As I drove through the predawn darkness to the start of Manitou’s Revenge, my thoughts drifted and I wondered, could I win this race?
The idea was patently absurd: when it comes to technical trail running, I’ve historically finished in the middle of the pack. But I’ve been getting faster in recent years, even finishing in 3rd place at a 100-mile race earlier this year. Further, Manitou’s Revenge is not a large event. There would be fewer than 100 starters, and for all I knew, the best trail runners might not show up, or they might trip and fall on the rocky paths and drop out. In which case, victory might go to the tortoise, not the hare.
Whether it’s a 5k or a half-marathon, I love to race, which means I’m always looking for ways to run faster. So it was with great interest that I read a copy of Ultimate Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley. To be sure, this book was not written specifically for runners. Rather, it was written for high performance and race car drivers. But no matter what the sport, you’d think speed would depend on the same principles, or at least similar ones.
What is the secret to becoming a winning race car driver? According to Ross Bentley, the secret is to drive consistently “at the limit.” This means fully utilizing the traction of the tires. Or put differently, driving as fast as possible just short of losing control.
Do you ever get the feeling that we’re being secretly manipulated? That we’re trapped in a dream world, with some kind of puppet master jerking our strings, while life slips away, and with it the opportunity to pursue the goals that really matter.
I sometimes get that feeling…. for instance when I’m staring at the computer screen, wondering how I’ve ended up chained to a desk, when I’d rather be outdoors, running through the mountains and exploring life.
That feeling is the hook of the 1999 sci-fi thriller, The Matrix, and it must have resonated because the movie sold a lot of tickets and also won four Academy Awards.
Early in the film, Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) explains that feeling to Neo (Keanu Reeves):
I could hardly wait for the weekend, so excited was I to get back out to the Catskills to run, hike, and explore. When Friday evening finally rolled along, I set the alarm clock for 4:30 AM, determined to get an early start. And I was out the door and on the road in the predawn mist.
But when I finally arrived in the Catskills a few hours later, I was dragging. En route I had picked up a second cup of coffee, but even a double dose of caffeine hadn’t helped.
I dragged myself to the starting point of the day’s adventure, the trail to Giant’s Ledge, and looked up: the path was a tumble of rocks.
In a previous post, I lashed out at critics who cautioned me to “slow down and smell the roses.” My retort: “Speed up and see what you’re missing.”
But that was before the wild roses burst into bloom. Drive into the country in early June and you’ll find the roadside bushes exploding with clusters of white flowers. A sweet fragrance wafts along the breeze. In upstate New York, this is the smell of early summer.
The roadside bushes are Rosa Multiflora or Ramblers Rose, and they grow wild throughout the state. I walked up to one of these bushes and admired the flowers’ tiny white petals and yellow stamens. Then I took a deep sniff.