The Day I Became a Runner. Again.

Pile of running shoes

This is a piece written back in May. I had been in an intense period of training during the fall of 2013, culminating in four ultra marathons in four months including the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler and Mount Mitchell Challenge. After the last event in late February, I took an intentional, and much needed break from running that lasted until the day I wrote this.

Yesterday I Became a Runner Again.

It was a short, three mile jaunt around the neighborhood. The small hills felt hard, yet somehow exhilarating. The pain in my left Achilles tendon was still there, though I had hoped that the two month layoff would cause it to disappear. I felt slow, even awkward at times, a baby taking tentative first steps. All this, but most important, I felt like me. I am a runner.

Moving over land by my own power, shifting my body position as the terrain rises, falls, and undulates before and underneath me just feels so right. After the tumult of a stressful week, to run again brought tears to my eyes. Running is my release; release from whatever weight is bearing down on me. It is a lifting, at least temporarily, of burdens. It is how I return to myself.

“I used to be a runner”.

This had been my ongoing joke with Mary every time we had seen someone running during the last few months. The break did make it seem as if that had been another person, another life. Yesterday, running again, I was again amazed to think that I had done this activity, that at this moment felt so difficult on a flat paved trail, for fifty miles up and over mountains and through the slop of rain drenched earth. Who was that fool? That fool was me. The best parts of me. The part that does not mind putting in long hours and working hard to achieve what I set out to do. The part of me that will keep pushing through, even though the task is difficult and the end result may not seem worth it in the moment. The part of me that can find joy and happiness in the midst of suffering. The part of me that knows that whatever difficulties I may be facing will pass if I just keep moving forward.

I am a runner again.

Why I Run: Part Two

Team Pinhoti 100
Team Pinhoti 100: Me, Mary, Paul, and Andy

This is part two of a series answering the question of Why I Run.

We were traveling through the depths of the night with the frigid air of winter’s first cold front easily penetrating our thin layers of running attire. I was supporting my friend Paul by running the last 30 miles of the Pinhoti 100 with him. In the flickering fire light at the mile 82 aid station, I noticed another runner, sitting on a stump, hands holding up her head, elbows on knees, anguished eyes providing a steady flow of tears streaming down her cold flushed cheeks. “We won’t see her again,” I thought to myself. 26 hours, 51 minutes, and 58 seconds after Paul began his journey, he crossed the finish line at the high school in Pelham, Alabama, and not long after that, the girl from the aid station came around that final loop running strong, her face bursting with a smile.

I Run to Be Inspired By Others

Though the act of running is a solitary activity, there is also a strong sense of community surrounding it. That group includes fellow runners, the communities in which races are held, and the friends and family who lend support. The help and inspiration of others can be instrumental in getting through the tough times and completing an endeavor as difficult as an ultra-marathon.

Mary checks on Paul's feet
It’s a difficult job….

My experience at Pinhoti has been a big motivator in my own desire to to run a 100 miles. To watch a diverse collection of individuals, some of whom you would never peg as runners, attempt such a challenging event was incredible. Equally inspiring was the group of people who came out to support the runners, friends and family who were staying up all night, navigating difficult forest service backroads, and dealing with the inevitable highs and lows that their runner experienced in the course of the event. There were also the incredible people who volunteered at the aid stations, filling water bottles for runners whose hands had become too numb from cold to do it themselves, and providing words of love and encouragement to people they are likely to never see again.

Running long distances is not easy. I don’t have any idea what was going on with the runner at mile 82. Was she physically hurting or battling some internal demon at that late hour of the night? Most likely it was both. Regardless, to witness her resilience, and that of others who compete in these events inspires me and provides motivation to face my own struggles. The people who come out to lend aid also inspire me to be a more giving and compassionate person. If you are a fellow runner or someone supporting one in a race or the long training period leading up to one, thanks for all you do and for giving me another reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

If you want to read more about why, I run check out Part One of this series.

Why I Run: Part One

View from Greybeard MountainRegular readers of this blog might wonder what changed in the time between Committed: The Quest to Run 100 Miles Begins and the previous entry when I was questioning why I run. The answers are many, and I hope to provide them over a series of short posts.

I Run to Explore New Places

Running allows me to see places I would probably not get to otherwise. In early December I ran on a trail only 20 minutes from my apartment and got to see parts of the mountains here I had never visited before. I wrote about my experience during that run and the insights it provided me on the Dirtbag Way. It was a true adventure, and yet I was home by early afternoon. As a hike it would have taken me all day to complete the route, and unfortunately these days, I don’t often have that much time to spare. Running allowed me make the journey in only a few hours.

While traveling, running has given me an excellent opportunity to get to know my surroundings. A few years ago while visiting Portland, Oregon I looked up some running routes using Map My Run and discovered one that took me 10 miles almost entirely on greenways and allowed me to traverse downtown and the parks that line both sides of the Willamette River.

Running the Bryce Canyon 100 will be a great way to explore a new environment. I will get to see the sun rise and fall over the canyon walls, and run under a canopy of stars during the depths of the desert night. I will experience Bryce Canyon in a way that few others get the chance to.

For me running is about exploration, and that journey is not limited to the physical world I am traveling through. More importantly, running creates the opportunity for me to explore my inner landscape. I get the chance to know my internal peaks and valleys, learning along the way what my body and mind are truly capable of. Though this exploration can often be difficult and uncomfortable, it is also filled with moments of supreme joy and wonder, and those times make the journey well worth the effort.