I ran 100 miles because, at one point (okay, many points) in my life, I believed I could not do it. It was a long journey to the start line of the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run this past August, but it was those two days spent running around in the Cascade Mountains near Easton, Washington that showed me the secrets to a more fulfilling life. Yes, there are more than one, but they are quite simple: help others, feel gratitude deeply and often, keep pushing your perceived limits, and tell fear to eat it. While the lessons learned from Cascade Crest continue to present themselves long after the race has been run, here are the 6 that stand out most prominently.
1. No one does this alone
There’s a good reason we don’t hear about people just up and running 100 miles alone. In order to do it safely, it takes a lot of people—and it’s a good bet that they are all volunteers. Tens to hundreds of people make an ultra-marathon a safe and fun experience—from the race director, to aid station volunteers, to EMTs, to crew and pacers. While the runner does the most visible physical work, there is an often an under-recognized team behind them keeping the show running. Thank them! Sincerely thank them over and over.
2. Gratitude propels you forward
You can handle nutrition and pacing perfectly, but there is no escaping the exhaustion that will eventually seep in when covering 100 miles. That’s okay, it’s part of the experience. But if you really need a pick-me-up, try gratitude. Deep, sincere gratitude. Thank a volunteer; hug your pacer; or take in nature around you and the rare opportunity you have just to be there attempting such a feat. Gratitude keeps us grounded and motivates us like no cup of coffee could ever dream of.
3. We can take away the power of our own fears
Challenges like ultra-running races (among countless other options) allow us to deliver blows to our fear with experiences that prove it wrong. No one begins their first 100-miler completely void of fear. But if you want to taste that elusive finish line feeling, you have no choice but to face those fears head-on. Although we can’t remove fear from our life, we can build up our tolerance to it through practice.
4. Go ahead and swing that pendulum
In order to accomplish something far beyond your everyday reach, you will need to work far beyond your everyday self. It will take a tremendous amount of time, energy, thought, planning, focus, and intention to successfully run 100 miles. When the race is done, however, let that pendulum swing back toward the other passions in your life, rocking between extremes until a new norm is formed—one that melds the lessons learned from your race into new or improved sustainable daily practices. Let yourself grow in all areas—not just in miles covered.
5. Hallucinations are not always scary
After hearing stories of other people’s hallucinations in ultra runs, I had expected to feel like I was near death seeing wild bears attacking me or vampires flying toward me at night. Instead, I saw villages on the mountainside that weren’t there, a wedding that did not exist, a glowing purple orb hovering above a stump, and even an adorable country mouse drinking water from a leaf. Honestly, it was a pretty fun trip. I’d do it again.
6. You’ll never see nature quite the same
It’s easy to ignore nature or take it for granted in our lives that often involve moving from a wooden box we call home, to a metal box we call a vehicle, to a larger box made of wood and metal that we call work. Spend a couple of days running through fields, up and down mountains, relieving yourself in holes you dug in the mud and showering only if it rains, and you will have reacquainted yourself with life outside of the box. It’s nice out there. Nature is so much more than a pretty view to admire through a windshield. It is a life-giving and life-taking source, and there’s nothing like spending 100 miles running on, in, through, and around it to remind yourself of that.
Running Cascade Crest was one of the most unique experiences of my life. Realizing that it was possible broke through barriers and opened doors that have changed my perception of this world and my experiences within it forever. I am grateful for the ability and opportunity to attend this odd school of sorts and would encourage anyone to face a fear today—big or small—and enjoy the growth the experience provides.