It just so happened this past summer that I ran well and won a 120+ km Ultra. I trained hard and made some sacrifices in daily living and knew if I had a good day without any really unforeseen problems, I could compete for a top spot in the race. The race went pretty smoothly, the scenery was incredible, and I met some really great people before and during the race. It just so happened this past summer that I ran well and won a 120+ km Ultra. I trained hard and made some sacrifices in daily living and knew if I had a good day without any really unforeseen problems, I could compete for a top spot in the race.
The race went pretty smoothly, the scenery was incredible, and I met some really great people before and during the race. Here is what I would like to share in particular about it though: the finish. It was just before 10 pm and the light was beginning to dim. I hadn’t run the course before, so I wasn’t quite sure how close or how far I was from the finish. I wasn’t wearing a GPS watch. I led the race since about the 30km mark and was finally emerging from a singletrack trail close to town. I came upon a ball diamond and I could hear music faintly playing in the distance. I thought it might be the last aid station but was secretly hoping it might signal the finish. I ran up an extended climb on a dirt road and finally decided to cue my Ipod and was rockin’ along to Rage’s “Calm Like a Bomb.” I came out onto a sidewalk on the edge of town. Again, I secretly thought to myself, “I hope I don’t need to run another 5 kilometers around town before the finish.” I ascended another hill while running the sidewalk and was approaching a T-intersection where there was a volunteer. I knew that a right meant a further run through town and a left meant a 500 meter jaunt on the main street to the finish line. By this time, Survivor’s “Burning Heart” was playing and I asked the volunteer which way to go. He thankfully motioned left and as I turned onto the street, cars were honking and people were yelling out encouragement and congratulations – quite a feeling to be sure. I felt as if I was sprinting it in, though it probably looked more awkward and painful rather than graceful and fast.
I pulled out my “St. Jude” pendant (my son’s name is Jude), gave it a kiss and raised it to the sky as I ran the last few meters to the finish. I actually ran past the finish line and through the crowd so I could take a moment to say thank you to my Creator. Unfortunately I had nobody there at the finish because I have a young family and it was too far and too expensive to have them come with me.
There was one very friendly couple who congratulated me and upon finding out that my wife and kids were at home 3000 km’s away, the husband very kindly called them right away from his cell phone. My wife answered on the second ring and her voice was full of excitement. She knew the result already, but said “what happened?” and still in some disbelief I replied, “I kinda won the race!” She said I “I know, I know, that’s amazing, here’s Tamara (our 6 year old daughter) to say congratulations – say congratulations to daddy.” And here comes the whole point of this story. My daughter got on the phone and said this: “Congratulations (short pause), so last night we slept in Emma’s trailer at the farm and we went on the four wheelers and we had a campfire and I slept with Emma and Ana slept with Kara and we watched the Barbie movie and ate popcorn and got to drink pop. Poppa Larry read us books and I farted in his lap and we laughed so hard we almost peed our pants!” I had just run for nearly fourteen hours, over three mountain passes and my six year old daughter couldn’t have given a hoot….and this is exactly as it should be. In my exhaustion and elation, I laughed like crazy over the phone at the humor in the situation and was smiling from ear to ear because I knew my kids were safe and sound and they couldn’t wait for daddy to get home, be it a champion, middle of the pack, back of the pack, or DNF. Here is my point: my daughter reminded me in an instant that I wasn’t wholly responsible for my performance that day. All I really did was show up every day and do the work required of me – my Creator took care of the rest and was with me every step of the way, on good runs, great runs, poor ones and mundane ones. My Creator was also with me when I got home from those runs, changed diapers, got milk ready and then went about the business of the day until my head hit the pillow.
In AA, just like in training for a race, all I really did was show up every day and do the work required of me. The Twelve Steps were contrary to my natural instincts, as is running forty miles on a Sunday morning, but there seems to be a Power that moves invisibly through both paths. I could not stay sober by own power and I cannot run extended distances by my own power either. It seems ridiculous to put stock in my performance and to think I have earned my sobriety and my fitness. I know that in AA’s Twelve Steps and in my footfalls on the roads and the trails, I surrender and I am stripped down to the core – I find it necessary to rely on a Power greater than myself and I find it necessary to give thanks to that Power.
I wonder if many elite runners feel the way us AA’s feel when we are congratulated for our sobriety? Do they feel kind of embarrassed and acknowledge that it wasn’t solely them who put the speed and endurance in their legs? Or do they accept such applause and tell about how they have worked so hard to get where they are? In AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, it says this about accepting praise:
“We who have escaped these extremes are apt to congratulate ourselves. Yet can we? After all, hasn’t it been self-interest, pure and simple, that has enabled most of us to escape” (66)?
Though running be a selfish pursuit as well, we are able, as in sobriety, to move beyond the realm of selfishness, provided we know where our Power comes from and provided we live and run in a way that gives thanks to that Power. In our Big Book, it states
“We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 19).
This tells us clearly that though we are sober, we need to enjoy a quality of sobriety that inspires others and gives freely of our love and service. These are not easy qualities to live up to, but if we set the ideal before us, we can strive for it in running and sobriety. And finally, our Big Book states this:
“It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 85).
Ever try “resting on your laurels” in running? Ever try running without giving thanks for it every day? Usually injury or staleness follows and the inevitable decline in performance happens. The same goes for sobriety.
We have been given the gifts of sobriety and running. And at the end of the day, they are gifts given to us so that we can be of service to others. I would like to think that I am a better daddy because of running and because of my active participation in AA. I also hope I am a better family member, employee, and friend. So when we blush or downplay our running or our sobriety – all we did was show up every day, take the next Step, and trust God.
AA Grapevine “At Wit’s End” Joke of the Week
“While you were setting the bar really high,
I was sitting at the bar really high.”
New to the Site This Week
- Our first ever “real” podcast with Charlie E.! – an incredible athlete, human being, and example of quality recovery…we hope to have him back again soon!
- A Fascinating National Geographic video about Nike’s attempt to Break 2 hours in the marathon