Doing 26 mile race with a bag of bricks on your back doesn’t sound like the most folks’ idea of a good time, but over the last several years it has become my obsession and love. I hope you guys like this one. It felt inspired as I wrote it.
Hiking a Marathon
Road March. Rucksack (army backpack). Hiking. Those words seem like a mantra and are beautiful to me. Walking marathons with me wearing an oversized and heavy pack people think you are a little crazy.
I will tell you that finishing a marathon in record time is like nothing else on earth. The first ten minutes you are done is a feeling of utter euphoria. When I hike a race or pushing myself against time on a hard course.
I seem to feel a nakedness of spirit, an absolute purity, a divine madness while I let loose to ramble on a course.
It feels like I am doing what I was trained to do, what I was bred to do, what I was born to do! Several times I have tested against the Portland and Eugene Marathons. I gave it everything I had.
I hiked the races the best I could. I willed myself to be the best I could in the moment. Win or lose, victory or defeat it is those moments that I feel I am being the very best person I could be straining against the knowledge of my own limitations.
No matter what I was before or would be after the moments following a great race I feel more alive than other time. It is a feeling of pure grace that comes only in the full abandonment of the divinity of flight.
It was a joy to be done, the pure orgasmic joy of the dance. The Portland Marathon was always a sort of last dance, a day of last roses. It was the best race that I have ever done.
Why Hike A Marathon?
With all the physical events in the army there is one super macho event that stands out- the road march. As my buddy Kent, a decorated Green Beret, said, “… it tests the size of your heart.”
A 30-40 pound pack plus water and gear that is to be humped as fast as you can. The race is against the clock and at its core is a race against yourself and no one else. It’s an individual effort and not a team effort.
This is the basis of being a soldier: Strong men hauling heavy loads over rough ground. At its essence, it is both elemental and dangerous and it is exactly the reason I joined the army.
Struggling against the clock and trying to get the best time, I believe, is one of the ultimate tests of military virtues. Qualities such as courage, bravery, endurance, and sacrifice are all tested and explored in the most human of terms.
By pushing yourself physically you triumph over fear, and in the end you feel doing something heroic by being the best you can be. You become the best person you can be in that moment.
Before each race I pack and repack the rucksack countless times to save space and eliminate weight. I even went so far as cutting the handle off my toothbrush.
This might seem like a ridiculous detail, but unless you’ve carried one of these monster packs through 26.2 miles of sand, hills and heat, it makes perfect sense.
Those final minutes before a big race are always filled with nervous anticipation, and the excitement almost seems palpable. Over time, that feeling slowly diminishes, but never goes completely away even after years of racing.
It is the time when all the ‘what ifs’ fill your head. Did I train hard enough? Did I eat the right thing in the last twenty-four hours?
These things are all par for the course and are part of the excitement of choosing to participate in an arduous sport. Instead of hiding under the covers on a Saturday morning.
At the premier sporting event for crazy folks who like to hike marathons with heavy packs is the Bataan Memorial Death March. Set in the back training ranges of White Sands Missile Range it is a challenging march through the high desert terrain of New Mexico.
The course is set on winding desert trails and literally over a mountain range and back down again. Miles 9 to 12 going straight up hill. It is considered one of the toughest marathons in America, even more so when you add 35 pounds of unforgiving weight to your back.
As the racers gather at “Bataan,” as it’s known to the racers, the participants line-up. With their rucks and uniforms they no longer look like jocks.
Having done it six times I can tell you there is an ease and knowing in the way you shift the weight of your pack. You’re trying to find the “sweet spot.”
The weight pushing down on your shoulders, the heaviness of the pack resting on your lower back- this is home. This is what all the training was for.
All the marches on cold, early mornings, hours of boredom and sweat getting ready for this one event, this is what the animal is trained for.
All the conditioning is not about looking good in a tight t-shirt, but to hump an unforgiving load over long distances at the highest possible speed.
A gut check of this type is the ultimate test of endurance and commitment. But for me the race is much deeper than that. It holds a deeper demonstration; it is a testimony of the power of the spirit.
It is during a tough race or road march that I feel closest to God. For me, hiking is the ultimate form of prayer. It is the best way to open yourself up to the Lord.
I believe there is a part of my soul that yearns to fulfill my God-made potential and to be eternal. I always try to ask for the Lord to be with me during these times.
At the start of every race I pray to God with the same mantra, “See in me, Lord, and please, be with me.”
For a long time, I have come to believe hiking and spirituality are inseparable. So connected are the two that I believe you can, “experience the divine in the physicality of hiking” and have a conversation with God while hiking.
It is when I am absolutely spent and my energy is at an all-time low that the still, small voice of God will tug at my heart the most.
It really doesn’t seem like a voice, or a thought, or even an intuition. It is the way your whole body cries for water when you are so thirsty you would drink from a mud puddle, if that was all you could get.
When backed into a wall, physically, I feel I am the most open to God. This doesn’t mean that I have visions of Jesus when hiking up down a mountain. Or, hear voices from beyond the grave.
It’s more about appreciating the beauty of God’s creation and enjoying the gift of friendship during a hike. In the end, it’s about giving thanks to the Lord to even be able to do hike up down mountains for hours at a time.
In the end this is something that has worked for me and has been the best form of my expression of spirituality through a physical medium.
One More College Try
I have decided to go for it one more time and enter Bataan in 2015 but with a catch. This year I am going to try and get my best time. I have been focusing on four areas: Back, Legs, Shoulders and Abs.
The idea to make my body a Steam Engine designed and conditioned to run the race as quickly as I can with a 35 pound pack up and over hills.
Lots of running, lifting, and hiking to get ready for the ultimate race of the spirit and the foothills of Kentucky as my training ground. The rucking is a mode for spiritual growth more than any other thing I have ever done.
Rucking doesn’t require any external tools or devices; you have your body, a heavy pack and an open heart for the Lord and that’s all you need.
Training for Bataan and attempting to do well is much more about spiritual development than just winning a race. I will keep you guys abreast of my progress. Know you are all missed and thought of often.