Come back home to your running.
Where was it, and where am I?
Well, for starters, I somehow ended up in the fast group. Phoebe, a lean, blond-braided sass was in front of me. She also, for better or worse, runs professionally for Nike, and just ran in the Olympic trails with an 800m time that's probably faster than my 400m time.
Behind me are Mel and Jess from Little Wing, a Bend-based running group that readies formidable athletes for the Olympics and other large races. With them is Coach Fleshman, aka Lauren, aka the brains behind the Wilder retreat, a 3x USA & 5x NCAA runner, successful writer & entrepreneur, and simply, well, a dynamic woman.
The trail is gorgeous. We're swallowed in pine and cinder, squeezed between an adamant sky—soft as butter. Our feet strike firm, but foamy dirt. We gain elevation playfully; the women in front of me are like mountain goats, leaping over every jagged rock and misplaced creek.
At 5,485 ft, I can barely breathe. My legs that once defended my lust for movement are now defying me. My left foot reminds me it's still wounded, with a small, sharp pain rising through the corner of my third toe on every downbeat.
I cant slow down I tell myself. There are elite athletes on either side of me ... on their easy run.
My body is being splayed to pieces, I think. I'm drowning in the Pacific Northwest mountains. My muscles want to reject my mind. I need to stop.
To stop is to fail I say.
To keep pushing is to most likely, well, die I decide.
I stop. The world surprisingly continues. There's a pool of lava rocks on our right, a reminder of what once was. A small creek hidden behind wired weeds. And that sky—butter.
A few other runners pass me, but Lauren stops. She ensures me it's fine to walk. I never knew a professional runner, who just so happened to create a running retreat, would be stoked about walking, but my mismatched lungs couldn't say much else. In my head though, I'm certainly saying fuck.
How did I end up in the fast group?
Well, okay. Now is a good time to talk to Lauren, who could help figure out what role running will play in my life. I probably talk too much, spilling out my history of 400's in high school, to that first marathon where I didn't train, to wanting to run an ultra, or a fast 5K, or to simply give up entirely, as the piercing pain in my foot reminds me I am still broken.
She listens patiently, like the surrounding evergreens waiting to age. She asks simple questions that seem incredibly hard to answer. What do you like about running? Why do you do it? We talk about how the lessons from running can be extracted and placed into other life metaphors. She pulls up her own history. We talk about growing up. We talk about change.
I start to realize what running is about. On the track, in this forest, or on a long stretch of road, I like to play with boundaries. I like to bend them. I like to remind myself that I'm stronger than I believe to be. I like challenge.
My running has taken me from small meters to marathons. Nothing has ever felt quite right. I like track pain, but now I'm painfully slow. I like the exhaustive thrill of the long run, but my body always feels torn.
In 10 years, what role do you want running to play in your life? she asks.
Well, shit. I want to always and forever be able to run five miles a day. I want to be healthy. I want to be the 80-year-old woman in the Tropicana commercial from 1997, who leaps from truck to truck, never missing a beat. I want that to be my forever running home—five mile runs, a strong body, a will to live forever—and then...I want to play.
I want to, and I will, try a 50K in the woods. What will that be like? How bloodied will my feet get, how sore the top corners of my thighs? I want to go sub-20 in the 5K. How much guts do I have? How brave am I? I'll never be a true ultra-marathoner, or a mid-distance speedster. But I'll be a runner. I'll be 150-years-old lacing up my shoes. I will always be willing to try, always willing to play.
I'm coming back home to you, running. Together, everything is good.