In Search of Epic

“Epic” is defined as “heroic; majestic; impressively great” and “of unusually great size or extent.”

To live on the endurance path is to live in search of epic experiences.

What does it mean for a ride, a run, a swim, a ski, a paddle, or other type of athletic endeavour to be epic? Here are some thoughts on the subject:

First and foremost, to be epic, the experience must be a memorable adventure, literally. That may result from one or more of the following factors:

Distance: The longer the adventure, the more “out there” it will likely become. But words like “far” and “ultra” are relative to one’s experience and training level. How far is far? Farther than you’ve been before, perhaps.

Difficulty: The more difficult the experience, the more likely it will be memorable. “Difficult” is also relative; if it’s difficult for you, it’s difficult. There’s no magic cut-off, distance-wise, or in terms of elevation gain, or anything else, which defines “difficult.”

Weather, especially Unexpected Weather: Rain, wind, snow, hail, sandstorms, heat, and many other things we often call “weather” can turn “an ordinary outing” into an epic outing. Likewise for related phenomena like floods, road washouts, and the like. Of course, sometimes we go deliberately in search of intense weather, like cycling in the dead of winter, or running across a desert in summer, or when tempting fate during monsoon season with only a t-shirt on our back.

Mechanicals / Breakdowns: Cycling is about the body-bike interface. When the bike breaks down, so can the whole system and pretty soon we’re no longer a cyclist, but a bike-pusher or hiker instead. But more often that not, mechanicals don’t completely disable the bike, they just make it a whole lot harder to ride. Similar fates can befall running gear, swim goggles, XC skis, and other equipment “necessary” for the endurance athlete. Can you turn adversity into an opportunity?

Gong Somewhere New, especially Unplanned: “Hey, I wonder where that road – or trail – goes?” can be The Seven Magic Words just before an ordinary workout turns epic!

Getting Lost: See point immediately above, a closely related subject.

Running out of Food and/or Water: There’s nothing like the bonk, or a good thirst, to make things interesting.

Getting Sick or Injured: Such a list must, of course, being with throwing up and related GI distress from either end, along with blisters, blown out joints, thrown out backs, and the myriad possibilities which can result from crashes, falls, and other accidents. Can you push through?

Encountering the Unusual: Crossing paths with deer, giant turkeys, bobcats, snakes, or millions of grasshoppers, to name just a few examples of the animal variety, can make things memorable. Unusual varieties of people, places, and more are also out there, too. Don’t ride or run right past them!

Racing the Sunset: Running out of light, when you don’t have your own lights, can be simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. No matter how tired you become, at the end (or near the end) of an epic ride, run, or ski, the adrenaline usually kicks in when the sun is nearing set and there are still miles to be covered.

Road / Trail Surface: If smooth, beautiful pavement were the only good place to ride, we should just all ride velodromes! Mix it up. Ditto for running and every other kind of human movement over the landscape: Are you an outdoor athlete, or just recreating your usual indoor treadmill workout, elliptical jaunt, or lap swim?

Using the “Wrong Bike” for the Ride: This is a topic, and concept, which is near and dear to me and which inspires my blog slogan “Any Bike, Anywhere.” I love to pedal, and we I to pedal anywhere I possibly can (or can’t). Mountain bikes: who needs them?

Unlikely Routes: Linking roads and regions together with trails and other connectors that most people wouldn’t think of is an exciting and enlightening flight of fancy. The end result is a one-of-a-kind route, a tour of disparate regions, and a ride or run that is perhaps half dirt and half paved. Cycling version nickname: “Rough Riding.”

Adventure-seekers on the endurance path aspire to be prepared and ready for any circumstance, but when they’re not, they get the job done, while reveling in the opportunity to have new experiences, to explore the inner and outer universes, and to learn new things about the world, about their endurance sport of choice, and about themselves.

What defines EPIC for you? When was your last epic experience? When will the next one be?

How about today? See you out there!

  • By Chris Kostman. Originally published in Endurance News, #61, January 2009.
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