In the six years I have now been ultra running, I have had my experience with many running highs. I have had highs that make me feel happy, blissful and calm. I’ve had other running highs where I’m tearing though a single track trail, in the middle of the night during a race, trying to hunt down my competitors and I feel like the biggest badass that I can possibly ever be. And then I’ve had highs after races, where I’m beaten down and can barely walk straight, but I feel like I’m on top of the world and can accomplish basically anything.
However, I have never experienced running highs, the way my boyfriend, Mark Matyazic, has. During ultra marathons, Mark has had highs that put him in a mind state as if he is on LSD (of course he’s not though!) and this year at Badwater was no different.
I asked him if we could put into words, where running took his mind on the night of July 16th this year, and this is where he went…
“Its really hard to explain what happened this time when I went into that quasi reality zen state that enters me after 60 or so miles of intense running. This time it came just after 77 miles.
I am not sure what exactly precipitates it either. Perhaps the combination of pain, the rhythmic motion of running, the sight of the stars in the distance(and the giddy feeling of ‘I’ll be there in a sec’) and silence.
This time it went something like this:
Long about mile 77 I could sort of feel something strange coming on. Some sort of knowledge that I was going to go somewhere or embark on a radical diversion from reality, but in a very positive way. There was a slow buildup of mental energy, as if preparing for a piece of news that will influence your emotions, even passions. I can only describe it as the periphery of the state of Zen.
I also noticed this usually comes when I have fully assessed my physical and mental state and everything checks in with a thumbs up. One can’t really let their soul run wild if there are problems with the body that houses it. Well everything came back green, or as green as possible after running 15 or 16 hours including 2 hefty climbs in Death Valley in the middle of summer.
I told my crew in a nice manner that I will not be needing them until I need them again (I know, a challenging request). That meant no pacer, no water, no calories, no van, no words, no nothing. I’ve learned I really don’t need anything for these little jaunts to wherever.
This one was sort of unique as I vividly remember the journey and only faintly recall my primary purpose, the race.
I think it was about a mile or so after I left the crew. The road was long and dark ahead of me, a few blinking lights of fellow runners probably several miles in front of me(the clear desert blurs your sense of distance to an object).
All of a sudden I felt a strong pulse with the simultaneous notion of a blue fuzzy wave spreading out in every direction, not unlike a rapidly expanding perfect sphere. There was an almost imperceptible ‘WOMP!’ that came with it, then a complete absence of any sound at all, making the previous moment in the desert sound like a noisy jungle.
Then the feeling of intense speed, like serious ‘outta here’ speed, feeling like if I were racing a cruise missle I’d have to stop and tap my fingers awhile. This was off in a diagonal direction about 45 degrees to the right and immediately losing sight of the ground. I know this as I was somehow flipped upside down and moving backwards, ‘seeing’ where I had been but not going. The ground just got small and disappeared in a matter of a mili second. And it just seemed comfortable, and very safe….and a nice diversion from the the previous 16 or so hours.
I believe it was about 1:30 am.
The ride was fun but seemed crazily short. I felt a purposeful deacceleration, complete stop and an abrupt flip over and turn so I was ‘standing’ with my ‘past’ flight behind me. A few feet ahead was a crooked pink door with matching door frame, the whole thing angled about 15 degrees clockwise. I thought it could be that I was the one that was floating crooked, but I felt upright and I realized it really didn’t matter all things considered. I noticed the paint was sort of peeling and the door looked a bit frail.
The worn gold/brass knob was very inviting. I could tell it was a door seldom used from this ‘direction’ but still well worn from a millenia of infrequent touch. I also felt the strong notion I didn’t have a lot of time and I certainly wanted to explore. I took one more appreciative glance at the contrast of the lone door’s silhouette against a strange starry sky and went ‘inside’.
I’ll never be able to completely convey or understand the feeling or emotion of that moment, or the ‘knowledge’ that came with it, but maybe after a few more visits, if I am so lucky, something will come to mind.
It was a soup of energy. Just pure energy. Dimly lit but no light source(I looked for a sun to give me some point of reference, however no avail. No stars or moons either). No floor or ceiling or walls. Just space, but a unique different and very much alive sort of space that I normally associate space with. The familiar people(yes people) and objects in there were all a part of the same energy but only differed in density, which I knew was voluntarily variable for them, but not me. I was visiting. How I ‘knew’ all of this remains perplexing. I also couldn’t help but notice a very relaxing omni-present hum, like a soft ‘zhzhzhzhzhzh’, but with the unmistaken pulse of life.
