Why I race

Team Aborted Unicorns before the race

A good race intensifies everything - all your senses and feelings.  It compresses things.  The emotional roller coaster of life is squeezed into a day - highs and lows coming hours apart instead of weeks or months.  Supreme challenges are confronted by the dozen, something that might take years of 'normal living'.  The aging process that we're all in the grips of seems accelerated and sometimes decades can seem to have been added to the physical body overnight.  To many this may not sound appealing at all - but there the intensity and the suffering has its rewards.

As everything is intensified, it is also distilled.  All the details that normally overwhelm our senses seem to dissolve, leaving only ones that are truly important.  Eat. Drink. Figure out what you need and ask for help honestly.  Give it when asked.  Don't worry about things you can't control.  Focus on one thing at a time (or else you won't succeed).  Work together - you are always stronger that way.  My clearest thoughts have always come during adventures or long adventure races (long enough so the race part is a technicality) - i'm reminded of what is important.  People - friends, family.  Challenge - the best teacher.  Food tastes better.  Laughter is more genuine, healing, and crucial.

A good tough (and long enough) adventure race is truly an epiphany factory - at the most basic level its what i think keeps alot of folks coming back - the weekend warriors who will never win a race and who always suffer the most.  These folks are who the sport is for - its greatest beneficiaries.  Their lives are changed in a more meaningful way than a simple growth of the ego.  But don't just believe me..... I've included below a message of reflection sent by one of the racers from last weekend (END-AR 24) to his team that is raw and unedited, but (at least to me) speaks some of this truth.  I know it all sounds very etherial and self help like, and maybe this post is a little to late - you may already be swimming again in the sea of minutia that makes up our lives - the profound moments of your race all but swept aside and forgotten, but just wait till the next race....

Hey team, I wanted to write to you and let you know that I had an absolute blast last weekend. I cannot think of anyone I would have had more fun with or anyone I would have rather raced with. I look back and I almost can’t even fathom just how much fun I had; I was having so much fun that during the race I didn’t even realize it. During the race Tammy and I were talking the affect surfing (for Tammy) and skiing (for me) has on your outlook or how it will fix a rotten day and that is how I feel right now, like maybe things are actually alright. I think a little bit of that feeling comes from just the race itself, but I know the majority of that feeling comes from the experience I shared with both of you. I had so much fun that I have a very hard time not getting completely distracted from work just remembering the experience. I remember on the river bed when Tammy decided to sit down for the second time and I sat down with her and we slept for 10 minutes; I just had the most surreal feeling sitting there in a ball, at 330 in the morning, on a river bed, almost in the middle of nowhere, completely and utterly exhausted. I remember bumping into Nic’s team and Ted’s team on the bike trail and just feeling like I was running into some friends I hadn’t seen in years; and oh how happy I was to see them. I remember numerous times laughing uncontrollably with Tammy about jokes that don’t even seem that funny now. That type of laughter is like a drug to me. It is so relieving, and you can’t just create it out of nothing. I remember being along that green wire fence and thinking I knew exactly where I was and where I was going, and then getting to that field and realizing with utter disappointment I had gotten us completely lost. I remember on the river when we were looking for the photo CP and you guys kept on saying “oh I think this is it, or what about this, this could be it,” and I just kept on saying “nope,” and then Chase said “MAX, START MAKING THE TERRAIN LOOK LIKE THE PICTURE.” Haha, I still laugh hard at that one. However, one of my favorite memories (although there are many) was when Tammy told the story about how she and Andy met; we were on the bike and it was around midnight maybe, and I just got completely lost in the story. It was perfect timing. Plus, it was a really good story. Made me wish I had a story like that. Many of these memories are so vivid I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. I think I could almost go on forever describing my favorite memories.

I want you guys to know I wouldn’t have changed anything about the race. I’m sure we all feel like we could have done better, I know I could have done better and maybe if I had it would have been different and I don’t know what that would have been like. So I wouldn’t have changed anything. I had so much fun; this was probably my favorite race so far. It was exactly the experience I needed. Thank you! Chase, obviously you know I’d race again with you, but I don’t think I told Tammy this after the race and I regret it, but I would race again with you, Tammy, any day. 

--From Max Whittaker, Team Aborted Unicorns 

And now to make sure this is suitably way too long-winded, here's my own reflection written after a 30 hour desert trek as part of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in December of 2010.

During that trek I remember thinking about lots of things – and HATING the present moment. Suffering – more than I could remember ever experiencing. No shade. So much heat. Pain from the knees down, and a future that seemed so daunting – 25 km more of walking across endless dunes – slow and painful going. At the same time though I knew it was temporary. And I had a strange sort of awareness of this ephemeral nature of my present state that helped get me through it. It didn’t make the suffering somehow less – but it did make it endurable – at the moments when the thought of 6 hours more walking seemed to encapsulate everything – an eternity – I’d know, intellectually that there was going to be a moment in my life where the desert was only a memory. And I had these points of reference – knowledge of recent experiences where I must have been suffering (even previous stages of ADAC) or past situations where I must have felt similar all encompassing anguish – where the memories themselves contained no real sense of the suffering I must have endured. Like in Primal Quest (2006) – I’m sure there were times when I felt an overwhelming sense of impossibility when viewing the task ahead, and yet made it through. Lots of internal dialogue/self attention went on in the last 2 CP’s – I was essentially “in my head” the whole time – perhaps to avoid being in my body.
I do think I could have gone faster physically – but the mind wasn’t behind the body enough to do so – the mental effort required to sustain forward progress was good enough – speed seemed to require additional effort at such a diminished return (i.e. every 1% faster required 10% more effort or something). It was like a complicated mathematical equation or relationship – I sought the minimum along some curve described by a combination of variables related to suffering – mental effort, physical pain, and duration. Move slowly and the physical pain goes down slightly, mental effort down significantly, but duration up. Moving quickly takes heaps more mental effort, causes a bit more physical pain, but requires less duration. This is why I sought the tow – minimization of suffering. It was really, in retrospect, a beautiful, fascinating, illuminating, humbling, and torturous experience. My calves became swollen for the last quarter or so of the trek and still remain so today (3 days later). In fact – from my knees to my toes I’m full of fluid – my skin taught and itchy (not sure why) and I can feel my pulse radiate in my shins and toes. Bizarre. Wonder how long it will last [Note – it took about 2 weeks to have normal legs again.]

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