and the Overseer sings ‘Alu, Alu, Alu Loa, One Two Three Four’, and the syrens of these lost splendid worlds are ignored as the throb of the pace fills the senses.
In this world of inner battles, there are those moments of beauty, those instances of awareness of the exquisiteness of this turbulent world, that pierce the soul and leave one breathless. Running out toward the edge, along the limits of the body and the mind the world is just as often so sharply in focus that it slices deep into the psyche, as it is a million miles away, lost in the hazes of pain and discomfort, and all too often a minor character in the tragicomedy of a soul seeking the holy grail.
But the foot hits the pavement, the arms swing, the lungs gasp a bit for air, and discomfort registers on the awareness. All things are judged, adjusted, gauged, and then, before one is really prepared, the foot hits the pavement once again. The process is repeated unending, and at its best, done without emotion or reaction. There is no reaction, other than that which will effect one’s progress, limit one’s success, or inhibit taking the next step. Nothing else matters. The reality of the body, the focus of the mind, must be to move, Nothing more. Nothing less. The next step, the next breath, the next moment of awareness which guides forward progress.
At some point the simplest of things can become the hardest to attain. As perception moves toward the negative image what we normally do without thought requires great concentration. The mind becomes slow and cluttered with petty concerns and problems. Yesterday’s trivial pursuit suddenly demands solution. At other moments the most solid facts of life are questioned and doubt renders one gutless. Every factor of movement becomes a problem, a difficulty, a travail. Finally one questions the effort itself, and a circus of the mind’s persona fight for the podium to voice their dull and tired arguments justifying failure. In these moments of doubt and weakness, through the cacophony of mental uncertainty, the monolithic belief in moving on must remain rock solid and unassailable. Each doubt finding its voice. must be put aside, shrugged off; the real decisions have been made, and the required action remains unchanged; the cycle of one step following the next must continue.
With each hour that passes one’s reality morphs, perceptions are altered, purpose is questioned. Deep into the run, experience becomes the most valuable weapon in the fight to keep moving. Having been here before, having suffered the odious weight of a whining mind and a failing body, having overcome these obstacles, one can recognize the delusions and push through them, taking the next step, and the steps that must follow. Deep into a run the experience of ‘time on feet’ becomes a true and good friend, and the main tool left at ones disposal. Experience calms the mind, assures the body of its purpose, and validates the next step despite the doubt dredged up from the depths by the trauma of the long passage. One foot follows the next down the dark road of misery because it has in the past and it must now as well.
With understanding nutritional needs can be met and decisions made that will protect long term health. What ever we are engaged in, one must always keep in mind that the longest run, the one of ultimate importance is the trail from one infinity to the next. One need keep that awareness no matter what the current goal and must realize that there are no heroes in running, no medals for self destruction, we meet too many people who were caught up in the moment, tore themselves apart, and now no longer turn out.
In the art of the Long Run there is no substitute for ‘Time on Feet’, no easy work around, and nothing that can be done to avoid the reality of hard earned experience. Better to have met your distance demons while running far out along the edge during training, to have fallen victim to their outlandish pranks when you have reluctantly allowed them their day, than to run hard and true in a race among your peers and suddenly find yourself consumed by the dark raging monsters of your mind. More likely than not you will succumb, stop at some point, fail to put that one foot in front of the other and then be left forever wondering just why you stopped. And if by some miracle you do succeed you will cross the line a whimpering bruised sorry individual having suffered quite unnecessarily from the plagues of inexperience. Time on feet is what builds the monolithic ability to advance in spite of great adversity. Time on feet nurtures long run wisdom, and renders the terribly uncertain and truly fearsome, simply mundanely difficult and expectedly demanding. At the same time, the long hard hours of time on feet, are what builds the body, strengthens the tendons, the ligaments, and the bones. The hard reality is that years of training are needed to create the body of a true distance runner. The body can be cajoled, it can be prodded, but it can not be forced. You can develop your muscles at a rapid pace, but the supporting tissues take years longer to find their proper balance. In the interim one must dance with the strength to literally rip oneself apart.
Almost everything taught about training is a marketing lie. You can not just do it, you can not push your mind over your body, you can not buy the right gear to make yourself a success. But you can spend the necessary and interminable time on feet, and exert the excruciating effort to develop your body and strengthen your resolve. Time on feet is the key to success at the long run.
All this aside, putting down the drum, stepping off the lectern, I have to ask myself why I have headed out three times around this island. It becomes an insanely difficult task in the second day. Every step is an effort, a kaleidoscope of pain and anguish. The closer one gets the the Aloha Tower the farther it seems to lie in the distance. I suffered terribly the last ten miles, I stumbled and moaned through the last five, I gasped and staggered most painfully through the last one, and the final yards were seemingly as long and difficult as the entire distance itself. It was stiflingly hot through the last ten hours, I was burning and dehydrated, my mind blurred, and even the gentle kindness of my support runners Leona and Rae, could not quell my near evident despair. But if my feet had been in better shape I believe I would have pushed on toward Hawaii Kai and Kailua…..It is a madness that I can not rationalize. Mike M.