What is best about our lives -the moments when we are, as we would put it, at our happiest- is both pleasant and deeply unpleasant. Happiness is not a feeling; it is a way of being. Mark Rowlands
It’s been a strange winter thus far. Storms with heavy snows, followed by stretches of 70 degree weather. One day I’m running and scrambling shirtless in the Boulder peaks, the next I’m skiing deep powder. My dog has already started shedding her winter coat. On Monday, she’s rolling around in a snowbank to cool off on our run. On Tuesday, she lifts her frozen paw complaining to me of the ice and cold.
I’ve added to this seasonal disfunction by travelling to Costa Rica to get blasted by 90 degree heat and 100% humidity in February. So, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that I was momentarily confused as to why there was snow on Vail pass, on my way out to Moab last weekend.
I’d been cruising along I-70, thinking about my grandfather who would always joke that “he grew up with radio” when I’d expel the virtues of finding quality news on the internet. I’ve recently become pretty obsessed with podcasts and rarely has the prospect of a 6 hour drive become so intellectually stimulating. I flip between TED talks, Radiolab, Invisibilia, shows about music, books and some comedy. Time flies by as I find myself completely engrossed in a world of curiosity.
Effective radio isn’t a passive medium as it demands the full engagement of the listener. If I drift off into my own thoughts, I lose the thread of the narration. With its lack of visual stimulation, our assiduity in listening allows us to enter the imaginative space.
Running for me requires a similar level of attention as it is most compelling when I’m fully engaged in the moment. Over the years, I’ve found that the hardest part of running a hundred miles is the ability to stay focused for the entirety of the event. When I manage to direct my mind and energy only towards running, the meaning of the activity is articulated in its practice. I revel in the simple aesthetic of movement which fills me with wonder.
Halfway into the Moab Red Hot 55k, I hit a wall I don’t often encounter. I’m not bonking, as I’ve been fueling well and am only a couple of hours into the race. Instead, I feel this hollow sensation of deep fatigue, as if my core energy has all of a sudden vanished. I stare at the short steep climb up the slickrock ahead moving from running, to a shuffle, to a walk. I hadn’t expected much from this race, as it was only a short week after Costa Rica and my body was clearly still in full recovery. All I can think of is “why the fuck do I do this to myself?”
Other runners fly by me as I stumble along in discomfort. My legs start to seize up, my hips are stiff and crampy, my nose begins to bleed and I get intermittent feelings of sharp stabbing pain in my stomach and chest. It’s hard to not doubt oneself in these moments, difficult to conceptualize the feeling of joy that running so often confers. What I realize though, is that running for me isn’t about pleasure or pain, but about being there.
The commonality of our experiences, whether in flow or struggle is found in the brief moments where we are completely present. There is an undeniable reality and rawness to feeling the moment, something we all share, but have difficulty conveying to one another.
I like to put myself out there, to be vulnerable, to not be tentative or protect myself from failure. I derive great value from these exercises in persistence and while they might not do much for my development as a runner, they certainly nourish me as a human being.