This past August, I went for a run. I brought my hydration pack that held my half-filled bladder, a ziplock bag of peanut butter pretzels, my phone, and my inhaler. I had no real agenda, aside from knowing I wanted to go pretty long and spend most of it on trails.
I ended up running nearly 18 miles, gaining over 3.5K feet along the way. I totally ran out of water. When I look back at my journal, I wrote how that run was both empowering and terrifying. I got lost in the maze of thick trails—enjoying the solitude but also being scared of it. I hiked up steep ascents towards mountain peaks and stumbled down them in awe of the wild flowers bending every which way. At mile 12, one of my worst fears came to be: I ran into a mountain lion. (It didn't eat me.)
I wrote how the run was "soul-gutting," how I ran "in silence, in suffering, in all its brilliance." It was a run that best describes how I now feel: Running is a push and pull of fear and awe. How can something can be so terrible and wonderful at the same time?
I'm a sea-level road runner deep to my core, and I think I'm pretty decent at it. Road running is safe. It's predictable. I can more or less know what a 7 minute mile feels like. What an 8 minute mile feels like. If there was a flat slab of road that stretched out in front of me, I could go forever.
Trail running is new to me. And it's really fucking hard. I never knew how difficult it could be to throw down an 18 minute mile, and also how hard it would be to stop looking at (and caring about) my watch. The trails expose how much beauty there is the higher you go, and how much harder it is to get there to see it all.
Running used to expose my strengths. It was a reminder that I could fight through things harder than I had imagined. That I could keep my wild mind in check, and I could use a little strategy and skill to not bonk during long runs and races.
Trail running has exposed my weaknesses. My vulnerabilities. On too many runs I have left feeling like the trail simply chewed me up and spit me out. It told me how useless I was when I couldn't run up a tall hill, and would always say "what the fuck" when I felt terrifyingly dizzy on every slow, upward step towards a summit.
Most of all, it left me feeling confused. Wasn't I a runner? Why can't I do this?
This past spring I signed up for the Moab Trail Marathon, my 4th time tackling the 26.2 distance, and my first time doing it on trail. The race is now less than a week away (Nov 4th, I see youuuu), and I feel compelled to write. I learned a lot about myself this training cycle, ala this list:
1. Mornings are mine; I am not an evening runner
2. My body does not want to run 40 miles a week. This is child's play for many runners, but for me it is a lot
3. I am not going to win Western States anytime soon/ever
4. I take shit way too seriously
This training cycle was hard. I plugged into Strava and watched the Boulder community of ultra runners and professional athletes (obviously) crush my weekly mileage, pace, and gain. I found myself sore all the time, hungry all the time, and missing yoga a lot. I got caught up in the not good enoughs, felt my asthma get worse, and watched my confidence hurdle deep into the valley of ... whatever valley is the most deep.
The most frightening part? I wasn't having fun anymore. Instead, I kept telling myself I was slow. That I was not fast enough.
Sure, some runs were fine, better than fine. Beautiful. Expansive. But most runs drained me of all my energy, leaving me without air, and unsure of what kind of athlete I really was.
Last month, I almost dropped out of Moab. I convinced myself I wasn't going to finish. I stacked all of my excuses neatly in my mind, like magazines on a coffee table: My asthma is only getting worse, those two foot surgeries weren't that long ago, I'm still adjusting to the elevation, my natural curves and thick legs just weigh me down.
I stayed in this headspace for a few weeks, the email to the race coordinator saved in drafts, every run leaving me in an anxious knot.
While I toyed with the idea of not racing, I buried my head deeper in books. One book I was reading was Claire Dederer's memoir Poses. And of course, OF COURSE, one section about her being unable to do chaturanga (the yoga pose) struck me straight in my heart, right when I needed it most.
"I can't, I can't, I can't, I told myself. What happens when you tell yourself that you can't do something that you are asked to do over and over every day? The fact was, I was strong. But it happens all the time: We make decisions about ourselves and our lives are not based on fact."
That's when I told it to myself straight. I know (very, verrry?) deep down my body can do it. Instead it's my mind that needs some conditioning, that keeps getting caught in the comparison trap with others, that has been making up stories that overtime have turned into truths.
I shut the book and promised to start running based on fact: I am strong. I am fast enough.
The whole of it is I shouldn't run based on time or pace. I should run for all the mornings I'm up at dawn, when the sky is hinting at lightness, though speckled with fading stars. Where the moon is still out and the air around me is soft. Where I run a pace that allows me to feel like I'm gliding over the surface of a bright blue Colorado sky.
I should run with nothing to prove. I should run simply because it is fun.
So that is my A goal for this weekend in Moab: to have a damn good time. That's my B and C goal too: to have a damn good time. No matter when I cross the line, I know I will cross it. Maybe with a smile too.