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Note: Along the way the Becoming Ultra runners will be contributing regular written and video posts. This is the first installment!
I blink. Twice.
I’m near the end of a shift when a couple of my coworkers ask me about this “50k thing” I’m doing. I tell them excitedly that yes, I’m working with an incredibly hardcore coach and training for the hardest physical endeavor I’ve ever attempted to date. But this guy’s comment blindsides me and I can’t produce an intelligent response on the spot, so I just shrug.
The question resurfaces the following day on my “recovery” run during a spring blizzard, typical of Colorado’s variable weather roller coaster. The left side of my face is pins and needles where my bandana has slipped down and the snow is starting to freeze between the treads of my shoes, reducing my traction from just be careful to oh shit!
The answer comes to me as I catch a patch of ice and nearly collide face first with a low hanging tree branch, “Gah this suuuuucks!”
Something about being raised as an indoor human seems to contradict running in its very nature: the burning lungs and screaming muscles and the panic that builds in your throat as your brain tells you that this feels a hellova lot like dying. And I haven’t even attempted the insane distances yet.
I can’t exactly pinpoint why I decided to apply for this project. It’s crazier than anything I’ve taken on before, and for a long time I was perfectly content to be the person who overslept and binged on Netflix marathons and junk food. When I ran it was in sporadic, unorganized waves of motivation. Four times this week. Two times next week. Zero times the next. Give up. Repeat.
I saw many people half-heartedly carrying on like this. Drudgery seems to be the uniting force for most of us, so we complain about the same things: being tired and bored.
But at some point the directionless monotony started to burn. Charles Bukowski described it as the “dull ache of existence” and it was gnawing at my brain at night and settling like lead in my joints—the TV commercials and the taxes and the crappy job and the shallow small talk and the Facebook posts showing more of my friends getting married and having kids. The feeling was new and deeply disturbing, a growing restlessness.
“Weird,” I thought. Because for years of being a depressed mediocre adult I hadn’t been able to feel much. I couldn’t manage to get excited or angry about anything. Emotions pinged off me like pebbles on a tin man for long stretches interrupted by weeks or months swallowed by a relentless unknown melancholy.
I became addicted to online gaming and often sat in the same spot for 18 hours covered in Dorito crumbs. I’d lost my academic scholarship, dropped out of university, and quit taking care of myself. My muscles atrophied to soft blubber and I put on an extra twenty pounds. I was lonely but too apathetic to make friends. I had no aspirations, and had given up on my dreams of helping people in medicine.
Great way to live, right?
It was another year—after I’d been on medication for a while and was suddenly faced with several personal losses—before something snapped in me. The built up ache burst into an acute overwhelming pain. The emptiness in my head was replaced with a white hot anger at myself for letting my life become so pathetically void. I paced back and forth. I didn’t know what to do…
One day I couldn’t take it anymore and stepped outside and started running. And ran. And kept running. And it hurt so freaking bad. My body felt like it would fall apart at any second and as my joints creaked loudly I was pretty certain it would. However after a few miles I was too exhausted to feel angry or scared anymore. Just happily numb and endorphonized.
My safe daily routine couldn’t hold a match to the highs and lows experienced on a tough run: the oh crap moments when I’d start up a hill or the tear jerking happiness I felt when I finally crested the ridge. They infused life back into me. I quickly got addicted to the “suck”. It does hurt sometimes but that’s sort of the point, because this is the kind of pain that leaves you capable of handling more. If you could only run for two minutes yesterday, run three today. Shatter your own status quo.
Anyone can start. If you’re carrying a heavy emotional burden then you’ve already proven that you’re strong enough to begin, it’s just the lies we believe about our limitations that ensnare us until we challenge them head on.
I heard somewhere that if you’re stuck in life don’t do something fun. That will get you nowhere. Instead do something incredibly hard, with a high risk of failure, life or death.
With that advice, nearly a solid year after that first awkward jog around my neighborhood, I answered my question well Sherlock, what now? with applying for Becoming Ultra because it’s several light years from my comfort zone. Finding out I was picked as one of the runners flooded me with thoughts of, “Ohmygodthisishappening!” and, “Oh. My. God. This is actually happening.” Elated bliss and pure terror. And since I’ve started training it sure as hell has felt like life or death.
And I guess that’s why I’m doing this. If you happen to be reading this and find bits of your own story in mine I’d like to say that hey I’ve been there too! And while I haven’t found a way out of my suffering either, maybe attempting what you never thought possible is a way through it. Let’s give it a go shall we?
Whether you’re down on yourself, have hit rock bottom, or have never run a mile, “Becoming Ultra” is really for you. I’ve been the rock-bottom-me long enough to wonder what the view at the top looks like, so I’m going to try and run 50 kilometers to see what I’m capable of finding up there. It’s either the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, or the most brilliant.
Either way, this one is for you.
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald