“What the mind conceives the body believes.”
I ran across this quote in my late 20’s. I can’t remember the source but it has stuck with me. I have experienced this reality many times over the years in ultrarunning and in life in general. For example, when you cross the finish line at a 50-mile race, you can’t imagine turning around and going back to the starting line for another 50. Your body is shot. But when you get to 50 miles at a 100-mile race, your body is ready to keep moving. In the case of the 50-mile run, my mind, and as a result my body, were ready to run 50, not 100 miles. My mind had not prepared my body for that eventuality.
So where did the imagination come for this run? A number of years ago I had the idea of running across Virginia to raise money for the track project at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Then a colleague, Lauren Jefferson, suggested I should run from Lancaster to Harrisonburg, from one EMU campus to another. I actually devised a course and was ready to go but the right opportunity never came forward from a fundraising perspective. When I moved to Ohio and started working for Keim, the idea of combining a fundraising event with Mennonite Disaster Service and Disaster Aid Ohio fit well with our core business at Keim. What’s more, the Keim family has been very supportive of MDS over the years. I was also aware of the beauty of the Ohio to Erie trail having run segments of it over the years. And one of my character flaws is that once my mind conceives of something, I typically set out to do it.
Running today was pure joy. Anna and I started off in the dark. Most of today was through a tunnel of trees enveloping the trail, small historic rivers towns, and a slight downhill grade to the Ohio River. We saw turkey, deer, racoons, and many birds and other small animals. It was cloudy all day with a high of about 70. It just doesn’t get much better than that for a runner.
What struck me as I was running today was how my body had responded to this run. No injuries, just a small blister on my foot, and outside of several miles on Thursday, very little pain. All this after finishing a 100-mile race two weeks prior defying conventional wisdom about tapering before a long run. (I’ll admit to being worried about that one at age 59). In addition, my mind never lamented or was discouraged for the entire 256 miles. I was never bored or wondered what I was thinking for doing such a thing. I really can’t quite explain it other than it was one of those rare integrations of body, spirit, and mind – what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” (that would be a blog for another time).
We do have limits in our personal and professional lives. I have dropped out of several 100-mile runs over the years, most notably the Leadville 100 last summer in Colorado, where my mind quit (I believe that my body could have kept moving). But far too often our imagination is what limits us, not our minds and bodies.
Zach Miller is one of the top ultrarunners in the world and a friend (grew up in East Africa and Lancaster County as a missionary kid). Zach is one of those runners that always goes out strong and is not afraid to fail. Sometimes he crashes hard but other times he puts together a special day that defies all odds. “I am not afraid of the failure,” says Zach. “I may not succeed, but I am willing to try and go for it every time I toe the starting line.” What a freeing place to be.
When things come together like this week, I am reminded that when you take risks and you are successful, you realize how much we limit ourselves by failing to imagine what could be possible. What is the next wall I can get over that I didn’t think was possible? Where can my imagination take me tomorrow, and next month, and next year if I am willing to risk failure? How have I limited myself over the years and not achieved significant things simply for lack of imagination? What if I allowed my mind to conceive of more things that defy conventional wisdom?
I saved the last 9.5 miles of the run tomorrow here in Holmes County so I could walk/run them with my community. I will share one more post tomorrow and then put this run behind me and move on to what’s next.