I am and will always be a runner.
No matter when my last run was. So much of my life has been tied up with running. Running hasn’t been my whole life, it hasn’t even been around for my entire life - I’ve take long hiatuses from my tennis shoes, and I’m certainly never going to make it anything more than a hobby, but running and the lessons I’ve learned from those miles have been woven so intricately into my very being. As I ran along the dirt path, gnats nipping at my legs, I was instantly transported to a back country road in Oklahoma, so red it looked like someone had dyed the dirt. The sound of my footfall on the wooden bridge across the 9th hole felt so much like the cross country races of my high school days that I swear I was wearing racing flats. I even felt myself change my gait ever so slightly to account for the spikes that used to adorn the soles of my feet. The short mile along the beach, with its white sand and unfiltered blue of the ocean looked like the boardwalk of Virginia Beach and the coastline of Southern California. The whiffs of diesel, a rare scent among the fresh air of the island, snapped me back to long early runs in the deserts of the Middle East. Running is a time warp. Settling into the miles means opening up to all the miles and lessons of before, and for that I am a much better and happier person.
Sometimes it’s ok to just run happy.
I remember seeing that Brooks logo on a headband years ago at an ultra-race and becoming irrationally annoyed. Run happy? What’s happy about 100 miles? What the fuck is happy about slick mud, wet shorts, and bloody chafed thighs? I’m not exactly a happy bouncing runner. I’m much more a grunting (or whimpering) complainer who tries her best to slog through the miles. Running has so often be a therapy for me and we don’t go to therapy to be happy. I’ve written before about running with my demons, but sometimes they stay away, and I’m ok with that. Sometimes it’s ok to set aside the problems you’re tackling and just enjoy the run. I’m not deluded enough to think I’ve beaten them all, I can still feel all the insecurities, pain, and regret, but I can deal with those later. Daufuskie was all about running happy, bouncing along to the new Mary Poppins soundtrack, laughing and singing in pure joy - at that’s perfectly fine with me.
Ultra-running is not hygge
Despite the joy that comes from logging more miles that you deserve, running is the antithesis to hygge. Hygge, and I’m oversimplifying here, is a Danish concept of coziness. It’s candles, cocoa, and comfort food. It is not sweat, blisters, and other bodily fluids. Long-distance running is at the opposite end of cozy. It doesn’t make you feel warm and snuggly, but it does make you feel free and alive. It doesn’t put you in front of a fire in a cottage during a thunderstorm, it puts you among the windy, rainy, wild nature of outside. It’s not mellow, it’s electricity.
At some point of every long race I’ve ever run, I’ve felt this “runner’s high,” a moment where the burn in my legs is transformed into a fire in my chest, where every heartbeat sends voltage to my muscles, where I can’t stop my smile or my arms from spreading wide, palms up to soak in every last drop of whatever this energy is. I assume it’s coming from sunshine or the trees because it doesn’t feel like anything I had felt for the past 25 miles, it’s not foreign, it’s rather familiar actually, but it certainly doesn’t feel like mine. I felt like I could run on it forever, but knowing I couldn’t, I had to decide how fast I want to burn it. I knew I was taking a risk to let it consume me and push me to go faster and faster, so I had to decide how far and fast I let this new energy push me. I’m a relatively slow runner. I’m not winning any races and have rarely looked at my split times. I can’t even tell you my PRs. So for me, the decision is easy. I’m willing to take a hit on the back splits, to pay for this later, so I always let it this high carry me. Those five minutes or 50 secs are worth it every time. It’s a perk of being an unstructured mid to back of the pack runner. Daufuskie Island was no different.
Suffering is like riding a bike.
There’s a unique familiarity to the pain of running. For me it’s the chafing at the tag of my shorts at mile 7, the ache at the top of my foot around mile 14, and the tight knot that forms in between my shoulder blades, appearing without fail as soon as I hit mile 27. I know these things are coming, and they do hurt, so why don’t I ever put vaseline on my low back? Or tape the top of my foot? It’s not because I’m too lazy or forget, I remember each time. It’s because I look forward to those moments as much as any mile marker as proof of my work, of my progress. They are consistent, and there’s a comfort in consistency. Being familiar with pain, comfortable in it, is an incredible coping mechanism, in running and in life. Being able to sit in pain allows us to accept the inevitable suffering of the moment, not wasting our energy fighting it. It allows us to remain calm and navigate the hurt. It tells us that we will survive, our past suffering is a testament to our ability to endure our current wounds.
But this familiarity can be dangerous too. It can lead us to believe that pain is always the price we pay, that it is what we deserve. After I completed an Ironman race years ago someone texted me the next day and told me to “enjoy that burn, you earned it.” While I love this sentiment for sports - the idea that aching is a badge of accomplishment, a sign of growth - the relationship between pain and progress is much more complicated than that.
Our ability to endure suffering, and our notion that all suffering makes us stronger, can lead us to stay in soul-crushing jobs and toxic relationships, long after we should leave. It allows us to push through agony without ever dealing with the source. It can even lead us to seek out our torment, returning time and again to a place of suffering not in spite of the pain, but because of it. Suffering then ceases to be unavoidable byproduct of pursuing a goal, and becomes the goal itself, and that serves no one. Suffering in life, and running, is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be constant. It is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to be a part of all of life.