Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Racing to the Light

Above: A giant painting called "Picture Without Words" by Edward Ruscha, as currently on display at the Getty Center, the inspiration for this post. This photo of the painting is by the author.

I've been thinking about "light" a lot lately, on a multitude of levels. For example, we ultra athletes are all "racing to the light" in many ways: During our ultra challenges, we're moving forward relentlessly, through the night, towards the sunrise, the first break of dawn. Each new day brings forth new opportunities, new energy, and perhaps the day in which we'll cross our finish line.

Likewise, when we're racing eastward, as I was for nearly eleven days during the 1987 Race Across America, we're racing right into the morning sun every day. When I did that race, I'd sleep three hours a night, from about 3 or 4am to 6 or 7am*. I always went to sleep when it was still dark out, and then got up after the sunrise, to pretend, in a way, that I had slept through the whole night. After I got up, I'd get back on my bike, and start rolling eastward, usually with some oatmeal to eat while pedaling. Not worrying about my speed just yet, I'd be squinting into the new day's sun. The memory of that daily ritual is one of the strongest of the entire experience.
As I'd roll towards the light, I'd set my goals for the day: which state lines I'd cross that day, which other racers I'd pass, where I'd want to arrive by nightfall, and how many miles I wanted to ride before I finally took my three hour sleep break. That morning process of setting goals would repeat until the finish line. "The fulness of life lies in dreaming, and manifesting, the impossible dreams," wrote Sri Chinmoy.
Go east, young man: The author during the 1987 Race Across America.

Crossing the finish line of an epic race in the darkness feels more like denouement than climax to me, so finishing in the daylight is always a goal of mine, whenever possible. When I arrived at the Washington Monument after pedaling 3,127 miles in ten days, 23 hours, and 58 minutes, it was just shy of 2pm on a weekday. The whole city was abustle, I felt part of the energy, and the light was streaming down on me. I was alive, and all was well:

"Light" has many other meanings and connotations, as well, and I will explore them more in future posts and articles.

* During RAAM, I did not sleep the first or last nights of the race, so I slept a total of 24 hours during eleven days. Amazingly enough, that's considered a lot by RAAM standards. Many competitors get by on half that amount. I consider that stupid, self-defeating, not athletic, and, for lack of a better word, not very graceful. I definitely rode faster than I otherwise would have as a result of sleeping "so much" during my RAAM.


Ian said...

Great post, Chris. Focusing on my goal of finishing my first 600k before sunset on day 2 gave me the discipline to get through controls quickly and keep moving forward. The motivational power of a sunrise can only be truly experienced out there on the bike.

Setting goals for each day is a great idea that I will bring with me to the Cascade 1200k this year.

Chris Kostman said...

Have a great time at the Cascade 1200km, Ian! That ride is definitely on my bucket list, so I will get there some day. Keep it "light"!