By Christopher Cudworth
The extremes of running and riding are a tarsnake of sorts. We’re so often careful to avoid dangerous situations while running and riding and we take measures like wearing helmets, signaling our direction and running against traffic to protect ourselves against calamity.
Yet the notion of engaging in an extreme workout or race, testing our very capacity to endure and survive, still has a strange draw. Some of us don’t feel real unless we’re pushing ourselves to the limit. That is the tarsnake of extreme pursuits.
As a runner for 40 years, I’ve been in situations where extreme was a very good description for the activities of the day. As a sophomore in high school I ran a 30-mile Walkathon with friends. Okay, that’s not that radical. But there was no water on the entire route because the volunteers running the event were expecting walkers, not runners that day. Past 15 miles the running got difficult. At 20 it got downright hard. At 25 I finally begged a Coke from a woman on a front porch and by 30 miles the extreme effort required me to push on my thighs just to get up some stadium stairs at Northern Illinois University where the Walkathon was scheduled to finish.
Yet the next day I turned out for track practice and ran intervals. A little sore, mind you. But that’s what you do when you’re into your sport in an extreme way.
In college our cross country team traveled out west to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone area to train. Toward the end of the week we decided to run from Jenny Lake up to Lake Solitude and back. The mountainous trail rose 3000 feet in elevation, from 6000 to 9000 feet. We had only been training in the mountains for four days. But the group of us took off running uphill, dodging horses and even a few moose as we went. At the lake we stuck our toes in the water but were carrying none with us, so the temptations were tantalizing. But warnings about giardia kept us from drinking. So down we ran again. The thighs began to ache. Tongues were parched. Yet all of us sooner or later made it back to camp. And that was an extremely interesting and tough day.
After college I trained with a group of talented distance runners out East in Paoli, Pennsylvania. Four of us decided to run 3 hours+ on a Sunday morning in January. It was a warm winter and the temps were in the high 40s when we started. But then it began to rain. And rain. And rain. For three hours we kept rolling, telling jokes and covering miles as we logged the time running. Soaked through and by all rights chilled, we did not seem to notice the rain as time went by. Our body heat kept us going.
Of course that night I slept and slept. That was a lot of calories to burn.
Cycling produces similarly extreme conditions at times. Sometimes they are far worse than anything you experience when running. Getting caught in the rain on a bike is even tougher if you’re not equipped with clothes to protect you from the effects of wind chill. I know that well, because one February day I took off on the road bike in 60-degree temps only to have a cold front sweep through with cold mist to boot. That 20-mile ride turned into a survival pedal all the way back home. It was damn cold. And extreme. There have been many such rides since. Extremely hilly. Extremely hot. Extremely bad roads. Extremely fast.
But all were fun. And maybe a little stupid.
Because that’s the nature of extreme running and riding. There’s always a little stupid thrown in for good measure. Because it takes some stupid to feel like fun.
And that, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of extreme sports.