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You Were Made For This - The Next 30 Trips - Issue #8
This summer I ran the Cirque Series race at Alyeska. It was a tough ascent from sea level 3200 feet directly up the mountain, hand scrambling across some rock faces while holding onto ropes to prevent a fall, all before running the snow and boulder covered ridgeline and descending down back to the start.
It was the hardest event I've yet signed up for, much shorter than a half marathon at only 6.1 miles or so, but with changing weather from the base to the top, the opportunity to slip and fall off a rock face, and a technical descent down rain soaked paths and drops through the trees, it challenged me more than jogging 13.1 miles ever has.
What I Think About When I Think About Running 🏃
With all due respect to Murakami, I rarely talk about running. But I do spend an awful lot of time thinking about it because over the last year and a half I have spent a lot of time doing it.
Picking up running out of nowhere after largely ignoring it for a decade is likely the rumblings of a brewing midlife crisis, but at this point it's all good as it gets me out of the house into nature every day. Plus, I've learned a lot about myself spending hours a week treading up and down the trails.
Mostly, I have learned how quick I am to quit or find a reason not to even begin.
I think about how tight my legs feel, how busy I am, I wonder if the weather will cooperate, if I really want to spend the next two hours slogging down a trail with only my thoughts. You know, that babbling talk that comes from the back of our minds.
When I am actually out running, depending on the type of training I'm doing and how far into it I am, my stream of consciousness is mostly a turbulent flow of four-letter words that twist into a web of doubt. That doubt leads to lamentations like, "Why on earth am I doing this?" which early on in my training often grew to desperation eight miles from home, shoulders slumped, tight hips creaking, not thinking I could take another step.
But, it's funny, the moment I gave myself permission to stop or go home, the gripes would evaporate. I would walk a little bit, stretch, maybe eat one of those abominable Gu packets, and then slowly ease back into my wog - a cross between a walk and a jog. Only once did I really want to go home, and then I listened to my body, went home and rested.
In this way, running for me as become a low stakes way to practice letting goof the old stories, patterns, expectations, and approaches to life that I've let govern me for far too long. The ones which never really fit me but which are almost comfortingly familiar.
Of course, if it was all desperation, tight legs, and building discipline I'd have given up running for watching TV as soon as I started. I'm not a machine, I'm a dude creeping up on middle age.
The craziest part is that after a long run, all I can think about is how great I feel. My brain is completely flushed out, my body is tired but invigorated, I have spent an hour or two out in nature, and I got to have some alone time to just be. That's what pulled me back out the door each time. Eventually, it felt better to go than to not go and I missed it when I stopped.
Finally, after a year and a half, I came to realize that all the thinking doesn't matter. None of the thinking before my run, none of the thinking during my run, and none of the thinking after. It was all just fluff that blew away in the morning breeze. I learned that once the shoes are on the hardest part is over.
Good Fences, Good Neighbors 🤺
It just so happens that the corner I live on is part of a near-exact half-mile loop around the block. This means that a few days each week I was reliably running 12 to 20 half-mile loops past the same houses over and over again.
One day, about halfway through my loops for that particular training session, my neighbor flagged me down. Despite being a first-born Virgo trying to keep pace on a timed loop, I paused my workout and jogged over to say hi. We chatted about this and that for a bit before he finally goes, "Hey man, what are you training for?"
I explained the basics of the race, up the mountain, across rocks, over the snowy boulder field, back down, etc., and he goes, "Yeah, well you know, guys like us, we just aren't made for running."
I thought this an odd comment to make, but gamely agreed that it was true, laughed, and wrapped it up. But man, the second half of my workout was extra hard that day. I couldn't stop thinking about it.
What does that guy see when he sees me running? Why did he feel the need to flag me down and warn me against running? What does he think he's trying to save me from?
I mostly forgot about it but then a few weeks later, reader I kid you not, he did it again. Stopped me in the street while he was out walking his dog, had me pause my workout, take out my earbuds only to say again, word for word, that "guys like us, man, we just aren't made for running."