Immediately, like when I come home and the dog runs to the door to greet me, an oval shaped ‘ball’ of energy leapt from the right and presented me with it’s side. The sound was exactly the same as you hear when under a dozen high tension power lines. Crazily, there were two saddles on the thing and some leather reigns. Giddie’ up! Questions were being answered exactly as fast as my mind asked. I saddled up and the mini star sped off, quite delighted and proud it seemed, to show off the its neighborhood.
At that moment, I realized I was far from the desert. But alas, I glanced diagonally down and to the left and through a round window with blurry edges I saw what was the gravel on the far left of the road. I had gone off pavement. I willfully nudged myself to the right and overshot because I saw the yellow center strips drifting by. A quick vector to the left. “ok, theres the solid white line. I’m good”. I curious now as to whether I was actually weaving back in reality.
In the meantime I noticed I had a rider sharing the star with me. I also knew that there may be a few more. It was just the knowledge that was presented, that I would be able to share my star with a few friends.
But the big thing is I noticed, or ‘knew’, was I was observing the intersection of time, or actually lack thereof. No time, just a static place where everything is doing everything they every have or ever will do at the exact simultaneous moment. Strange. Stranger still is is made all the sense in the world right then. Time is just something to allow us to play out our lives in a linear fashion, perhaps to better savor it? A treat before we move on.
I passed a childhood friend of about 3, playing with blocks, next to the same person, 20 years later, she’s studying in The Ohio State University library for a chemistry test. There was my great grandmother, walking down a street in Willowick, Ohio oblivious to herself bedridden 15 years later but only a few feet away. Same person having an ambiguous dinner maybe 30 years earlier. If you looked close, you could see any number of friends or family doing an infinite number of things.
This star thing I was riding was alive and very very wise, sort of smirking at my shock of what was unfolding before me.
What wasn’t a surprise was the reaction from some of my friends. We’d occasionally pick one up or drop off a new friend. Some became immediately scared. They just didn’t wan’t to accept the new reality. Some yelped and smiled, not afraid to let go and others simply marvelled. The fact that we were there together came as no surprise to anyone. Communication was of course all ‘wireless’, with thoughts flying back and forth. Days of verbal dialogue compressed and completed within a few minutes.
However, what was the most powerful notion of the entire journey was the very strict order that I could not leave with anyone. There wasn’t any flashing signs that said this, just a very common knowledge that visitors cannot leave with anyone! Not the friends sharing the rides and not the people who were eternal residents. It was a very strange, singular law.
Some of the residents there were still alive here. I’m thinking some unknown part of us has always and will always reside there. I had a pretty strong conviction that if they exited the pink door, meaning enter reality (when they are already here anyway) that something quite malevolent would happen in their current waking lives. They’d simply have to go back, meaning the person AND the mirrored spirit, and in an immediate sense.
All of a sudden I got the feeling the tour was up. This thing, which I can only best describe as 1/2 proud lion and 1/2 star, dropped me back off at the door, which opened quite rapidly and by itself, as if I was about to overstay my welcome. I was sucked off my host, went hurtling through space and sort of spiraled softly back into consciousness.
I saw the Darwin timing station ahead, mile 91.
I was ‘out’ close to 2 hours. I felt energized and relaxed. Hell, I just took a 2 hour diversion, I was definitely ready to run now!
At this point it was back to verbal communication.
I wanted my yerba mate but couldn’t quite get it out. I have to use my mouth to communicate again.
It was pitch black out. My crew was waiting.
“Mark, over here”
“wheres here?” I mumbled, staggering across the road.
“No! Here. Not there!”
“Well where’s here compared to there” I replied, becoming rapidly agitated.
“ok just go there and we’ll bring it to you”
“#$#@$!!! I don’t have time for this! I’m leaving”….and I began to ramble down the dark desert highway.
a few 100 yards down the road the truck pulled up, I got crewed, I was firmly back in reality and was ready to rock into the new day.
But man, what a soul twisting excursion that was….
I’d have to say it perhaps forever will make me see things in general a much different, broader perspective
How deep and how long will I get to go next!!??”