My friend, Norb, handed me Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on The Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis the night before we were running the Antelope Canyon 55K in Page, AZ. I immediately stretched out on my bed and opened it up.
While reading the Introduction by Warren Doyle, a quote grabbed my attention. After letting it soak in, I read it aloud to Norb because I thought it was fitting to ultras and to what was to come the next morning.
“Don’t fight the Trail. You have to flow with it.”
This sparked an insightful discussion and Norb made the comment that the quote not only pertained to ultras, but to life as well.
This has been what I have been trying to acknowledge and welcome into my life. And as we flow with our experiences, it’s our attitude toward those moments that decide whether life has been positive and fulfilling or negative and frustrating.
I knew that this race was going to be a mental test because of the amount of sand that we were going to run through. The kind of sand that’s deep, loose and that makes you feel like you are losing ground, not gaining, the effort you put in.
It would be extremely easy to get lost and caught up in your goals if you didn’t go into this race with an open mind.
That’s why I had no goals for this race. In addition, it was my first race of the year and first since getting over knee pain at the end of last year. All I wanted was the pure enjoyment of running and flowing with the course.
It didn’t take more than a minute into the race that I could feel sand in one of my shoes. But I expected that and I didn’t want to worry on it so much that it would take away from the experience.
The course was a figure 8 design taking us around Horseshoe Bend, down into Waterholes Canyon and all the way around the Page Rim Trail that overlooks Lake Powell.
For me, it seemed like everything happened beautifully.
We reached Horseshoe Bend as the sun was rising, the slick rock burned red from the fresh rays and painted a reflection of vibrant orange on the Colorado River far below. I wanted to drink the moment longer, but a few glances at a time were all I could afford without risking a fall.
From there, I found myself in rhythm with another runner as we wound our way along the cliff’s edge, trying our best to spot and follow the course flags.
We arrived to the Waterholes aid station together, but left separately.
Dropping down into the Waterholes slot canyon I was all alone and in complete awe with the geological features. I ran with my finger tips gliding over the smooth and cool rocks to both of my sides. It felt unreal, yet tangible at the same time to sense the passage of time in one moment. Even though I was in a race with hundreds of people, being alone gave off the feeling of this being my very own adventure.
Climbing out of the canyon the course featured a long desolate stretch with nothing but more sand under foot. I was aware of the build up of sand in my shoes but I didn’t want to stop to dump them just yet. I didn’t feel any issues yet but I knew I should do something soon. So I decided I would dump them after I finished the first loop of the figure 8.
I heard the course was mostly dirt trail on the last loop. I figured it would be perfect and only necessary to have to clean out my shoes only once.
At the mile 21 aid station, I took both shoes off and took both inserts out. I poured out the sand and slapped the inserts on my legs to get as much sand out as possible. I slipped the inserts back in and both shoes back on and was on my way…but I noticed no difference.
I realized that the sand that was bothering me was in my socks. It was enough packed in, that it made it feel like I was running in shoes a few sizes too small. I did my best to push this away from my mind.
Beginning the last loop I was joined by another runner and his presence was just what I needed.
I knew around mile 26, that my feet were destroyed and that they were only going to get worse. Both of my big toes felt like they were on fire at that point. But sand aside, I was having an awesome time.
We kept together the last 11 miles and were feeding off each others consistent and steady movement. This allowed for the last stretch to be easier than it should have been. Not that it was by any means easy at the end, it was a grind and a battle to keep convincing myself to keep running.
On the last quarter of a mile, I felt that he deserved the better placing of the two of us. When he picked up his pace, I happily watched him cross the finish line from behind.
I was 12th place in 5:37.
After taking my shoes and socks off, I immediately went to the first aid tent. One big toe had a few normal sized blisters and the other had one that was caked with sand and covered the entire inside area and a little bit under the nail.
Overall, this has been the most content with a race I have ever been. Other than a few parts climbing over rocks and one small steep sandy hill, I ran the whole thing. Which was all I asked from my body.
