Thursday, January 24, 2008

Finish Line Thoughts

Great 10-mile sunrise run overlooking Lake Zurich this morning with the pig on my shoulders (a term I'm borrowing from climbers and using to describe my weighted backpack from here on. Actually, scratch that. I need to go with a lighter weight term. The Goose is tempting -- but I think I'll go with the duck for now. Not sure why, but a duck sure is lighter than a pig, so lugging a duck around on your back gives much better imagery and Jedi mind-trickery than a pig!).

Anyway, during the great run with the duck this morning, at one of the many moments when my mind started to wander, I immersed myself in thoughts of Finish Lines. Actually, my mind was reliving a moment a couple nights ago when I discovered a photo on the Web of a runner crossing the MDS Finish Line. There was such powerful emotion caught in this guy's expression -- in one simple moment frozen in time -- that it riveted me the instant I saw it and again the next morning when I remembered his complex and powerful expression. It really choked me up just to see this picture -- it was wonderful -- it captured the essence of the experience to perfection. His face said it all -- it told a story far more complex than a race itself -- it was an expression of jubilance, of pain, of triumph, of fulfillment, and of passion. I was so happy for him when I saw this photo and felt like I experienced just a small bit of his residual emotion years after the photo was taken.

It reminded me of the first time in training when the power of Finish Line thoughts hit me. It was during one of my first long runs, while in training for my first Ironman in '96. Nine miles into a 10-mile long run (and this distance seemed insanely long at the time), I suddenly thought of what it would be like to cross the Finish Line in the race I was preparing for. My body and mind were immediately filled with fantastic energy and my emotions were overloaded. I was in tears that last mile, which I ran flat out magically in no pain whatsoever. Eleven years later and that memory won't let go -- it's so powerful that I harness it from time to time when I need an extra push. I never consciously think of the Finish Line in my training sessions -- these thoughts just appear out of nowhere, shake my soul, and then quickly move on. I'm quite the emotional Finish Line crosser -- in Kona in 2000 I nearly exploded in emotions as I jumped in the air with all the energy of a 10-year dream rocketing me upwards in a winning fight against 14+ hours of fatigue.

So this is how the mind reacts during running -- a series of interconnected thoughts make their own little run around your head. My thoughts went from the MDS Finisher photo to my first Finish Line visualization, to a hugely emotional finish in Hawaii, to a conglomerate of finishes I've seen over the years. To me, the most exciting and most emotional aren't the first place finishers. It's the people at the back of the pack -- the people racing for twice the time and who have such amazing stories. The best sporting moment I've ever watched was the last hour of Ironman Canada in '97 (although I'm sure this is easily replicated all around the world in any year) -- to see these Ironman athletes full of such great stories and strong will reach deep inside to make it that last distance after racing for nearly 17 hours and to feel such strong support from a crowd that's larger than the one that welcomed in the first place finishers -- it's intense and a beautiful moment in time. I've also watched some incredible 5K finishes, where people have broken down in tears as they completed an enormous challenge that just happened to take more than three times as long as the first person across the line. Seeing people push themselves to finish when it's clearly taking all their will to do so is a beautiful and powerful sight. Sharing in their joy when they reach their goal sounds such a wonderful chord in the heart.

Today's run was special -- you hang onto ones like this -- makes up for the days that the weather doesn't cooperate or the legs feel heavy.

Now, losing my phone on the run and having to re-run part of my route to find it -- that wasn't so great and took a nibble out of my philosophical mood -- just a nibble though! Left foot is complaining a bit from my long run Saturday. "Ditch the duck and watch more TV dude", says my foot. Hope it feels normal soon (will let the duck rest for a few days). Lots of snow training planned for the coming week as friends join us for some winter fun in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.


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