I can admit this, I guess: I tried to ignore what happened this past weekend, tried to be all cool and aloof from the drama going down, and 100% failed. By the end of it I was as riveted as ever to Twitter and dot-watching, sending messages and posting in comment sections as one friend of mine came cruising across the finish line with his kids at Hardrock and two others suffered through the heat and pains that only the VT100 can deliver. I cheered when Kilian crushed it (again) and Courtney showed us all what real grit looks like. I flipped through old photos on Facebook of me and the pals running together and training and laughing and then, after it all, just let the sad wash over me.
See, 10 summers ago, against all odds, I became a runner – and not just any runner, but an ULTRAMARATHON runner! For the next 5 years I trained in heat and blizzards, diligently did my hill repeats and repeatedly shredded running shoes to bits with nothing but my bliss and the collective determination of my crew. I raced over and over and over again and, somewhere in there, convinced myself that while I would only very (very) rarely Kilian a race, I would always be good, always take a few CRs, always crush some skulls.
But it was not to be so and 5 years ago I injured myself and work and… well, that was that. No more running.
I told myself (and anyone who would listen) that it “was never about the running” but about being outside and doing cool things, which was mostly true. I guess. I took up cycling and hiking and told myself (and anyone that would listen) that I just wasn’t into racing anymore. That I had other things to do. That the box of medals and stuff was full. It was all good. New adventures and all that.
And then this weekend, it came back. The love of the trail running community, the absolute triumph of running a 100k, the way that running and training give everything context – heat and snow become welcome obstacles, food is a diet, health a necessity, sleep sacred. I watched as the people, MY people, attacked the mountains and heat and mountains and heat of their hearts and minds in Vermont and Colorado and while I was thrilled for them I was sad for me – for my loss. For a change I couldn’t control and just, simply, had to learn to accept.
My mind did all the things you’d expect – rejected reality and demanded I get back on the horse, told me to smarten up and just deal, asked me why I was being a baby, reminded me of all the things the physio and doctor had said, brought back the feeling, the pain, of trying to run when I knew I shouldn’t. In short – it attacked me, point blank.
But here’s the thing: what I learned from being a runner was that my mind and I, my heart and I, that I and I can be friends. That I can listen to what I’m saying without freaking out, that relentless forward progress is FORWARD, not backward. Ultrarunning is not a only a sport, it’s a mindset, and here is what I gained from it: self-esteem, the belief that I could rely on myself, confidence in the face of overwhelming adversity.
I miss my community. I miss trips to the mountains with pals. I miss things being ripe with meaning. But I don’t need to dwell there, I don’t need to miss them – telling myself I DO need them is the burden that will, inevitably, precipitate a big, personal, existential DNF. And while W or L doesn’t really matter, F definitely does.
I used to tell folks that I wanted running to carry me into my old age and while that’s not going to happen, I’m absolutely going to see this endurance thing through to its end – I will endure. Guaranteed. Even if a little sad from time to time.
No cliches for you, my homies; no bullshit Hallmark card moments about “be thankful while you have it” (though that’s true too), but only this – to endure is to see every obstacle as the way. Mountain biking is decidedly not a replacement for running, but it is my way and it’s hard in all the right ways and the people are cool. The forest relishes in me quietly hammering it out under its canopy, and the dog, she digs it too. I may never race again, but I may; more importantly though this moment of sadness has taught me that my days need meaning, that the heat and the food and the cold and there to be endured and enjoyed for a point that I create with intention. That I can rely on myself to overcome. Every time.