Reflecting back on my race and the others that placed before me, I wondered why people race or run ultras. Each person will have their own reasoning. But thinking on myself, I’ve realized that I do these to go against myself.
Me vs. Me
To see if I can overcome mental and physical obstacles. To see if I have grown and progressed. To see if I have learned from the past. To see if I can kill my old self and transform into my new self.
Obviously I want to improve my times and placing the more I do these races. But comparing myself to others is not how I define my success and accomplishments. I only want to compare myself before the race and after the race. The in between, how I adapt to the elements and persevere during mental and physical low points, is how I measure my personal endeavors.
And as I further to develop myself inwardly and outwardly through running, my hopes are that what I learn will spread to all other aspects of my life allowing me to flow with life, not fight it.
*Photo credit: Norb Lyle
“The longest journey a man must take is the eighteen inches from his head to his heart.”- unknown
There will never be an end, until the end.
Life is full of highs and lows. Often times these come unexpected and duration can never be predicted. It’s in how we deal with these ups and downs that make them worthwhile.
It’s about the attitude we choose to use in life that signifies whether it was a positive or negative experience.
And the only certainty in life is that there will always be highs and lows just like the cyclical patterns of the changing tides. Most likely they will be less frequent, but there will always be a rise and there will always be a fall.
We have to accept that fact.
It would be inhuman to think that you will always be happy or that we will always feel a certain way.
There are so many feelings on the emotional spectrum and it is only natural to go through them.
I have used running as my middle ground to sort through my life journey. Things seem to make more sense while I’m running or after I have finished a run.
I absolutely love the clarity that running brings to me.
Sharing my inner thoughts on here has been wonderful but I know from personal experience that the only way to learn and grow is through your own personal experience. It’s easy to sit and read what I have done and what I have thought, but do you as a reader truly learn anything?
I don’t want to sound cynical but I don’t think so.
And as I mentioned earlier there will always be highs and lows. I have accepted that. With that in mind, there are only so many ways to express how I feel about running. There are only so many ways to interpret the lessons I have learned while going through my own journey.
This will be a lifelong journey.
At some point it will become redundant, for you and for me.
I choose running, or it has chosen me, to be the means of passionate transportation down my own path. Through that, it defines me as a person and it is my metaphorical guide to the book of my life.
I am on this journey from my head to my heart. I have no idea where I am along this journey but I can tell you that I have a ways to go.
I believe that the best way to finding the balance and peace within, you need to live in the present moment. You need to live now, to be fully alive.
Lately, I have worked on being more mindful of my thoughts and actions. Wondering why I do certain things or think a certain way.
Something I have pondered on is why I, and others, feel the need to share our own unique stories.
A lot of times I worry that the reason I do share my life is to increase my self-esteem. That might sound a little dark, but before you post something to the world, sit and think why you are doing that. What inner purpose does it serve?
Life can be long or it can be short, but if you aren’t living in the present, then what’s the point?
As I have become more present with myself and my surroundings, I have found the need to share my journey less important. It’s distracting. And I hope everyone starts to think in the same way.
Live and grow your own way.
I am glad I was able to project my evolution over the last few years with everyone but I know that it is time to move on from this.
It’s time to close this chapter and look forward to the horizon of another era. New adventures and new achievements.
This won’t be the end of my running, but this will be the end of Road to a 100 after my next 100 miler. I’ll continue to do ultras and other 100s, but I won’t have any need to document my ups and downs along the way.
Because my experience doesn’t translate to your experience. You have to find that on your own.
You, me, we. We have to go out and live. Not here, online. But out there, in the world.
“You can’t live at all, unless you can live fully, now.” -Alan Watts
I had about 6 months to train for the Half Ironman. I picked out the Augusta, GA race that was in late September of 2011. It’s a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run. And like I said before I wasn’t swimming or biking. Probably the last time I swam a lap was when I was 10 and the last time I road a bike was close to when I was 13. A half a year is a long time but hopefully it would be enough to get ready for a big triathlon.
