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Reflections From Sri Lanka: Walter Bortman

So after it is all said and done it is difficult to describe all of the feelings and emotions that I carried away from the Racing the Planet:Sri Lanka 2016 race.

With so many aspects of this race being so far from anything I had done prior the training and preparations were very difficult and I was filled with anxiety. I had to place a lot of faith in those who were helping me get ready. Ultimately, they did not steer me wrong and I was as ready as a new runner to a race of this proportion could be. Over about 9 months, miles of running, intensive strength training, crossfit and yoga turned out to be the combination that worked for me.

International travel to such a distant place in and of itself is a task, and after two days and over 20+ hours of flying and driving, we were finally there. The days just prior flew by as excitement mounted and last minute preparations were made packing the final food and gear.

Jump to the start line. Beautiful sights and sounds, traditional dancers glittered in the sunlight, my pack all strapped on and ready to go. The countdown was made, and we were off.

The next six days are honestly a blur. I do remember vividly so many beautiful landscapes that caused me to cry the second I saw them. Intense jungle terrain, deep forests, hills, hills and hills. I saw beautiful waterfalls, vast tea plantations and beautiful temples, statues and religious sights. Elephants in the distance, roving packs of cows, monkeys swinging in the trees over head, water buffalo and crocodiles floating in a nearby lake made it like a movie scene.

The people of Sri Lanka were amazing. I tried my very best to greet every single person I encountered with a smile and a wave, thumbs up, high five or fist bump. On two occasions, when it seemed I need them the most, I had two young boys on bicycles meet me somewhere along the last leg of a day, and rode with me all the way to camp. Little angel pacers.

I met other runners from all over the globe. Friendships I suspect I will have forever and hope to encounter them at races in the future.The staff, crew, doctors, volunteers, Sri Lankan Military and Police personnel were nothing short of amazing. Extremely long and difficult days of ensuring that myself and all the racers had the very best experience possible. I thank you all.

Day 6: after 31+ long, hot and steamy miles, I had run as far as possible, both physically and geographically as I ran into the camp and stood at the very edge of the country. I dropped my pack, took off my shoes and shirt and ran into the Indian Ocean. I let the ruff tide crash over my exhausted body over and over again and I cried with the biggest smile on my face because I knew I had achieved what I had come to do. I ran over 150 miles through the most grueling and difficult terrain I could have imagined, little or no sleep and even less food. Hot, searing muscles burning with every step, sunburnt skin, swollen feet and cramping back muscles - I completed every day, every mile and I didn't quit.

The last day was a ceremonial two miles to a finish line celebration with local residents, fishing boats, dancers, flags flying from all the racers countries and then running under the Racing the Planet 2016 banner which was the best step of my life. The medal was around my neck, a full plate of amazing Sri Lankan food and an ice cold Coke in hand was like no moment I could have ever imagined.

You see, Feb 13, 2014 was the day I was released from the LA County Jail to a 90 day lockdown drug rehab center. Exactly two years later I was on my way to the start line of this race. Two short years. I could have never imagined then what has happened now. I would have told you it was impossible and I suppose in that moment it was. The point is this, small changes every day have taken me on a path that has surpassed my wildest dreams.

So if you are a drug addict or an alcoholic that is in a place of untold pain and literally imprisoned by your dependence to these drugs, my messages to you is this: I hope and pray that you can see what I have done and feel some glimmer of hope. That you can make a decision to at least give the future a chance to unfold in front of you without it being rooted in your own self destruction. Ask for help. Let go of the battle. Surrender to the idea that there is some future, you can not see yet or understand, that is waiting for you if you so choose. It is a bright, colorful and beautiful place. You don't have to suffer anymore. Just believe it can be over and believe you can live again.

This whole journey was made possible by the amazing leadership and generosity of Linda Quirk and Runwell. My debt to them can never be repaid and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. I love you Linda for who you are and what you do and I hope to always carry this message on your behalf.

Dream Big and Runwell,

Walter Bortman


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