As I take the next step in my running journey – becoming a competitive ultra-runner – it was suggested that I start a blog. Not only is it an outlet for the myriad of brain droppings that occur when one is 12 miles deep on a mountain trail, but the blog acts as a communication tool amongst the running community. In particular it allows training buddies, competitors, and kindred spirits of the trail an insight into thoughts and emotions experienced throughout the ultra-distance races we choose to indulge in. I’ve developed a keen interest in my compadres’ blogs and race reports, so I am thrilled to join in on the fun!
The title of the blog is Desert Grit – A journey into ultra-running. It’s a journey I’ve been embarking on for some time now, since targeting my first running goal of completing a marathon seven years ago at age 22. Then came qualifying for Boston, then came running a 50k, then a 50 miler. Each time I reached one of these mountaintops I looked down at how I got there and thought to myself, “Holy shit, I can do this.” As cheeseball as it sounds, the road (i.e. training) it took to get to each milestone is the best part. Among some unforgetable memories I’ve banked along the way include:
Running along side black bears feeding salmon to their young on a lush, rainy trail in Alaska.
Running past the Louvre, under the Eiffel Tower, and across the bridges in Paris.
Running across the grandest of canyons, and back, in one day with the reward of a beer on the south rim for sunset.
Chasing down runaway baby pigs through hills and backyards of rural Italy.
Running a PR in the Boston Marathon, then having it turn into the most disturbing and tragic day I’ve ever experienced. (Journeys are not always peaches and cream)
Finishing a long run in the Chiricahua Mountains with dip in a water hole, I turn around to find a mountain lion perched on the edge – a mere 15 feet away.
Running, although it seemed like floating, on spongy soft trails through the giant redwoods of California.
The list could go on forever, and I attribute the simple act of running as my vessel for these peak experiences.
Towards the end of last year I logged my first race win at a 50 mile event. After the initial “holy shit” feeling referred to earlier subsided, I was ready to call this the starting point for the next leg of my running campaign.
For my first blog post I’ll attempt to illustrate my perspective on running, if not for anyone but myself. What better way to start the next phase of training than to figure out why the hell I’m doing this in the first place. Well, here we go…
We are a tribe. When we see each other out on a run we are sure to offer a nod, a hello, a quick exchange of some sort because… we know. Like the cool low-hand wave of one motorcyclist to another, we acknowledge those of our tribe. And yes folks, we are the Hells Angels of the running community. We are Trail Runners.
We can, however, be misunderstood by those in other tribes.
People often will ask us what is the point of all that running? It is as though there is a language barrier between non-runners and runners. Sure, we can offer up some sarcastic, Forrest Gump type of response – “I just feel like run’ning.” But perhaps it’s time to elaborate.
There is not a simple answer to “Why run?” or “What to run for?” Nor is there only one answer. There are countless reasons the tribe has for doing what we do. Every member has his or her own motivations. There is, however, a common bond amongst all our kindred spirits that can be shared.
Allow us to introduce our tribe. Following a brief into, we’ll offer up a seven-point list as to shed light on this menacing question.
We seek to live. We want to be alive in its truest sense. We want to dive head first into human experience and soak in its deepest waters. We don’t rest fulfilled with a good view of the mountain, we long to explore and confront the mountain. It is there, on the trail, where we feel fully aware of this life. The trail is our ally. It aids in opening the door to what is genuine and real – inside of us, and out. We yearn to sense the limits of human potential. We want to take it further. We want to feel emotions. We want to feel pain just as much as joy because what is awesome is simply to feel. We live to bask in satisfactions and triumphs as much as we have learned to appreciate failure and disappointment. It is being in the arena, in the game, that it the gift. We are in love with it. We are in love with being alive and our trail run is a celebration of this.
Let the wild rumpus begin!