First thing first was to get a bike. In preparation for the half Ironman, I signed up for a sprint tri about 2 months into training. When you ask for advice getting into triathlons everyone will say to just use an old bike you have. A) because you don’t know if you’ll do more than one so you don’t want to make a big investment on a new bike. B) a sprint tri isn’t that long of a ride. Most of them will range from a 10-15 mile bike ride. C) you’ll see a ton of people using old bikes at sprint tris. It’s probably their first triathlon as well, so you’ll be in the same boat and won’t feel embarrassed if you show up with streamers on your bike handles.
My plan one morning was to go on a short run, then pull a bike down from the garage and take it for a test spin. At my house we had a bunch of bikes and they took up space so my Dad had hooks hanging from the ceiling and we hanged the bikes upside down. So I pulled my old Trek down. Oh so many memories with that bad boy in my early teenage years, when my friends and I would build makeshift ramps with wood and cement blocks. A quick inspection, I needed to pump air in the tires. I found an old pump. Hooked it up to the tire valve and gave it a few good pumps. Nothing. I tried a few more, nothing.
I assumed there were atleast a few holes in the tube. I just decided to try another bike. I pulled a Schwinn down. Alright I thought, this will be my training bike now. The chain was a little rusted and not on the gears. I remembered to flip the bike over on its seat to put the chain on easily. So I did that, put the chain on and spun the pedal with my hand to get the chain all the way on. Right when I started to crank with my hand the chain just snapped. Well shit. I really didn’t feel like working on bikes all day. I figured that doing a half Ironman, I should be okay with spending a little bit on a new bike.
I Googled some local bike shops. Went to a few and everything they had was a little out of my price range. I ended up finding a low end Specialized road bike at a shop and it was last year’s model. Definitely in my price range, now we’re talking! I asked to take it for a test ride. They gave me a helmet and had me sign a waiver. I went out to the parking lot and hopped on. The bike was in a low gear so I clicked away, speeding around. I wanted to test all the gears so I wanted to shift back down. And I couldn’t figure that out, haha! I stopped and asked the guy that was helping me, “uhh how do you shift down?” He showed me that the hand brakes swing towards the inside and that actually shifts the gears down. Weird. Totally different than the Trek mountain bike I was gonna use.
Got the bike, and now needed to find a place to swim. The next day, I found that my county in live in has parks all over and some have indoor lap swimming pools. I went to one that was close by my house and is also on the way to and from my new job. I bought a season pass. I decided to test the waters while I was there. Yes I brought swim trunks and yes I forgot to bring goggles. Actually I forgot to even buy some. F it, I’ll still do some laps.
I jump in the shallow end of the pool. 10 laps should be easy I told myself. I push off from the wall and start swimming like how I remember how one is supposed to swim. I opens my eyes under water and when I take my first breath, I turn my head and keep my eyes open. The chlorine quickly dried out my eyes and my vision was blurry. I slowly made it to one end and I could barely breathe! I held onto the wall trying to get my breathing under control. I looked around and see people doing their laps and the lifeguard glances at me. She’s probably thinking what an idiot I was. “This is just like when I started running. It’s gonna take time.” I told myself. I finally get myself under control and I go back to finish the lap. Halfway through I lose a contact in the middle of the lap. Man this is rough! I didn’t last very long in the water that first day. It took me forever to do 5 laps, which was fine enough for me. I didn’t want to struggle doing 5 more to make it to 10.
I kept my running schedule the same. I subscribed to Triathlete magazine and researched training plans. I didn’t follow a specific one. I just wrote out my own schedule. I would bike 3 days, swim 3 days and run 5 days out of the week. I would just slowly build up my endurance on the bike and in the swim.
Other than running, I was more excited about adding biking to my routine and wasn’t at all looking forward to trying not to swallow water a few times out of the week. But quickly I came to find out when you ride a bike on the road, the drivers don’t give a flying fuck. They don’t bother to slow down at all. They don’t bother to even to give you a little extra space. You have to bike going with traffic, unlike running, so it’s scary as hell knowing your life could be wiped out at any moment. And like I guessed, swimming did take some time to get use to. It took awhile to be able to do a lap without getting out of breathe. And when I could swim more than a lap, I felt like a beast.
