There was a marathon here in Agadir this week. I went back and forth on registering for it, looking for reasons to skip and looking for reasons to join, overthinking and overanalyzing it all. I ended up signing up the night prior. I ate a good meal and got to bed at a reasonable hour in a comfortable hotel close to the start line. I was excited to get back to my great love affair. I slept well, woke up with plenty of time, and bailed.
Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of watching the runners in their post-race endorphin-soaked glory. I was jealous of their almost imperceptible limps and sun blush spreading across their shoulders. I was even jealous watching the slower runners slogging through those god-awful middle miles. I was more than frustrated that this was the third marathon since my transcon that I had entered and did not start.
I tried arguing that the extra rest and time to get work done was more important – I did have homework. I tried to console myself with the reminders that my body is still in recovery and I have nothing to prove – which is true. I even told myself I would come back, run a different marathon in Morocco – the Marathon de Sables on my bucket list. I tried to frame it as learning about patience, humility, and understanding that not everything happens on my preferred timeline. I even started writing this post about not rushing things.
But at the core of it, that’s all bullshit – I did not run because I was scared.
I was scared of not making the cutoff time, I was scared it would hurt too bad, scared I’d have to drop out midway. I cannot remember being scared of running, ever. Not my first marathon, not my first ultra, not even really at the start of last year’s run. I was too naïve and too arrogant to be scared.
Not now. Now I’m fully, acutely and permanently, aware of the pain that can come with running – not just the physical pain, I knew that was part of it with my first mile. I even knew about those dark hours when the frustration takes over and the demons join for a few miles. Up until last year, however, I had not experienced, at least not to any great magnitude the deep soulful hurt, the paralyzing self-doubt and self-criticism that seemingly stayed with me from that first climb out of San Diego to the final stretch along the boardwalk in Virginia Beach.
That run humbled me in a way I was not expecting. Sure, it inspired confidence in so many ways, but the paradox of running means it also made me scared as shit of running. Sometimes I feel like I conquered the miles, crushed them, that I own every inch of that route. Sometimes I feel like each inch of road took just a little bit of me as penance.
Maybe I need a healthy dose of fear. I’ve always said that ultra-running requires a balance between humility and ignorant arrogance. You have to respect the distance, terrain, and weather. But it is also helpful to not be intimidated by them – to be ignorant of what it actually means to accomplish that many miles, the elevation profile, or the notoriously low finisher rate. I think that run took away some of that ignorance, and thus some of my arrogance.
And you can’t get ignorance back.
Maybe there’s something that takes the place of the ignorant arrogance, maybe a wizen confidence. Don’t worry, I’m not saying I have that. But I’ve seen it – the 60, 70, 80 year-olds out there churning out their miles, at their pace, in their comfortable well-worn grooves of pain, joy, and ectascy. Maybe that place is out there and that’s what I have to look forward to.
I just have to learn to run with the fear first.