Accomplishment, Play, Refreshment, Freedom, Connection, Balance, and Assurance
Accomplishment. More importantly, goals. We can’t imagine a life without goals. Be it work, family, social, or personal…we crave something we’re working on. (Or maybe our tribe is just scared shitless of stagnancy) Setting running goals daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly gives a constant feeling of climbing towards something bigger, with the satisfaction of small rewards along the way. These goals and achievements offer up a rich source of fulfillment and another reason to get excited about waking up tomorrow.
Play. A boys gotta get his play on. A girl too for that matter. There is nothing like feeling wild. We love to run really fast down hills, and climb really hard up gnarly trails to be the King of the Mountain. Literally, we still play King of the Mountain. Only the object isn’t to be on top for the longest amount of time. Rather, it’s who got the fastest time getting there! Furthermore, there is something special that happens when you allow your mind to be completely consumed in something for a while. Some call it Flow. When cruising swiftly on a trail, the mind is constantly making hundreds of decisions with the body, allowing for each footstep to fall in just the right place as to float over a rocky terrain. Time seems to disappear and we discover a small glimpse of what “being in the moment” truly is.
Refreshment. Let’s face it, society is busy and there is shit everywhere. We gots’ to take a break. A few hours in the mountains away from cars and advertisements and money and electronics and blah blah, is necessary. Like a cold brewski on a hot summer day, a long run on a cluttered mind works wonders. Those who are close to us know it when we need it. They won’t hesitate to say, “Hey, you need to run.” Exchanging roads for trails, TV and computers for mountaintop views, noise for silence, sitting in traffic for sitting in a water-hole, texting and Facebook for a good conversation with a friend – these are among some of the best tonics for what ales ya.
Freedom. Now we’re not talking some William Wallace Braveheart shit here. But we kind of are. When we run, we are completely and utterly free. It’s amazing. We can go wherever we want. We have no deadlines or directions. There are no responsibilities, cares or worries in the world. The only thing we have to do, is whatever we want. Right now, that happens to be run around on trails for a while. Life will catch back up with us later. For now, we are free. Freeeeeeeeedooommmmmm!
Connection. Here’s an insight from one of our tribe. When he asked his father-in-law if he could have his daughter’s hand in marriage the father-in-law asked among other inquisitions, “What are your thoughts on God?” It’s a question he certainly was not prepared for. (And almost crapped his pants in fear of saying the wrong answer!) After a brief moment of introspection, this was his response. “Sir, I don’t know if there is a God or not, but I go to church every week. I am religious about it, and I never miss a Sunday. It happens to be that my church is the mountains and my worship is the long run. I connect with something greater out there that I have yet to find anywhere else. Feelings of gratitude, peace, compassion and love come back home with me. So if there is a Higher Power out there, that is our relationship.” We may all have different religions or spirituality, but the trail is a place for us all to feel some type of connection.
Balance. Mind and Body. Work and Play. Moderation and Moderation. You know what I mean? We don’t like when there isn’t a solid balance in life. We get our sea legs on and find ourselves rocking around restlessly. Staying disciplined with our running helps us stay disciplined in other facets of life. It’s no secret that our tribe knows how to have a good time. In fact, some of us are too good at that. Buy hey, we will less likely need to take a cab home on Saturday night if we’re getting up balls early to go running Sunday morning. We’ll just have a beer or two and drive ourselves, thank you.
Assurance. Life sometimes gets heady and confusing. Sometimes we may doubt ourselves. We may wonder if we have the right job, if we make enough money, if we’re a good husband, wife, etc. Sometimes the darkness can creep over us – these puzzling reservations that we are on the right path, making the right decisions, and living how we should undermine our disposition.
For some reason that we can’t explain, running extinguishes these uncertainties. Something comes over us while we are running and stays with us afterwards. It’s this feeling, or hunch, that everything is OK. It’s like slipping into a warm bed on a bitter-cold evening. It’s so comforting. As long as we keep running, we know we are on the right track. Everything is exactly how it is supposed to be.
Membership to the tribe is easy. Go find a trail.