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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 Blogs

Stage 1
31-Aug-2014 02:14:59 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Stage 1 done: 22.9 miles (give or take), 6:05 on the day. Ill pass along some bullet point highlights:

-3 hours sleep, lame sauce. -Started along a beach that seemed wholly untouched, tucked away, perfect. -However, with a perfect beach comes beach sand…super rough to run in and worse when you have 13kg on your back. -Check point 1 was tucked beneath a 800 year old tree. Very cool. -After check point one things became very rough slogging. -The trail was all beach sand and no coverage from an increasingly intense sun. Sand in shoes…hot spots begin. -Between check point 1 and 2 we ran through rural (let me underscore that point) villages with smiling kids waving furiously- we (Steve and I) gave many fist bumps and the energy was warming. -Little ankle bitters reminded me this run is on behalf of camp. I would suggest everyone choose a activity as a fundraiser at some point in his/her life, is really an amazing experience. -Check point 2 energy was still high and feet were so so. -Check point 2 to 3 things began to slip, not bad but not good. -We held to pace and did a nice mix of walk/run. -Check point 3 (18 miles) energy is low. -On the way home we were done with the sun, done with the sand, ready to be done. Just done. -But…we arrive to camp on this remote beach and the Indian ocean waiting for us as an ice bath. And we are greeted with fresh coconuts. Recoverlite consumed and feet up, tuna in the belly. Hard to complain when life is this full, oh so full.

Thorn of the day: the sand and 95 degree sun (I have a forming blister, working on it next). Rose of the day: the end of the day (beach, pack off, coconuts) and the little nubs along the way.

Last thoughts: the thorn and rose game is a hole in the wall cabin chat question (what was good about the day what was hard). I mention it because I will aim to do one every blog post, a grounding reminder of what rests at the center of all this effort. More last bits- tomorrow is 28 miles and going to be a slog (same lameo sand and same blistering heat), I am hopeful about what is ahead but it is going to be very very very hard. Plus it is worth mentioning that this blog is going to get wonky- hard to construct sentences at the end of the day. My love to all who seem a universe away. I am healthy and happy…tis all good here.

Pre-Race
30-Aug-2014 02:14:40 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

Hello all-

Hard to explain the landscape here: we are about 45min bus ride from the race check-in site in Diego Suarez. That is the physical location; however, the world of my heart and head is whole other story. I am worried about my pack weight. I am worried about the miles ahead. I am worried I under trained. I am worried about the self-proclaimed snorer in our tent. But…following a suggestion of my stepmom the last night I saw her in France, my anxiety is often born from forward looking imagining of what might or what may be. Instead, perhaps a bit of Zen, bit of living in the moment, is needed. So ill underscore the amazing parts: I have found the most warm competitors I have ever met on a race course (if you did not know south Africans are very funny). The Indian ocean is a rhythmic hum and 100 feet away from where I sit and type. I am healthy and able, enough to train for something like this. I am in a place in my life where I can take the time to do an adventure of this time and enormity. I have the financial resources for this trip. I have a support group that cheers my successes and accepts my grumpy insanity when I feel like I don’t have what it takes for this task (and also reminds me to take care of myself). Truly, what a blessing…what a trip (and the race has yet to begin)

A bit more: please do respond with anything and everything in the comments of this blog as it will be my only mode of communication from here until the end of the race. Everything begins tomorrow. The course will be just about a marathon and take us mostly along beaches (that is the rumour, final briefing is in the morning). Our race plan is slow, very slow. We want to come across the line in 7hrs. The heat is dry, I like. Moreover, we seem to have a nice wend to keep things cool. So temp should not be the limiting factor. The distance and the 13kg pack (with water) is another story- everyone says I just need to feel my way into things. Ill do that, I guess.

Atlanta to Brittany, France to Madagascar capital, to smaller northern town. Training started in earnest February. All of it feels so distant, so very far away. What is immediate? One night of sleep and six days to cover 155miles. Ill be back after stage 1, until then.

And here we go
25-Aug-2014 10:38:09 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

The plan from here until the starting line:

 

Tomorrow morning I hop a train from Brittany, France, where I have been with family for the last six days, to Paris.  I meet my race partner and co-captain of crazy Steve Schneider.  We mellow in Paris for a night.  Wednesday evening fly to the capital of Madagascar (sleep there Thursday).  Friday fly to race site for check in, race briefing, final packing, and to greet the 250 other nervous yet ready runners.  Saturday mid day we take buses to campsite 1.  Breathe.  Try to relax.  Try to not over think the herculean task ahead.  Sunday morning the race begins.

 

Mike Tyson quipped that everyone has a plan, then, they are punched in the face.  I thought my punch in the face was the stomach flu a week ago (way too close to race day).  And then we had a minor punch to the face when our flights changed on us and it seemed we would never make it out of Madagascar.  Seems we have just about solved that hiccup.  Who knows the next change in plans?  I will do my best to adapt; I know that.

 

I am taking with me on the course about 15 pages of paper, a document I titled ‘race poems.’  One of the poems, by Tony Hoagland, is titled “A Change in Plans.”  It ends with the following suggestion:

 

“What we’ve learned is mostly

not to be so smart – to believe,

as the hands believe,

in only what they hold.

