life is pain
it goes without saying - life is painful.
struggles, transitions; illness, death, missed connections and darkness that can horrify and surprise - life is full of unexpected turns and twists, and it’s up to us to figure out how to manage the path.
life is also full of wonder too. it is magical and surreal; creating, accomplishing and experience-based understanding and evolution - it’s open to both high and low, and everything in between.
for me lately, it’s been an uphill climb. i’m just trudging up this mountain slope with no summit in sight. most of me knows this practice is of faith and understanding; that with consistency you can keep making progress instead of giving in to the task at hand. while i make these tough climbs i ground in the fact that this is all a choice: i choose to endure harshness and toil because i have learned that the greatest lessons come with no expectation of reward. when you least expect greatness - it will come.
i suppose i gravitate towards running because i find it the ultimate metaphor for life. it is a practice that anyone can take up, as you don’t need fancy gear to be able to participate (however at more elevated practice the gear definitely helps to accomplish the hard stuff). you can go fast or slow - and both speeds have assets for unlocking great lessons.
the practice of running itself allows me to ground into meditation, reflection and gratitude for my experience. it provides space to shake off ill-fitting vibes and awkward or sad feels - and it gives me time through a tangible physical endurance that begs my attention and intuition. when to fuel? when to push? when to take it easy? these are all choices i am responsible to make on any given day of my training and practice.
i began training for ultras in 2019. after two trips to mexico, a mountain or two climbed, i could see the potential i had to be good at hard things. as runner-friend kenaia neumann would say “we can do hard things”. i like to remind myself often of the powerful collection of words she shared on one trip to chihuahua. for our own reasons, and in our own ways we chase these hard running and life goals - because we each have these untold depths of trauma and bullshit we are trying to process and heal through. uninterested in succumbing - we choose to process through sweat and ritual - and these are the gifts that running has shared with me.
i began running seriously in 2008. that year i did my first 10km and i did a dozen or more races in the next few years before snapping my knee cartilage in 2011 and needing surgery to fix it. the road back after 2012 was long, and while i had some successful running years in 2013 and 2014 - i slipped into a major depression in 2015 and basically couldn’t run until mid-2016 with any sort of consistency. over the years i’ve always thought about running, planned into running; tied to run (even through my depression for example) despite every instinct in my flesh and spirit screaming to rest and be patient. if we’re not careful, the practice of running can become about ego; placing a bandaid or creating a placeholder for actual therapy, medication and support better equipped to deal with our serious struggles. while i love running with all my heart - it is a supplement to our experience, and when employed properly, adds to our lives instead of taking away.
in 2017 i began my latest training cycle. i had been through some shit and i was ready for the all the healing work i had done to be enjoyed. so i began running again. i began strength training again. and i told myself “if it doesn’t bring you joy - don’t do it”. that was a theme in 2017. i ditched a lot of unhealthy relationships, including the job i was working at the time, the city i lived in, the way i lived and the ways i spent my time. it was one of many breaking points i will remember in which the fear of what could be couldn’t outweigh the magic of what was. it was the first time of many times since in which i was able to move more fully into who i was becoming; with that shift of gratitude before everything else - that was the game-changer.
“game-changer”. every time i think of that word i hear hakim tafari in my head saying it with a smile draped across his face. every time i say or hear the word joy - i think if my thesis advisor, friend and research partner mary putera laughing so heartily she might just-well explode. walking along this path to healing and running hasn’t been an easy one, but i’ve had some guidance along the way. my people understand this compulsion and practice of running, even if they aren’t runners themselves. i think through all of it i’ve managed to get to the root of why i love running, and what it gives me in return.
i mean, looking at my tattoos - you see pain. looking at my hobbies (running, hiking, soccer, crossfit, yoga, and so forth) you assume, pain. hearing my story - you get the pain; but for me, living inside this story, pain doesn’t even begin to cover it.