Look, I can work with just about anybody that's trying to work with me. I'll find a way to meet in the middle. And I can ignore anybody's opinion the first time. But for someone like me, who has had body image issues my whole life, hearing that shit again from someone who has been watching me struggle around the block for months just knocked the wind out of me.
I don't care to be heavier than I'd like. I don't love the way I look when I look in the mirror and especially when see pictures of myself. Please, I beg you, don't talk to me about it, I'm working on the self-acceptance thing and am not seeking affirmation in the meantime. But I mention this just to give the perspective I'm coming from. Why on earth is this the thing this dude wants to talk to me about?
In The Mountain, In The Cloud 🗻🌫️
Dear reader, I still don't know his goal in telling me that. And if I'm honest, yeah, I let it ruin my day, which is embarrassing to admit. But then I came back into myself and I landed on one of my favorite quotes for dealing with unsolicited advice:
"That's just, like, your opinion, man."
Because it is. If we heed this powerful mantra coined by the sage Regular Lebowski, we're pretty much untouchable. We're left to decide what is true and what matters for us, rather than worry about the noise from others.
And at the end of the day, I still had a mountain to climb! This was a goal I set for myself because I thought it would be fun and would push me in a way that felt renewing for me.
I only train regularly when I have a big event on the calendar. That's because I know that the event is probably gonna suck, but if I train it'll suck less. So train I shall! And if I'm going to work that hard to get ready for a big event, why would I carry the doubts of someone else up that mountain with me?
It would be like throwing a 50-pound dumbbell in my backpack to carry along during the race. It's already so easy to get lost in that voice telling me my pace sucks (even though I don't track pace closely), or that I won't be able to finish (even though I have run the distance many times), or that I have better things to do (like what, scrolling Twitter?). Why should I work so hard letting all that go only to let some dude walking a dog load me right back up with doubt?
The day of the race was foggy. The entire mountain was shrouded in clouds from the bottom to the top, which I felt was a great metaphor for the task I had ahead of me. What was waiting at the top? What was waiting for me on the way back down?
Usually during training and races I either listen to all my fav hip-hop songs on a rotating playlist called "On My Bullshit" or a complication of absolutely garbage mid-aughts metal throwbacks on my "Middle School Scumbag" playlist. Look, a connoisseur I am not, but I absolutely know how to get pumped up.
Looking at the mountain that day as I milled around the start breathing through the nerves that always crop up before a start, I was reminded of my favorite Portugal. the Man album, "In The Mountain, In The Cloud." It's an album that just absolutely exudes joy, love, presence, nostalgia, and inspires a million other feelings in between. In short, it's awesome, but not necessarily the type of thing I'd listen to during a race.
Still, I followed the instinct, put it on, and proceeded to smile all the way to the top of the mountain. I joked with others in the pack, fist bumped supporters on the side of the trail, and stay tuned into my heartrate and race rhythm. I climbed the mountain, scaled the rock faces while looking down at a sea of clouds no idea what was beneath, and made my way across the ridge. Don't get me wrong, it was hard. But I didn't suffer, I enjoyed it.
Instead of making the mountain the adversary and attacking it with Kendrick, Pusha, or Arch Enemy, I let all that go and just did my thing in my rhythm. I would love to tell you that I brought that feeling right back down to sea level with me and effortlessly incorporated it into my everyday life, but that wouldn't be true.
Still, I am trying. The adversarial mindset is deep rooted in me, but I see what is possible beyond it. You better believe I'm working on making that the norm.
What We're Made For
Huh, ends up I am made to do a mountain race. Sure, I might not be made to win it (I'm not a 5'6 115 pound humanoid mountain goat, after all) but that's honestly not my goal.
It's enough to feel the joy of setting a goal, feeling my mind and body respond together as I train, and then getting out there in nature, crossing snowpack in July with a couple hundred other wackos who want to do the same thing.
While I was climbing, I passed people who looked way more suited to a mountain race than me. I also got my doors absolutely blown off by people who my neighbor probably would have wanted to chase down and share some thoughts with.
We were all just out there doing it, on our own but all together, one step at a time. That's true for each of us whether in a mountain race, on a team, in a family, or within our community.
That's a worthy pursuit.
And if not for some worthy pursuit, what else could we possibly be made for?