And we don’t rush our explanations.

Instead, we tell a story:   

 

Remember how the reptiles

after generations of desire

to taste the yellow flowers,

thrust out wings one day and lifted from

    the ground?

Being birds by that time, their appetites had changed.

But they kept on flying.”

 

The change in plans is the real plan.  Remember- don’t be so smart.  Remember- believe, as the hands believe, in only what they hold.  Remember- see the next step, step confidently, know things will shift, and when it all changes, try to keep on flying.

 

Not sure when I will be able to post again.  It may be the next time you hear from me is after stage one of the race (will aim for one more before we start).  See everyone on the other side.

Feel the numbers
11-Aug-2014 08:23:45 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

Silent watch today boys, feel the numbers… Every six weeks – give or take – this is how our coach announced the workout to the middle distance guys, my group.  Feel the numbers…

 

Runners live by numbers.  The numbers trouble and excite runners.  In the precision, the exactness, running is a study of mathematics.  Each atomized element a perfectly determined length or time.  A 400-meter track, a quarter a mile, is divided into four parts, each the length of a football field plus ten yards: the first curve, the backstretch, the final turn, and the homestretch.  A mile, for example, is sixteen football fields including end zones.  To run a four-minute mile one must cover each of the100-meter sections in fifteen seconds.  Half a second off pace, per football field, and the clock cruelly announces 4:08 at the finish line.  A high school four-minute-miler is great; a four-o-eight-miler the same age is good.  A true distance man lives (and dies) by these dimensions, the inflexible reality of it.  Every warm-up he images sustaining the manic speed over four perfect minutes (fifteen miles per hour).  He feels the alive presence of distance equals rate multiplied by time.  The multiples, the breakdowns, each inch and every second… the numbers live within him.  This is what he rehearses.  This is the commitment.  For example, take the number 100.  This was the weekly mileage of my college roommate and fellow member of the track team.  100 miles.  Since he began competitive running in high school his total at the end of each week always crested the 100-mile mark.  Beyond his records, and there were many, was that number: 100 miles over seven days for, at that point, approximately seven years.  Mercifully, as a middle distance athlete my workout total was not quite as rigorous.  I was 75 to 80.  John Parker’s “Once a Runner” describes the numbers in the following way:  

 

“One race represented months of training; each step the product of many miles of preparation.  They [the runners] would have thought of this race countless times, some of them running it in bits and pieces during interval training or over distance.  [Continued].  The toll on the runner – and those around him – was high, psychologically as well as physically …training was the right of purification … [and] such rites demand, if they are to be meaningful at all, a certain amount of time.”

 

The process has life and value that exists independently.  It is a prori fact; as if running isn’t even a choice, it somehow picks the person, and the only option is to adjust one’s identity accordingly.  Certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation.  If you have to be part of such systems you transform yourself through persistent repetition making the daily-inches part of your own personality.  And yet…within the calculus of time and distance, the calculations of speed, and recalculations of mileage, there exists primal awe.  A silent watch today boys, feel the numbers.  We knew that meant no time checks during the workout.  No splits called by coaches.  The instruction was simple: feel the tempo; get lost, a bit; let your feet loose on the track; be carried by the Dionysian-dizziness born from the drum beat, that bone aching anthem of your tribesmen folding forward into the next turn.  Later, in poem I wrote in graduate school, I tried to put language to ‘feeling the numbers’:

 

You choke on hollow wind,

your insides curling

fold backwards on themselves,

a night crawler pricked with a fishing hook…

 

In the deep sky,

birds coat their wings

with the sun.

Far into the city –

a great distance from the sweet sweat on your skin –

traffic pumps like blood.

You are alone in the world.

Awake and alive.

 

Madagascar is full of numbers: ounces of water every pit stop, electrolyte tabs and scoops of dissolvable protein, calories divided by time on course, ratio of running to walking to hit my times, quantity of salt pills over six days… it is maddening.  However, it is my sincere and earnest hope that deep into the multiday race – perhaps on day four or the second to last section of 50 miles – I recall the voice of my old coach and his command to feel the numbers.  Then, I will try to unglue myself from the quantitative structure of my race plan and instead eddy in the invisible content of what always exists in between the numbers, primarily, the joy of honoring the trail with my truest effort.  In the end, it is an existential search for what Nietzsche articulated as the moment when “the man is no longer an artist. He has become a work of art” (The Birth of Tragedy).  So I challenge all the competitors: in twenty days let’s all try, at some point, to disappear into the externalized product of our efforts.  No longer the artists we will be works of art.    

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MATT LEWIS
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014

Hometown
Santa Fe, NM

Profession
Obscure humanities PhD candidate

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MATT LEWIS
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 competitor

Bio

Academia by way of nonprofit work by way of selling scripts and books in the entertainment industry.

Hometown
Santa Fe, NM

Profession
Obscure humanities PhD candidate

Why are you competing?
reminder that joy and fun are not always the same
thing. The former often requires everything you
have - pain, sweat, training, effort upon effort -
while the latter a tv-couch-evening-after-work.
Both have there place and time. Good to know
difference.

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