Life, Love, Loss and a Historic Run! 40 Days is a brutally honest and inspiring story about Steve Cannon’s historic journey around Lake Michigan. Just imagine averaging a marathon a day for 40 straight days, it’s a story of dedication and determination, love and loss, and living in the moment. And most importantly, it confirms what can happen when you push yourself farther than you ever thought was possible. Steve has kindly agreed to share a part of his inspiring book with followers of Rundamentalists …Enjoy.
The excitement from the first couple days of running felt so far behind me. My longest training weeks for this race were around 100 miles. During those weeks my coach would have me stack two, sometime three 20-plus mile runs in a row. There is a fine line in training for multi-day runs. One must push the long days as far as possible and as many in a row as one can without completely breaking down the body. It is very similar to training for your first marathon. You want to get in as many long runs as you can without blowing yourself up. I wasn’t going to run 40 marathons in a row during training any more than you would run five or ten marathons during your marathon training. Pushing yourself through training not only sharpens you physically, it sharpens you mentally.
You run the first 20 miles of the marathon with your body. You run the last six miles and 385 yards with your soul. It is somewhere around that 20-mile mark, “THE WALL”. that the mind begins to scream enough is enough! I love distance running or distance anything because it unifies. We all take the same journey, just at different speeds. When you cross that finish line you share a bond with all your fellow racers. Nothing needs to be said, it is just known that all of you went to the dark place and willed yourself through to the other side. It is a feeling that can be partially explained but only understood by doing. Once you make that journey you are changed forever.
Ultras and multi day runs are no different. The journey is the same; the clock just runs a bit longer. When I was running across Iowa in 2009, there would be these incredibly intense moments early on where for reasons unknown I would just start crying. It was the oddest thing. There were no thoughts that were triggering these emotional outbursts. I wasn’t listening to Barbara Streisand or tuning into Tony Robbins. I was just shuffling along and Waaaaa!! The outburst never lasted long and was always followed by this incredible sense of relief. I believe that the running, because of its intense physical demands, was stripping me bare. Each mile peeled away a layer until sooner or later it uncovered something that I had buried long ago and like an oil gusher, it would just explode out of me, so glad to be free. At first I felt embarrassed by these moments; later I came to welcome them, as I always felt so good after, somehow lighter on my feet.
That run across Iowa marked the first time I had attempted so many marathons in a row. Eleven days, eleven marathons was what it took to get from the Missouri River to the Mighty Mississippi. Each day became a new personal best and a new chance to go deeper inside. Day 7 of that run was the day that stands out the most as it was when my body, so controlled by the mind, said enough is enough. This was no quick sob and move on lighter and happier. The best I can describe the experience was as a running version of a mental breakdown. Everything got very dark and very slow, seemingly one thing after another started shutting down. Like the marathon “wall.” I had to learn to run with my soul to get through it, turning off both the body and mind.
I knew from my Iowa run that the “wall” was out there waiting for me. The difference now was that I ran with Lake Michigan “Mom” by my side, so I looked forward to it. I knew what was waiting on the other side. Peace, ease, rhythm, flow. Over 130 miles were behind me now. During training, I ran almost exclusively on trails and dirt roads. The asphalt jungle is a body wrecker. It should be outlawed. I had put in months and thousands of miles with no major injuries and I know it is because I stayed off the hard stuff. The first five days of this run had been nothing but the hard stuff and my legs were revolting. The discomfort was made bearable because the voices in my head would drown out the pain. Like a kid being ignored, each day my mind got more and more upset, yelling at me with greater frequency. Today it was nonstop. All the signs were there. I knew where this was heading…into the dark place. The real dark place.
As the sun began to set on Day 6, somewhere around the 20 mile mark, I spotted the RV just up ahead. I had never hated running so much in my life. One negative thought after another filled my head. Every self-doubting voice and sentiment you could ever imagine was running through me. It was a feeling of desperation. The temptation to quit, to just quiet the voices and make it all stop was strong.
Normally, Jarred and I would chat about something at each stop. We are the best of friends and conversation almost always comes quite naturally. Not now. I told him what was happening and he understood, having been with me in 2009. I told him the pace was gonna get real slow but not to worry, I’d get there, beyond the “wall.” Nothing else was said. I put my earphones in, not to listen to music, but to muffle any outside noise. I wanted to go into the hole as deeply as I could. I wanted to experience it fully.
If you have never run beyond what you thought you were capable, be it a 5k, 10k, marathon or longer, this may seem hard to understand. I had run nearly six marathons to get here. I wasn’t gonna blast music and try and run around it or from it. I was going into it and through it. Almost immediately it started to happen. The voices in my head were loud yet they really didn’t “say” anything, they just conveyed this sadness, this doubt and desperation that it was over, that this was impossible for me, that I would fail. I would not allow the thoughts to take me, I would accept them, let them keep coming, remain unattached. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
My pace was barely faster than a walk but that was of little consequence. This had nothing to do with time. I was entering into a place of no time, a place where–if I could let it all go, if I could continue deeper and deeper into the hole–I would disappear. I would no longer be separate from the lake, or the countryside, or the pavement that had been beating me. I would become one with it. Connected. In the flow.
Tears began flowing down my face and my breath was broken up by sobs. If you allow it, it becomes an out-of-body experience. You literally run out of your mind. There is a huge pull to stop, to return to safety, but there is no real safety in doing so. The safety lies just beyond where you think you are capable. That is the place where you find connection to the best of who you can be. You tap into the flow. You become part of everything and nothing.
The day was done. I have no idea how long those last miles took. I stumbled into the RV completely empty. COMPLETELY EMPTY. The run would begin anew tomorrow.
"I knew where this was heading, into a dark place. A real dark place."
Steve Cannon, 40 days