I’ll never understand why I chose to run my first (and only!) ultramarathon at 31 years old in the sweltering heat of Thailand. Maybe it was the result of too many Singha beers and sweaty nights after living 2 years in Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok. Maybe I should blame my triathlete friend who found the race, gave me the idea and promised to run with me. Whatever the reason, I found myself standing at a starting line with 200 runners, one friend and a random Japanese tourist decked in Hello Kitty attire at 5am on a steamy morning in 2012.
An active runner since high-school, I learned early on that my running talent is utterly average. I continued to run through college and my late 20’s mainly as a means to meet girls and prevent the proverbial man-belly. My health history in Thailand had been less than ideal, plagued with instances of food poisoning, foot injuries and a scary stint with Dengue Fever – a mosquito born disease that cost me significant weight loss the previous year. I suppose this race offered me an opportunity to reclaim some of the magic I felt had been lost to a desk job, entering my 30s and suffering a handful of health setbacks.
Victory – that feeling of winning – is an important motivator for all of us. It gives us the sense that our time and effort counted for something. History teaches us that, ‘to the victor go the spoils,’ and we are encouraged to pursue, ‘Victory at all costs!’ With all the pomp and rhetoric, the real value of victory is lost. Thinking that victory is a conclusion diminishes its utility for the future. Rather than treat victory as a single achievement that marks the end of an endeavor, I propose that we consider victory a mile marker on a larger journey for growth.
My first few steps after the starting gun on that humid morning in 2012 were a victory for me. Every morning run, epsom salt bath, healthy dinner and supportive word from my wife gave me hope and encouragement to train another day for a race that was way out of my league. Before the race ever began, the workouts alone had returned me to health, brought me new friendships, inspired others to exercise and given me renewed confidence. All these were victories, too.
50 kilometers later, after 5 grueling hours running past Buddhist temples, through banana plantations, coconut groves and white sand beaches I crossed the finish line. The race was one of attrition; nearly half of the runners had dropped out of the race by the time I had finished. The heat, distance between support stations and challenging terrain favored tenacity over form. Looking forward to my complimentary Thai massage and chicken fried rice, you can imagine my surprise when I was called to the stage and awarded the 3rd place finisher medal. While my amateur running career started and ended that day, my journey continues and I always remember to celebrate the victories.