The Trial of Miles

To put this simply: Life isn’t a sprint. Life deserves your best effort. It’s best not to shoot your wad on your warm-up. Easier said than done.

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Northern New Mexico hike with the family (Battleship Rock to Jemez Falls and back).

The trial of miles. Or miles of trials. Which ever you prefer.

It was hard to even finding a name for the blog. “Trial of Miles” is quite popular. I was able to get around it by adding the word “the”.

The concept of “trial of miles” is popular amongst runners. It was introduced in the literary world by John L. Parker, Jr., in his novel Once a Runner. I was loathe even to bring it up. This is not specifically a running blog. Much like John Oliver’s description of the I.T. guy, I didn’t want people’s eyes to glass over and think “Oh, no. This is boring and you smell like canned soup.”

The Cliff Notes version of the book is this: The protagonist is in his senior year of college, and a whisker away from becoming a four minute miler. He has been befriended in his college years by a former college graduate turned Olympic champion because he saw something special in the kitchen. Protagonist gets kicked out of college. Pro puts the kid up in a shack on his property and coaches him to take his one big shot at breaking through. We have all read different iterations of the story. Mr. Parker writes it well.

There are many things I love about running. It’s an outlet for me. If I’m feeling nasty before I go out on a run, I usually come back a nice human being. It allows me to be way too serious about one activity, and maybe I won’t take other aspects of my life so seriously. It also gives me the chance to test myself in a physical and mental manner. Yes, I’m aware that my running in the grand scheme of things really doesn’t matter. But by regularly testing my limits in this activity, maybe in some small measure, I’m challenging myself enough so I can be ready to handle the things that do matter. It’s probably the same reason that anybody really loves a “serious hobby”. Although I will tell you it’s something more, but you get the point. (As a side note, if you ask me what I really want to be when I grow up, I would tell you a professional distance runner. The only thing that has ever stood in my way is an utter and complete lack of any God given talent. I survived medical school and residency. I can handle the mental aspect of the training. I digress.)

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Looking down from the top part of the Bright Angel Trail.

Take running out of it, and the metaphor still holds. “Trial” is more of an “ongoing evaluation.” “Miles” is more of “any ongoing challenge to be worked through.” All of a sudden, it’s a lot more generalizable. It could be cancer and chemotherapy. It could be addiction or mental illness and recovery. It could be Alzheimer’s and taking care of an elderly loved one. These are not battles necessarily to be won in the traditional sense, but obstacles to be overcome with a sense of dignity and pride still intact. How do you get there? What’s your roadmap?

This hits home especially now in my year of transition. I’m still recovering from the last decade. And I feel the clock ticking already. I really want to enjoy the moment and enjoy the break, but I really want to know what I’m going to look like on the other end. I’m playing the game of “this is who I was, and now I want to be something else,” and I want to hit the fast-forward button. I want to be “all better”, renewed, and redefined in one fell swoop. And that can’t happen.  I understand all too well that another long-ish journey is ahead of me.

I have been drafting in my head for years what the “trial of miles” meant. I even wanted to write a little rule book for it, complete with rules and corollaries. That felt forced, contrived, and wrong.  I was having trouble connecting the dots. As I started developing the ideas for my blog months ago, I was going over old books. I think two passages in particular hit it for me much better than I could ever articulate on my own.

“… I rammed into a classic paradox. ‘To run a world record,’ said Australia’s Herb Elliot…. ‘you have to have the absolute arrogance to think you can run a mile faster than anyone who’s ever run a world record; and then you have to have the absolute humility to actually do it.’ Elliott was a God to me then. I took him as an example of maniacal effort. But if that sentence urges anything, it urges balance. You must balance the arrogance of your ambition with the humility of your training.” –Kenny Moore in Bowerman and the Men of Oregon

“…you don’t become a champion by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to except it) years.” –John L. Parker in Once a Runner

I have this thing that limits me with regards to holding multiple complex ideas in my head at once. It’s called a “Y” chromosome, and I compensate for the best that I can. To put this simply: Life isn’t a sprint. Life deserves your best effort. It’s best not to shoot your wad on your warm-up. Easier said than done.

I find this relatively easy to do when developing a training plan. I’m currently training for my first ultra marathon ever, a 50K in October. I have very little trouble seeing the longview here. When it comes to other personal areas of my life, I need to be reminded of this frequently. And I’m not sure why that is. I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone, and even after writing this, I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen again. It really can be difficult to get lost in the day-to-day grind. I have to consciously remind myself to think about the long-term. I need to remember what motivates me, and where I derive my passions from. And then when I get recharged, I need to be able to harness that energy, that vigor, over a prolonged period of time. It’s really easy to lose sight of over-arching principles when your world seems like it is frequently smoldering. It’s easy to have your energy drained along the way.

I do not offer solutions today. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe “the trial” needs to be repeated routinely. I only offer up that I am grateful that I have running to act as that constant reminder. While it seems trivial, I’m glad that I can regularly lace up my running shoes so I have time to remember these things. And hopefully I can hold onto these concepts a little bit longer the next time around. The trial continues.

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Sometimes, it’s better to just enjoy the madness on the way. With these guys.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 40 year old pediatrician transitioning to a teaching career, happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I fell out of the Ugly Tree, and hit every branch on the way down.

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