The Rollercoaster of Racing the Planet: Nepal

To read my blogs throughout the week of the race, please go to http://www.4deserts.com/blogs/np_comptetior_blog.php?pid=MTQzNw==&blog=116

I’ve had a few weeks since the 155 mile Nepal  race ended to attempt to put some weight back on (I currently weigh 165 pounds and couldn’t beat up a 5th grader), and to analyze the entire experience, from the people I met, to how I performed.  And all I can keep thinking about was how intense the entire experience was and how the Buddhist culture and the race itself taught me another lesson about perseverance and how to handle adversity.

To briefly summarize the race, it traversed the foothills of the Annapurna mountains, which are a part of the Himalaya mountain range, the highest in the world.  Over six days the competitors and I ascended 30,000 feet and descended approximately the same vertical distance.  As you would have guessed, it is difficult to train for this in Rockland County, New York, which is where I spent most of my time before heading to Nepal in early November.   The little bumps that I went over while trail running 25 minutes from the George Washington Bridge were no match for what I encountered in Nepal.  I had a tough Day 1 as I got lost with a few other competitors at the front of the pack, which dearly cost me time behind the leaders.  I had finally mentally recovered from the mishap by the beginning of Day 2 but my body had other ideas.  Within the first ten minutes of the race, I threw up every ounce of nutrition I had consumed over the previous 12 hours.  Apparently, Day 2 would not be my day either.  But to be honest, it’s the day I am most proud of.  I had never struggled in a race like I did on this day.  Ascending a mountain in the first part of the race, I was mentally willing my way forward, but my body had nothing to give.  I felt like I was dancing the robot in slow motion rather than running like an athlete.  After pushing ideas of quitting out of my mind, thoughts I had never experienced in any run, I continually pushed on and had a very strong second half of the race.  Buddha stressed that one’s internal mindset is what determines a person’s satisfaction rather than the external.  Though I felt like death, the only thing that kept me going was my inner resolve and positive attitude.  Crossing the finish line this day and seeing my friends waiting there for me was probably the most emotional I was the entire race.

From there, the race went pretty smoothly for me.  I finished in 3rd on Day 3, 10th on Day 4 and 4th on the Long March, which was 47 miles and 10 hours of pushing through beautiful Nepali villages.  My overall time put me in 6th place for the week, which I was proud of, especially since I was sitting in 22nd place after Day 2.  But as running-centric as these races are, most of the observations and lessons you take from them have little to do with the sport.  Here are some that I took away:

  1.  Always be prepared.  It’s so fun to sit in front of a computer, look at beautiful pictures of Nepal, and glorify what you are getting yourself into.  I did the best training I could with my weird work and travel schedule, but I was in nowhere near the shape I was when I did the Sahara Race a year prior.  With the race being 10 times as hard as that one, my body took a serious toll.  Besides losing 15 pounds of muscle and dropping down to a weight that I hadn’t been since I was 15 years old, the extra emotional energy I had to expend to put out a similar level of performance left me completely mentally and physically drained for at least 7 days after the race, with the first 48 hours being bedridden with a serious ailment, that, while definitely attributable to some sketchy food, was aided by my non-existent immune system at that point.  It was one of the first races I have done where I didn’t feel like I had given it my best shot in training.  When I do another race, I won’t make this same mistake, because I know my health depends on it.
  2. Nepali people are some of the most authentic I have met.  I have now been in Nepal for about 6 weeks and will be posting a few more blogs on the epic experiences I have had here, but it’s important to recognize the kindness and compassion of the Nepali people in this post as well.  From the minute I got off of the plane, almost everyone I encountered was a pleasure to deal with.  While I truly enjoyed my time in India, the people there, most of whom were great, were pretty aggressive to deal with.  I couldn’t believe that a country with such a close proximity to India could have such a distinctly different culture, especially since the religious backgrounds are almost identical.  Running through the villages we were fortunate enough to see was an experience I will never forget.  The serenity one feels while being in such a magical place is unmatched.  Many of the villages are 10,000 feet up, and besides the abundance of cell phones, the daily way of life is the same as it has been for the past 50 years.  Most families cook over a wood fire and are self sufficient with their food.  The families spend their days tending to the fields to grow their crops and feed their families, and that’s it.  Putting food on the table at night is the main task of the day, and the simplicity of a lifestyle like this, one where you sit with your entire family each night to a meal that you created from start to finish with your hands in the dirt, from cultivation to ingestion, is one that is so foreign to most Westerners.  But the practicality of it is so attractive that it’s sometimes hard to think that we have a more fulfilling life in the “wealthy west”.
  3. Come for the people, stay for the running.  In some weird way, running the Sahara Race in October, 2010 changed my life to a certain degree.  Before heading to Egypt, I had moved to Jersey City the previous January and was living with two amazing roommates while I saved up money as thoughts of traveling the world occupied my dream waves.  But as the months rolled on, I continually questioned whether it was the right decision to resign from a job that I truly enjoyed, in a terrible global economy, to go travel like Peter Pan.  I was 28 years old… this was the time to take on more responsibility!  Then I did the race.  And I met the most interesting people who all had their own unique stories and who were all successful.  And I don’t mean successful in the financial sense.  I have no idea how much money any of them make.  But they all seemed to have the common thread of following what they were passionate about.  And that’s success in my eyes. Another common thread that I realized was that, just from signing up to complete the race, which is never guaranteed, many of these people were not afraid to take chances and fail.  And that is usually when good things happen, and when people personally grow the most.   As I continued to meet these people, the one thing I realized was that I didn’t feel like I was that different than them.  That if they could take some chances and pursue their passions, why couldn’t I?  In some weird, indirect way, these people made me expect more of myself… made me believe that I was capable of more.  And this race was no different.  So many different nationalities, stories and personalities, and so much compassion and love for each other. 

After standing on this soapbox bullet point of raising my own expectations of myself, it’s time to jump off.  Since Sahara I haven’t done anything to live up to these newfound personal expectations besides travel around like a nomad.  I can write about increased expectations all I want but until I back it up its all talk.  But in some roundabout way, I have never been so excited about finding the unique way I will contribute to this world.  And to a certain degree, I have these races and the people to thank.

So will I ever do another race?  As I crossed the finish line on the long day after ten hours of running, I swore to never run again.  That was an obvious lie.  I’ll probably end up at another race somewhere down the road.  And when I do, I plan to use the lessons I learned from this one to make the most of it, and to find inspiration in the amazing people lined up on each side of me when the starting gun goes off.

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4 Responses to The Rollercoaster of Racing the Planet: Nepal

  1. carrie long says:

    This is the Ryan you always wanted to be! So happy you had the courage to take on these journeys.

  2. Joan Robotham says:

    Fascinating. Merry Christmas.!

  3. Jamie Kuykendall says:

    u inspire so many Ryan- i couldnt be more proud of you. when we are eventually in the same area, even briefly, i’d love to sit and chat and hear more about your adventures.

    Miss you!
    Jamie

  4. rjbennett1 says:

    Thanks Jamie! Would love to meet up when I get back home to catch up on everything. Happy New Year!

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