Nifty Fifty

The concept of a “blog” (a term not yet in vogue at the commencement of this particular blog, btw) was a contraction of the words “web” as in “world wide web” and log, as in “captain’s log, star date 462.3 mark 7″… the premise was a personal narrative, preferably with one or more links to things, and some commentary. The political was never a requirement, and I suspect, comparatively few blogs (in the immense intellectual void otherwise known as what passes for our culture blogosphere, anyway) are “political” in nature… notwithstanding the insistence of some, like yours truly, on doing that.
But, of course, as I like to say, “on this blog, it’s always about me.” And hence, you’ll get to read about… well, me. Whatever little I want to tell you about myself, of course. Which will invariably be of a self-aggrandizing nature because… well, see the first sentence of this paragraph.
Which takes us to a sort of life goal, or a recent goal, or whatever, something I’ve certainly been itching to do for the last year or so, since I was unceremoniously removed just after the halfway point of the JFK 50-mile ultramarathon last year for missing an intermediate time cut-off. And so, this year, in my fourth ultramarathon of the year… and ever… (plus a 6-hour race I truncated to an “infra-marathon” three weeks ago), and thanks to the amazingly nice race organizers, who not only allowed me to finish beyond the 12 hour “regulation” time, but provided a trailing vehicle with headlights on and two very nice ladies to serve as “pacing crew” for the last eight miles or so, allowing me the thrill of a finish in the Tussey Mountainback Ultra and USATF 50-mile championship. Most people who do this sort of thing do so “competitively”… that is to say, with some sort of “athletic talent,” which they supplement by some sort of “training.” I bring a minimum of both to these events, with a “goal” of… finishing under my own power. And… that’s what I did.
I read somewhere that over 90% of American marathon finishers will never run a second marathon. To be frank, for over 18 years, I was in that position, having completed the 1982 Charlotte Observer marathon when I was 19, and retiring from the sport. I resumed my “career” at the 2001 Achilles Marathon in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and have run 25 after that (including the last 9 New York City Marathons), plus, of course, this year’s 4 ultra-marathons. I don’t “win”; I don’t win my age group, or even come close to an award. In fact, in 2 of the 4 “ultras,” I finished dead last (and I wonder if my “last in age group” double at both 2010 USATF’s 50-K and 50-mile championships has been accomplished all that many times). You know what? It’s still fun.
I know that no more than a few thousand people could even bring themselves to line up at the start, let alone haul themselves to the finish knowing there was no one to beat except themselves. No prize– no glory, save that of just being there, and bringing what you got… which, hopefully, would be “enough.” There is something so horribly perverse at the American… no, the entire Western world’s attitude that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” etc., etc.
Because that’s bullsh*t. What matters is not riches or poverty… material success or failure, academic or business or social “achievement”… or anything exogenous. What matters is whether you– YOU– are happy… and find your life meaningful and fulfilling. That’s it. If, for you, it takes physical exertion… or “winning”… or “success”… or whatever… good for you. But it has to be meaningful to you. If you find that you have lots of money, and lots of trappings that society tells you should have, like fancy academic credentials, a cool car, a physically attractive spouse, etc., etc…. and somehow it doesn’t seem to be “working” for you… Well… Am I seriously saying that someone who may have finished hours and hours ahead of me, but who went home “disappointed” because they failed to meet some “time goal” they had set for themselves or to place at a certain level is a bigger loser than the guy who finished dead last? Yeah– that’s precisely what I’m saying. Because the guy who finished dead last considers himself a winner. And in any walk of life: it’s fine to use “life’s little failures” as motivational tools to improve one’s performance… we used to call that sort of thing “learning” before our schools simply became the socio-economic version of the Harry Potter “sorting hat,” and faux-achievements started to out-rank real ones. But to take actual accomplishments in their own right and be disappointed simply based on some nonsensical idea of “competition”… is as asinine in an ultra-marathon as it is as an organizing principle of a so-called “society.”
You see… we can all “win”… every last one of us… if we simply allow ourselves to…… regardless of our material or social standing. If… we are happy and find our lives fulfilling. That’s it. Because after that… dignity… the most underappreciated but oh-so-critical intangible I can think of… follows from fulfillment. And this is the biggest threat to “the power” that there is… the great secret “the man” doesn’t want you to know.
And all it took for me to realize it was 12 hours and 55 uncivilized minutes of pounding up and down central Pennsylvania mountains. I wonder what it will take you?