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Race Reports
> Limits, sort of like giving 110%
> We run on a very fine edge
> Challenge
> The Hard and The Easy
> The Mountain
> State Line
> The Hill - the original
> Bleeker Street
> SOS - Survival of the Shawangunks Battle Story
> The Ocean is my Gatorade
> The Old Elm Tree
> I recognized the look in his face
> One Foot in Front of The Other - year end musing
> Wham BAM Thank You #33...
> Slant Six Mind, Super Charged Heart
> The Hill
> You Know I'm Gonna Miss You When I'm Gone
> Tracks
> Marc's Story
> Ouch!
> The Damage Done

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You Know I'm Gonna Miss You When I'm Gone

As a friend tries to remind me, as long as there's beer and potatoes in the world, life will be good ...

I remember now. It's not quite as clear as it used to be, but the memory is true. There were only a few of them. Really, not many. They just loom so large in my mind. They are the most vivid memories I have. For me they always sprang from a struggle. Sometimes a very quiet, almost silent inner struggle. At other times from very loud and public one. In all instances two things were always common. First, I was on the edge (on one occasion actually with one foot way over the edge). Second, I always came out of the struggle, came back from the edge, stronger, better. It never mattered what the struggle was about, what triggered it, what put me on the edge. My response was always the same. Always physical. Always involved pushing myself to some limit.  Putting it all at risk.

When I paint my masterpiece ...

The first occasion was over thirty years ago. I have no clear understanding of what it was that put me on the edge, what was troubling me. Maybe it had to do with facing life on my own. Being totally responsible for my decisions and actions. Maybe it had to do with losing my first girl friend.  Whatever it was, I wound up on a deserted stretch of beach only a few miles from the of Long Island on a September weekend. A storm had been brewing all week. I watch a perfectly calm and flat ocean grow increasingly violent, dangerous, wild and inviting. the morning dawn almost  silently, perfect blue sky. Then it happened. A wild crack. Not lightening, not a car, that unmistakable sound of the ocean, finally conquering a strong off shore wind and tons of water crashing down on itself. I very slowly climbed out of my sleeping bag and out of the trailer onto the beach. Silently I walked toward the ocean, only a hundred yards away. As I crested the last dune, I heard it again, that bone rattling crack of a wave breaking. A perfect wave breaking against a strong off shore wind. As my eyes adjusted to the sun and the glare off the water my heart froze.  There was a perfect 8 foot wave curling over and breaking right on the beach. I was terror stricken. This was what I had come here for, was I ready for it? As I raced back to the trailer, my buddies had already started making their way over the dunes and were taking in the awesome sight. We wasted time getting ready. Screwing up our courage I'm sure. Finally, eight of us paddled out. The first three never got past that awesome shore break. Five of us now paddle with everything we had to get past the inside break. Three more didn't make it. They were swept a mile down the beach before they were able to get back onto the beach. That left two of us paddling out past the break, turning and waiting for the next set. Our hearts in our mouths, unable to speak, we watch as a set came marching towards us. The first waves past under us and started to break, the beach was blocked from out sight. These were the by far the largest waves we had attempted to surf. We were both good surfers, strong and skilled. But, we knew we were way out of our league here. As the next set came through we started to paddle into one of the early waves. As I hung on the lip of this wave, staring down its vertical face, the off shore wind blowing me back and out of the wave, I realized these waves were well over 20 feet high.

When you feel this way,

When you feel this way,

I can find out anything about you ...

The next set came rolling in, I paddled furiously into a wave, just as I thought I was going to get blown back out of this wave too, I stood up, step forward and forced the nose of my board down the face of the wave. Suddenly gravity took over and I started to slide down the face of the wave.  The acceleration was incredible. As I hit the bottom I leaned hard to turn to the right. As the board came around and I looked up, I saw the entire face of the wave starting to break. Sh*t, I'm heading right into the breaking wave. With every once of strength, I pulled my board back to the left and away from the white water. I trimmed the board and tucked up into the curl. As the wave started to break over me, I thought I didn't have enough speed to out run it and threw my arms up into the air in resignation of the awful wipeout I was heading for.

There are only so many doors you can try,

until you finally find your way ...

and there are only so many tears you can cry ...

