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
I believe that as we journey through our lives, our main focus is to find inner peace from our surroundings, situations and selves. A satisfaction and contentment.
And the more we experience in life, the more strength we accumulate, allowing us to discover and understand harmony in any instance that greets us. An acceptance and appreciation.
I don’t believe that this is exclusive to any certain passion. But I do believe that runners take to the roads or head to the trails to find their inner strength and inner peace to make life more enjoyable and to find clarity in a cluttered world.
I find this evident with myself when I compare my mental well being to days that I do run verses days that I do not. The equanimity of every day life seems in balance when I run just an hour out of the 24 that are available each day. The scales are heavily askew on rest days even though 1 out of 24 shouldn’t equate to a balance to begin with.
But that one hour is enough for my soul to feel peaceful and to have the strength to dust myself off when contentment washes over contention from the unpleasantness that sometimes arises in life.
Each run is a journey in itself, congruent to life as a whole. Each run is an opportunity to further develop my inner peace towards myself and the world around me. Each run deepens my strength to hold on to the fact that life is beautiful and frightening at the same time.
The saying that “life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you” is both agreeable and refreshing when viewed post run compared to prior.
I believe my journey of running is my peace of mind towards meaning and fulfillment. Running is my inner peace, my inner strength.
My next 100 miler is set in stone and will be the Bryce 100 that is run in the middle of June in Bryce Canyon National Park.
It’s an out and back course with over 18,000 feet of gain and loss. Most of that being in the 8,000 ft to 9,000 ft of elevation. The scenery looks amazing for this one. Check out the video below.
I’m super pumped about this one!
As everyone knows, I shot for the stars with last year’s Bighorn 100 and fell way short of my goal. But my greatest success of last year was failing at that race. The lessons I took from that experience have been ingrained in me and have provided, what I feel, a solid stepping stone and foundation to what is to come with future goals.
How I prepare for this race will be an astronomical improvement over one year ago. I feel like I am on the right path to finding out what needs to get done to possibly come out on top for a mountain 100 miler.
I have this intense feeling deep down about the potentiality of this race for me and it only inspires me to run and train to be the best me I can be.
I’m ready and can’t wait for this one.
I believe, for myself, that I fall more in love with running the more I need to fill a gap in my life. An emptiness that only another can fill. And when there is no other, the miles become my comfort. Maybe, it’s the discomfort of straining tired muscles or it’s rhythms that each foot step brings, that comforts me.
No matter the pain or pleasure, it’s like a comfort blanket to me. Maybe it’s because I can expect either around any corner or up any hill. Maybe it’s expecting the unexpected while running or it has become, expecting the expected.
I know what running brings me. I know how I’ll feel during and after. It sounds like an addiction and maybe that’s what running is. Just like any other pleasure we chase.
Running is my fallback. It’s Plan A and Plan B at the same time. It’s my passion and it’s my cement to fill the adverse times of sorrow.
It’s a want and a necessity.
And the more it takes up my life, the more I want to do it. Maybe that’s because it distracts my mind compared to when I’m idle. Or maybe it’s because it fulfills my given purpose and temporarily fills the void that others leave behind.
I’m ready to run to and away from the things that I do and don’t want to feel right now. I’m ready for the pain and pleasure. The accomplishment and the satisfaction that every step brings. And for the glory, appreciation and acceptance that running brings to life.
I have two articles published on UltraRunning Magazine’s website!
Two Wrongs Make It Alright: http://www.ultrarunning.com/featured/two-wrongs-make-it-alright/
Hope everyone enjoys them and let me know what you think of them!
“Movement is the essence of life.” -Bernd Heinrich
Over the last few days I have noticed, from a mental standpoint, how much I need running in my life. I have been witness to a slight deterioration in mental health that I believe to be a result from simply not running. Not moving.
For a few days, I almost felt more lost in life than if I were to actually be lost on a run.
It’s too easy to say what your love is when you have it. But it’s not until you don’t have it, that you realize how much you really need it and appreciate it. Because what you love is part of your identity.
It’s your life.
Your passion is essential to your life. As much as food, water and shelter.
I guess all of this answers if I am mentally ready to get back into running.
I have taken two weeks off from running and the fact that I moved to a trail running town, have combined to create a longing to get back to running.
I recently read in a book, about doing what you love and finding out what motivates you (I believe it is called Drive), that you should take a note card. On the front of it write the answer to the question, “What makes you excited to get up in the mornings?” On the back of it write the answer to the question, “What keeps you up at nights?”
And if you ever feel that life isn’t what it should be, then you remind yourself of your answers and do more of those things.
Running with the sunrise is my answer to the first question.
Though I did not get up that early today, I did begin my recovery process with a short run then a long morning hike. My happiness rebounded from the expansive views, fresh air and great company I had along the way.
And as I look back to earlier in the day, it was perfect and exactly how I wish to spend all of my days.