Biking, you’re constantly getting out of rhythm. Stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, shifting gears up and down. And hoping the next car doesn’t run your ass over. Swimming, I found very meditative. Just like running you focus on just a few things and all of the sudden your mind is completely relaxed. My excitement to start biking faded quickly and it was my least favorite of the 3 sports.
Aside from that, I loved doing so many workouts in a week. I typically would run in the morning, then swim or bike after work. Saturday I would do a long run. And Sunday I would a long bike ride. Occasionally I would do a brick workout. That’s where you do two of the sports back to back in a sitting to mimic race day. Yeah it was time consuming, but there is nothing like chasing a new goal and taking on a new challenge.
“Out on the roads there is fitness and self-discovery and the persons we were destined to be.” -Dr. George Sheehan
I went for a run one morning. I had been running every day now. It had been three months since I took the first step back into getting in shape. Before every run, I would walk to the top of the hill I live at the bottom of. It’s not a steep hill, I just never wanted to start my runs going up hill. I liked the walk to atleast have some kind of warm up. I got to the end of my driveway to start walking but a few neighbors were walking by at the same time. I tend to lean towards the shy side and sometimes avoid awkward moments, so I didn’t want to walk right next to them after a quick “good morning.” So I sucked it up and started running up the hill.
That run that morning, everything just clicked. Everything just came together. Every step seemed smooth, every breath was relaxed. The run almost felt effortless. It was the first run that didn’t feel hard. It was the first run I wasn’t gasping for air when I finished. After sticking with it for a few months, I finally felt I had made it. I had ran 5 miles. I felt like I could of gone on forever. I don’t know if my neighbors were not out at the same time that the run would have been different, but part of me thinks that it would of been. Kind of like the idea that something so small, could change the course of your life. Sounds a bit crazy. Maybe if I wasn’t shy I would of had a nice conversation with them and had another tough run. Who knows? And ever since, I’ve started running at the end of the driveway…at the bottom of the hill.
I really thought I could have done it again. Another 5 mile loop after just doing one. But I didn’t. “If I ran that route again, that would be a 10 mile run. That’s almost a half marathon, right?” I went right to my computer when I walked in the house. I searched how long a half marathon is, 13.1 miles. This is a bit embarrassing but when I was driving out West, I saw a bunch of 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on cars. I didn’t understand what they were. I really thought they were some weird radio stations or something. Haha, now I know! I also searched for training plans for a half. Pretty much all I found were three month plans. I counted out three months to the day. Just around Thanksgiving. “I think there’s a half marathon on that day actually.” Boom. Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon. It was all perfect timing.
I gave it some serious thought… maybe just like 15 minutes. I registered and printed off a training plan. “Alright, a half marathon is far. It’s pretty crazy to run that far. Just this once, to see if I can do it and never again” I told myself. I made the announcement to my parents feeling excited and proud! This seemed like it was my biggest commitment and challenge I had set for myself.
But there was another side to those feelings. The job search once again wasn’t going in my favor. I kept hearing that I didn’t have enough experience for entry level jobs. It made no sense! Weren’t these jobs designed for kids fresh out of college to gain experience? Why wasn’t I landing any jobs, let alone interviews? How was I supposed to get any experience? Coming close to broke, I had to take what I could get. I applied for another warehouse job and got it. This job was another temporary project.
I dreaded doing another warehouse job. Being on my feet and moving crap all day wasn’t what I had in mind. I wasn’t above doing it, just thought by now I’d be sitting at my own desk. But I had to do what I had to do. I did luck out a little. I got to sit down at this one. The job was working for a tech company that was doing a project for The Home Depot. We were setting up handheld devices to be used in the stores. My part was to upload the operating software to the devices. Sounds somewhat cool right? It was super easy and mindless really. It was in a warehouse setting but I wasn’t doing typically warehouse stuff. So it was better than my last job.