Just as I thought I had bought lunch, the wave curled over me, formed a perfect 15 foot tube and blasted me out and on to the shoulder. I had survived, succeeded and learned much from being on the edge, at the brink. Eight hours later I paddled into the beach, sat quietly for a long time watching an awesome ocean and giving thanks for being alive, so very alive.

A simple twist of fate ...

Another time, over twenty years later. This time it was a very visible and clear crisis. I had taken one more step than I was allowed. I had lost much, almost everything. It was a wonder I was alive.  I started by running 8 milers. It was about all I could do. I couldn't really go much farther. I couldn't sit home and not run. This wasn't a choice, this was necessity. The 8 milers stretched into 11 milers. They became faster. Some days I'd feel depressed, sluggish, unwilling to make any effort.  I just forced one step, just one step up the hill. No promises, no expectations. Just go out the door and take that first step.

I keep forgiving,

I keep forgetting,

I keep expecting you to change.

You say you will,

You say you will,

You say you will,

But you never do ...

After a while, the 11 miles became my salvation. That one time during each day, that one thing in my life I had total control over. Some days I'd start easy, when I turned around I'd start to accelerate and by the time I finished I'd be screaming, hammering. The weekly mileage never really got very high. I had done 80, 90 and 100 mile weeks in the past. Now I was only doing 70 to 80.  Weekends were long runs. Not long slow distance, just long. Into the city around the park and back home. Solid pace, sometimes into the city and then do a race. I was building strength.  Emotional, psychological strength as much as physical strength. I had no choice, get strong or perish. I ran a 50 K in July. Hot, humid and hilly. I had no expectations. I just wanted to run, be with people and work hard. About the middle of the race I became frightened that a friend that had started late would pass me. It was irrational, I actually had no idea what my pace was, or where I was in the race. The last 3 miles I felt like I would not finish. Stomach cramps had me doubled over. Some how I gained enough strength to finish strong. A month later I attempted my first multi day race. Three days for a total of 100 miles. I was with out expectations, I didn't know if I'd be able to finish. the first day I ran a lot with a friend. We talked about the race, about running, about my troubles, about life, about how frightened I was. I finished, again worrying if another friend would pass me. He didn't, but we had two more days to go, and he was a lot more experienced at this stuff than I was. The next day dawn and I returned to the starting line. This day was on a course I had run before and knew well. There was a six hour race being held at the same time, so there were a lot more people running. This day I ran mostly alone. Keeping to my own pace and my own thoughts. I don't remember much of that day, but I do remember be very surprised when I finished in second place. I felt surprisingly good, better even than I did the first day. The third day dawned and I got lost on the way to the start. I arrived just minutes before the race was to start. I was sore, so I didn't mind starting slow and taking my time. I only wanted to finish the last 33 miles. With just over one lap to go, the friend I ran with on day one came up on my shoulder. We chatted and he mentioned he was finishing. It was the only time in the three days that I ran competitively. I refused to be lapped. The last quarter of a mile on that loop I pushed to stay ahead of him. He finished, I continued on my last lap and finished.

A simple twist of fate ...

I found out that I finish that day in third place. I was fourth on day one, second on day two and now third. I was extremely pleased. My troubles were out of my mind for the time being. I was exhausted, and pleased. The only thing that existed was that moment, the present. The past and the future were things that had no meaning anymore. At the small and brief awards ceremony I found out I had finished third overall. I went home, soaked a bit in the pool, had a beer and took a nap.

This wasn't done consciously, this wasn't done with a serious training program in mind. This was pure survival. This was HELL. I was on the edge. I'd wake up in the middle of the night screaming with fear.

Come on baby let's get out of this town,

Got a full tank of gas and the top rolled down ...

Baby you can sleep while I drive ...

In mind, there's little difference between the two experiences. They both were born from discomfort with where my life was at the time. The responses were the same, push my limits, go directly to the edge, test my faith. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, and better.  I've been sensing it's about to happen again. I'm feeling restless, uncomfortable with where I am, with the way I'm living my life.

Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth ...

... I can hold my temper, I can bide my time. I can hold my own I'm the restless kind ...

Come in she said,

I'll give you shelter from the storm ...


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Neil L. Cook, 212-472-9281 or 917-575-1901 or Coach@SLB-Coaching.com or Neil.L.Cook@mindspring.com
"Sweet Lightning Bolt" used by permission.