No matter how much I strategize, no matter how many "mantras" I repeat in my head, the spirit of the race always wins. I guess what I'm saying is that in the sport of ultra distance racing a transformation of the rider seems to take place during the event. I'll call it an "event", because they often start as races and end as adventures. To me, that is an "event". Wait, let's back up, maybe "transformation" isn't the right word, maybe "evolution" fits better? Or perhaps it's just that words to describe it are hard to find.
I have competed in a number of ultra distance racing events, most of them in the discipline of gravel road racing. "Ultra" is a loose word, because it implies above and beyond distance, but one should take caution in knowing that it is not always the distance that makes it "ultra". I have pushed, carried, and slogged my bike through countless miles in races that are under 200 miles long. These events have been every bit as hard as the ones that have shot north of 300 miles in distance.
What I have found to be common in all of them is the progression of the spirit...my spirit. When the body is broken and dirty, the mind takes over. The finish line begins to pull at you like some big magnet in the distance. The "race" has now taken on a personality that pits itself against yours. Some of them seem to embrace you, while others will fight you every step of the way, determined to keep you from attaching to that magnet. There are moments when this beast of sorts will allow you into its own spirit, letting you see its beauty, and experience its grace.
This crossover from racing to experiencing is when the magic happens. It's when life long friendships are formed with someone you started riding with 10 hours ago and had never met. It's when you've gone deep within yourself and discovered things you never knew. Not only have you discovered what you can take physically when the chips are down, but what you'll do for someone else, a stranger maybe, when you are at your most basic form. It is in those times that the true self emerges. It is in those times that you find out who you really are.
I've started many races, but more importantly I've finished them as adventures. Some of the best gifts I've received have come in the form of memories and feelings, given to me by the spirit of the race.
Eki (right) and Charlie Farrow celebrate the gifts received from finishing this years Trans Iowa 7. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kershaw's Cadence blog.