i think i began intuitively seeking out pain as a teenager. body modifications were a form of channeling my energy - as well as extremely competitive sports (like gymnastics 15 hrs a week) which usually involved cuts, sprains, bruises and fatigue like non-other. i was, however never cool enough to be included in team sports at school - so when i began running, i did it at night and under the cover of darkness. for years i would only run at night, and it took ages for me to get over the assumption that i wasn’t athletically qualified to take up space.
a lot has changed since those days in school, and as i root further into my practice of being an athlete - my accomplishments and successes only reinforce my gratitude. i see every run as an adventure to be savoured. i plan a route i want to see or i grab some friends i want to challenge/be challenged by - and i get out there and enjoy it. oddly enough, after all these years, and all the distance, i focus into my run (of any distance) because i understand it will be over before i know it. like a good trip or visit with a loved one - if you’re not fully present and paying attention, the gift will slip right through your fingers before you even know it is gone.
switching to ultra training hasn’t been that different, and if anything it’s made me love running more. i love that the ego-drivers of road running seem to fade away - if only even for myself - and all that’s left is myself and the path ahead.
i’ve had a lot of people ask me about my training, and “how one even trains for that”. i try to explain to my husband that running a 50km is in many ways “easier” than a marathon - because it’s a very different way of looking at running. to be honest - road racing and the ego/hype/technical rigidity of the practice does nothing for me. setting out to see what my body will do after 44km, 50km, 85km, 125km - i’m into seeing where that goes.
a lot of my training has been about guts. intuition. practice. dedication. i walk a lot. i take anywhere between 10,000 and 60,000 steps in a day (running/walking/hiking). i stretch, i scrape, i hydrate, i eat, i rest, i sleep. i do 1-2 races a month to keep my progression top-of-mind. i run with people every week, and my people check in with me about where i’m at. i weave strength training, yoga and team sports into the mix. and i always listen to my body.
that might not be enough for people to understand - and it’s also about that shift in perspective. i no longer have race or running anxiety (well, nowhere near what i know i’m capable of). i’ve processed a number of the healing and growing factors that have limited my progress in the past. most importantly: i’ve given myself credit for the hard work i have accomplished, alongside the power and capability i have deep within myself to do hard and challenging things.
i don’t always know what will happen when i go out on a run - after all that is the point. we train and we practice so that we can tap into our skill, our pain, and our ability to endure the balance of the two. the more i get into my own practice - the farther i get from what everyone else is talking about. the more i concentrate on my successes and growing edges - the more fun i have in getting it done. the more fun i have doing it all - the more i realize just how far we can be pushed into something greater and more extreme. right now, that excitement and possibility is motivation to keep going. practice can always be hijacked by outside energy, and my number one mission is to stay tapped into what works for me. staying grateful allows me to anticipate the highs and lows, while also appreciating their presence in the journey.
while the last few months have felt like a grind, and i’ve been battling against the low lows and the chronic pain and the mental illness lurking in my head - they have also been a reminder that this road won’t always be glorious and meditative and comfortably growth-based. yes: a lot of this will fucking suck. however when you’re engaged in the practice, and still focused on the end goal, you are capable of embodying that feeling of accomplishment before the perceived finish line.
the journey is the gift, and if you can’t see it you’ve already lost.
this mornings run reminded me of the presence of pain - as i battled the hot sun, humidity and distance alongside my runner gal pals mina and darcy. having a crew definitely helps to keep you moving - but shit. salty hot chafing sun burn heat stroke feels and 10km later - you are forever humbled by this practice, and the new possibilities it holds for suffering.
would we change it? likely not. as people with a lot on our plates - pain through tangible practice seems like a good way of processing energy. that euphoric feeling of completing something hard, no doubt, keeps us coming back for more.
life hurts, and that’s never going to change.
so for the time being i’m going to keep at it; keep running, walking, training and finding the fun and joy in it (even when i don’t want to). the great thing about growth is that you get wiser as you go along.
so here’s to wisdom. sweat. practice.
and a little bit of pain.