Running 100 MilesPublished on Dec 8, 2021 by Eamonn Cottrell
What a dumb headline, right? You probably don’t even want to run 100 miles. But thanks for clicking it anyway! :) The facts:
- Yes, I really did complete a 100 point-to-point race.
- No, I didn’t run fast the entire time.
- Yes, I trained fairly extensively.
- No, it was not an all-consuming task.
- Yes, it was exhilarating, overwhelming even, to finish.
- No, I did not have a life-changing epiphany.
In the month since the race, I’ve reflected more than a few times on the parallels between competing in ultra-marathons and in learning new skills.
I am deeply motivated by forces I cannot fully explain to learn and create new things. I enjoy the task of learning, I enjoy the rigors of formal schooling, I enjoy the satisfaction of completing projects, I enjoy overcoming seemingly insurmountable quests.
These qualities have been been prevalent through my schooling, my career and my hobbies for my whole life. I was the dork who equally enjoyed leading a calculus study group and crafting a short story for creative writing.
But looking back on the last decade of school, work, play and family, it’s pretty clear to me that these things are powerfully resilient traits.
I am currently the most distracted I’ve ever been in my life. Between my growing family, my remote job, my continual learning, and the ever-present fast-paced information highway on these screens in front of me now, it’s never been harder to focus on a single thing for longer than a few breaths.
Running and computer programming have been two tools to keep me on task and drive forward regardless of my mood or whimsy. In both, I’ve had the fortune of seeing how small building blocks have formed together over time to create something meaningful. And they’ve both taught me the importance of showing up in small ways consistently.
The diligence and simplicity of staying on task, of persisting in learning, of commitment to endurance racing have helped me to combat the never-ending number of things vying for my attention. I can’t imagine how distracted I might be if not for these exercises in persistence.
A Work In Progress
I started running somewhere around the late 2000’s or so. And I remember setting out into my neighborhood with the hopes of lasting for a mile or two. And I did. And the next day it was a little bit more.
The growth was gradual, but the formula was the same: show up and start running. Push a little past your comfort zone. Keep going.
I ran a few 5k’s and such, but mostly I just enjoyed running and exploring the surrounding areas. The act of running itself–the training–was highly appealing. It wasn’t until a few years had gone by that I began to have any aspirations for longer runs. But, alas, at some point I decided I’d like to run a marathon (Chickamagua Battlefield). You know, to say I’d done it.
It was only a couple short years later that I toed the line of my first 50K trail race (Norris Dam Hard). And from there, it continued into many other lengths and challenges. Most recently was the completion of the Pinhoti 100.
In many ways my journey into software has been in tandem with my running career. I began dabbling in Python way back in 2012 according to my first Github commit, and proceeded to try out all kinds of things in the decade that followed including returning to school to knock out the first two years of an engineering degree, self-learning web development through a number of platforms, and diving into data analytics.
This has been a years in the making journey. And I continue to march forward for the love of the run, for the love of the code. I’m convinced that there’s not going to be a point of arrival. The joy is in the journey, in the learning, in the running. It’s the day-to-day training runs that prepare me today for whatever adventure awaits me in a year from now, or five years, or ten.
I often wonder whether I should be diving deeply into programming to do something more meaningful, but I continue to be energized by the breadth of things I get to experience and be a part of professionally and in my leisure.
The joy is in the journey, in the learning, in the running.
Mulligans and Mindsets
This wasn’t the first time I’d attempted the Pinhoti 100, though. I showed up last year and made it to mile 55 before dropping out. I chickened out when it got tough. I had a year to reflect on that, and prepare body and mind for the task of finishing.
Similarly, as I look at periods over the past many years where I’ve stopped learning, it’s easy to start beating myself up over time lost or opportunities squandered. But in both areas, the only way forward is to get back up and start running again when I’m able.
I wasn’t prepared to actually spend 24+ hours racing last year. It took that failure to realize what kind of mental game I had to bring to the start line. I don’t usually know my limits until I touch them.
I wasn’t able to stay in school when we started our family. It took dropping out of that engineering program to realize the wealth of self-taught opportunities available, especially when combined with my business background.
In both, mindset plays such an important role, and it’s my desire that as I continue to lean forward into whatever races life has in store I’ll leave expectation behind me and carry hope beside me.