In addition to that, I was beginning to regret my decision to end my last relationship. Was it the right decision? I was really missing her and I was having the hardest time of letting go. I was blaming myself for the end of us. We were completely fine until I brought up moving and doing the road trip. I realized I pressured the hell out of her to go with me. So I thought it was all my fault. A part of me started to regret leaving to go West. How was I gonna get past this? Or how could I fix this?
Running helped me out a lot in high school when I went through a break up. I had my goals when I started back up, but I knew deep down another reason why I wanted to run again. Since it helped me so much before, I knew it would help me again. The half marathon was something to look forward to in the future. Really the only thing I was looking forward to.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” -Lao Tzu
Within a week of my return, my girlfriend and I decided it was best we went on our own ways after being together for almost 6 years. The time together after I got back wasn’t great. Our ideals were beginning to reveal how different they were. I was longing for a happy life doing what I was passionate about and she was looking for a secure and content life. I remember before I left when I was trying to get her excited about trying to leave with me and going on a huge trip, she said “why don’t you wait until you retire to do those type of things.” That was exactly the life I didn’t want! What if I didn’t live until I was able to retire? And why wait til then?
I honestly didn’t really know what to do then. I didn’t have a job. Someone I spent so much time with was now not in my life. I had an entire day to fill, but with what? I was sitting in my room, in the same spot I had been before I left. The memories from the trip were unforgettable. But I thought I would find myself along the way. Instead I was right were I began with so many unanswered questions about what to do with my life.
I was brushing my teeth one night before I got into bed. I noticed my gut and man boobs were jiggling while I was brushing. I would stop, the jiggle would stop. Oh shit. I always thought of myself as looking athletic. Haha! I guess not anymore. I got on the scale the next morning. Yep, after I dropped a load. Don’t want that counting towards my weight. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the scale showed me that I was at my highest weight ever. I wasn’t huge or anything, but I could tell fluff was starting to build. That’s right when I thought, “I need to get in shape.”
I really wish I could say I got off my porch like Forrest Gump and took off running. Or that I effortlessly went on a 4 mile run. Nope and nope. In fact, I didn’t even run. I just went on a long walk. It was the start of summer and already hot. I went for 3 miles and when I got back I had a good bit of sweat covering my shirt. Not bad I thought.
I kept this up every day for a few weeks. Then I felt ready to start running. Halfway in my walk I ran for half a mile. I did that for a week. It wasn’t a smooth ride. It was hard to breathe and my boxers would chafe the hell out of me. But getting into shape was something I really wanted. I didn’t want to be one of those people that gave up after a few weeks because I couldn’t hack it.
The next week I ran three fourths of a mile of my walk. Each week I added a quarter of a mile. Once I got to a mile and a half, I felt ballsy and went for two miles. So from day one until about two months later, I was finally running the whole three mile route. Even though it was a long build up, those three miles weren’t easy. But it felt amazing every day to strip my sweat soaked shirt and hang it on the railing of my deck to dry in the sun.
I fell into a routine. After waking up, I’d lace up and go on my run. It was like the day didn’t officially start until I got out the front door. Once you pick up a habit, new ones quickly follow. I stopped drinking so much sweet tea and Coke. (In the south we call every soda Coke). I pretty much stuck to water. I stopped eating so many chips and instead ate an apple for lunch. The Eggo waffles weren’t gorged in the morning anymore either. Oatmeal quickly became a breakfast staple.
I didn’t focus so much energy on changing my diet. Things just happened. And it didn’t happen all at once. I think most people fail to keep up with healthy eating because they make such a dramatic change. If you do one thing first and slowly add changes, then I think it will be more lasting. If you start with one thing, just drink water. Sometimes it’s not what you eat but what you drink that you need to change.
I was job hunting like it was my full time job. But the running gave me reason to wake up in the morning. Something to look forward to. Something that made me feel accomplished and good about myself.