“The only way you’re finding out that one is by giving it a shot.”

I’ve always loved this scene of Good Will Hunting. I have watched this movie at least once a month since I’ve been in high school and every time I find something in it that speaks to me on such a deep and personal level. I’ve never made it through it without crying. Throughout the years I’ve found I identify with different characters at different times.  Mostly, though, I’d say I’m a pretty good mix of Will Hunting (Matt Damon) and Sean Maguire (Robin Williams).  But, what does this clip have to do with running 100 miles? I’ll get there – I promise.
Seeing interviews and films with Jim Wamsley, Sally McRae, Nikki Kimball, and Timothy Olsen (to name a few) kind of clued me into a recurring theme: It seems that people who want to run 100 mile races have some sort of demons they are trying to outrun or are running to appease. More and more, I’m realizing I kind of fit the mold.
I was a really happy and outgoing young kid. I could talk to anyone and I was comfortable in front of groups of people. I was wild, free, and silly and wasn’t afraid to show that side to anyone. By the time I reached about 7 or 8 years old, I had started to close up. For a variety of reasons I won’t get into here, I learned expressing emotions was dangerous and that people could be unpredictable. I wouldn’t let anyone see me cry. By hiding my negative feelings, I smothered my positive ones as well. I lost my silliness. I was embarrassed to play pretend because it seemed too childish. I stopped feeling comfortable or safe to be myself around anyone else. I spent a lot of time alone or with my pets wandering in the woods. I started to get the feeling that I was always going to be on the outside looking in on what “normal” people did and how they interacted.
In a previous post I talked about my issues with anxiety in high school. Around this time I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend that I can come to the realization that when people asked how I was feeling the only way that felt truthful to respond was “neutral”. The anxiety and uncertainty had left me pretty numb. I recoiled when people tried to hug me. My anxiety and aloofness put up a good wall between me and nearly everyone but a few close friends. I was functioning in survival mode for a long time. Just before my 17th birthday, the boy I was seeing off and on in high school committed suicide. I closed up tighter.
Throughout college and graduate school the anxiety never really let up. In college, my advisor died unexpectedly in a car accident at the age of 31.  My high school track Midway through graduate school my appendix ruptured and I pushed through it and I ended up starting to go septic. It wasn’t clear I was going to make it. A couple weeks later after I left the hospital, my small bowel flipped on itself due to adhesions and I was in emergency surgery with a good chance of not making it again. After another couple weeks in the hospital, I finally went home at 85lbs after not being allowed to eat solid food for almost a whole month. During my postdoc I was in a place I hated and my career was in limbo; I was looking for any tenure-track job that I could find and my sole focus was to publish and produce. A few months into my postdoc I was diagnosed with Keratoconus – a degenerative eye disorder that distorts my vision and has no real cure and is not very understood.  I was 27 and I had been suffering monthly panic attacks for 10 years. I was exhausted.  I closed up even tighter.
Just after my 28th birthday I moved back to New Hampshire. I stepped off the crazy tenure-track-hopeful carousel and took a job as a full-time teaching professor at UNH. I felt like I could finally breathe for the first time in years. I adopted Tulah and she became my best friend and my running buddy. I loved her so fiercely and it scared me.  I had never loved anything like I loved her. I adopted Zorro and he got under my skin in a way I still can’t explain. I told a friend that I wanted to care about another human the same way that I cared about Tulah and Zorro. In bringing Tulah and Zorro into my life, I finally started opening up a bit. At 30, I fell in love- I gave him everything I had and it was devastating when it wasn’t enough, or perhaps it was too much.  I have never felt more alive than when I’ve let myself experience love and loss so fully.  I don’t think I have the ability to close up so tightly anymore.
Maureen, Tulah, Zorro, pet shoot, Wagon Hill-83
So, what does this have to do with choosing to run 100 miles?
Vulnerability has always been extremely hard for me. Setting out to run 100 miles is all about vulnerability. It’s about experiencing highs and lows. It’s about putting yourself at the mercy of the weather, the distance, the course, and the limits of the human body and mind. It’s about being willing to give everything you have and dealing with the risk that it’s not enough or that you’ll give too much and explode.

The clip from Good Will Hunting is obviously about relationships, but I think there’s a more universal message. Will’s biggest weakness is that he can’t be vulnerable. He only does things he knows he can succeed at. He makes jokes and tells lies when he’s asked to talk about his feelings. He hides behind books. He pushes people away when they get too close. I know him – I was him for years and in some ways I still am. Vulnerability is hard for me and racing is a place where I can practice it. I only A-race once or twice a year; it’s all I have the emotional energy for.  But, I’m actively seeking out opportunities to test myself now and that’s an improvement.

So, here I am less than 24hrs away from attempting 100 miles. I have ambitious goals. I’ve read the books, I’ve run the miles, I’ve studied training plans, and asked those who have done this before me what to expect. I’m as prepared as I can be. I may succeed. My best may not be enough. I may set myself on fire.  But, as Sean Maguire says in the clip above, “You can know everything in the world, Sport, but the only way you’re finding out that one is by giving it a shot.”

Total training cycle recap:

Mileage: 1415.5 miles running/walking/hiking

Time on feet: 287hr 34min

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