The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak’d
I cried to dream again.
– William Shakespeare, The Tempest
My dream was slipping away as consciousness intruded upon the restful warmth of sleep. You know that feeling you sometimes have at dawn? The room begins to glow with the sunrise, and your mind slowly stirs. You waver between the comfort of a dream and the awakening routines of morning. Well, in my case, something was licking my cheek.
It was as if a shaggy, slightly moist towel was dragging across my face. Odd dream this…just the sensation of a good scrubbing, steadily increasing in pressure. Feeling like I ought to be getting on with the day, I opened my eyes and saw nothing but deep blue sky.
I don’t know about you, but when I wake, I usually see a ceiling, or perhaps the wall if I have been sleeping on my side. So the view of a cloudless, cerulean sky was mysterious.
My left eye sensed movement, and when I turned to look, the damp towel revealed itself to be a tongue connected to a medium sized dog. Like a Saint Bernard engaged in an alpine rescue, this dog was doing his canine best to rouse the spirit in me.
Then a voice spoke from out of the sky, or slightly stage right in relation to the dog…
“Are you alright?” Readers of my other running reports will recognize this as a frequent question and theme.
“I’m not sure,” seemed the proper assessment, since I was on my back lying on scattered pebbles at the top of a river levy on a beautiful summer day.
“Would you like me to call an ambulance?”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
That was on August 17, 2006, the first time I passed out while running (yes, there was a second time). I had no idea that almost seven years later, at 5:50 AM on April 6, 2013, I would be standing towards the back of the pack at the start of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run, ready to begin my fourth fifty-mile run.
But here I was on a warm Sacramento morning. The excitement buzzed through the crowd as old stalwarts greeted each other and strangers made new acquaintances. There was Bob Halpenny, who was looking for Richard Hunter, a tremendously accomplished visually impaired athlete, whom Bob would be pacing over the second half of the course (please do read Richard’s inspiring account of his day here).
Another runner standing at my side served in the first Gulf War and told me he took up running to conquer the disabling headaches he suffered from an explosion which left shrapnel in his skull. The running worked better than all the medicine the VA had given him. He was hoping to finish by the cutoff time.
And then I remembered a woman I spoke with at last year’s AR 50. She ran in remembrance of her child who had been lost to cancer. Her tears of sadness at the memory were indistinguishable from her tears of joy at the finish. How do you begin to answer the daughter who met her at the end of the run and asked “why are you crying Mommy?”
“Mommy just accomplished something that was very hard” – an answer that worked on many levels.
My journey to this spot was relatively easy by comparison and has been guided by the most compassionate group of people you could hope for – the indispensably marvelous staff of Fleet Feet on J Street.
Perhaps I’ll plot the map of this adventure in another blog and take you around the hidden shoals and exposed reefs of this ocean. But in truth, I fear it may be somewhat boring. The beginning is what matters. You draw the contours of your own map, and your destination is never certain. Only when you look back can you see that there has been a path. Which is deceptive, because the swells and storms that have brought you here can only be ridden, not conquered. They have their own mind and cannot be bent to your will.
We stumble, and we sometimes fall. We may even lose consciousness. But we also accomplish the worthwhile which tends to be hard. Such things are neither good nor bad. They are the stuff of life and are not to be feared. For in losing consciousness, we also dream.
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
– The Tempest
Although my time was similar to last year at 10 hours, 30 minutes, I surprisingly finished in the middle of the pack placing 417 out of 836 finishers. Next up – a rematch with the Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 on October 12, 2013, where the goal is to finish before the sun sets.