life, Trail Running

Why are you doing it, then?

“Will you win?”

This was the question my 7 year old niece asked when I told her about an upcoming race. Upon answering with a definitive “no”, she inquired further, “why are you doing it, then?”

Why, indeed. I do it for emotional stability, physical health, to connect with nature, to work towards a goal, to add-in good stress, to feel a sense of pride, accomplishment and worth. I do it for fun. Sometimes I question whether I have what it takes – in running, in relationships, in life – and why I do the things I do. Then I realize, I don’t really have a choice. As long as I’m breathing, I have to keep moving forward, no matter how beat up I feel. If I can figure out how to do it with some humor and grace, I’ll know I have arrived.

It’s funny, I wanted to experience lows in a “safe” way by running ultras. My intention was to create a tangible reference that might help me get through the kind of amorphous low I’m riding right now. Funny thing is that I have yet to feel any intense low during any race so far. They’ve only been the joyous culmination of consistent, daily effort. Race day seems more like a celebration of everything it took to get there than how you perform on that day. It’s the days after and in between that have felt hard.

Even when I was forced to hobble the last seven miles of the Mount Hood 50, it was not even close to the low I felt on Saturday’s measly 14 mile run. At 8000+ feet, in 17 degrees and a miserable headwind, I turned back early and walked at least two of those 13.4 miles while shouting into the wind like a crazy person. Days like those are the times you prove how insane, but also how strong you are. They are the times you forgive yourself and run, walk or crawl forward until things get better.

In a recent Strava article by the most amazing running coach, David Roche, he touches on the notion that no single run, including a race, matters in the bigger picture. Sure, one great run feels like you’re on top of the world, but it doesn’t define you any more than one terrible run. Coach says “fuck everything that doesn’t directly contribute to your knowledge that you are enough, always, unconditionally” and that includes judging your worth on a single day, a single effort, a single success or a single failure. He is the jam and full of these truth bombs that I love so hard.

The problem with results is that they are not accompanied by sticky happiness growth. Often, reaching big goals can lead to happiness decreases, a phenomenon called the “arrival fallacy.” That goes for races and PRs, along with things like promotions and even marriage ceremonies. Instead, what matters about big goals is fostering an “atmosphere of growth” that brings most humans more sustainable joy.

That’s how athletic development works too. No single workout matters in the big scheme of things. Fitness improvement requires constant reinforcement, with thousands of miles over a long period of time contributing to aerobic, biomechanical, and musculoskeletal adaptations. The body takes many years to find its potential.

Making 2019 the Year of Self-Belief

It can be easy to get caught up in the external validation and high of the accomplishment of a PR or a race well run. But that recognition and that high is fleeting – like David says, it does not contribute to sticky life satisfaction, only a high that you’ll need to chase over and over again. At the end of the day, races have actually led to more prolonged and intense downs than ups. So why have I signed up for more? Maybe I’m chasing that high. Maybe I’m giving myself purpose and something to work toward. Probably both. There is a really special energy at race events that I love to be a part of. There is a sense of purpose in working toward a goal. There is the feeling of having done something that once seemed impossible that no one can ever take from you.

What does one “bad” run say about me, even if it’s on race day? It doesn’t say anything but that I had a hard day and that I’m lucky enough to have the will to go back out and try again tomorrow. It says that I’m stronger on the inside than on the outside. It says that I won’t give up on myself even when I want to, even when others do, even I don’t believe that I have what it takes. The good news as we approach the new year is that January 1 is not the only time a person can start over. Every day, every hour, every moment is a chance to stop and change direction – a chance to make a different decision. That is my focus for 2019 – changing course toward how I want to think, feel and be when it is my choice. I’ve heard it’s always my choice, so I’m going to start acting that way. Sure I’ll fall down, but I’m nothing if not persistent, resilient and stubborn AF.

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