It's been a couple weeks since my epic blowup at Sean O'Brien and putting some distance between myself and the event has lent some much needed perspective to the entire situation. My first DNF, at the 37-mile mark of the Sean O'Brien 50 miler (after almost 10k' of vertical gain), has had me in a rough place for the past couple of weeks.
I started the process in a deep state of doubt: doubting my abilities as a runner, my training methods, my desire to succeed, my general worth as a human being, etc.
Then I entered a state of despair. Utter despair. I just wanted to go running. But I couldn't go running. I was still in bad shape. I laid around wondering exactly what went wrong. Replaying each step in my mind. Wishing I had been carrying two bottles. Questioning my nutrition strategy. Second guessing my choice of running shorts. If only I had worn the same hat I wore in my last race...
Then, I realized that all of that was ridiculous. I was being melodramatic and overreactive. During that first run after the SO50, I had an epiphany. I realized that the reason I had been so depressed during the past few days wasn't because of my DNF. It was because I wasn't running.
Sure, racing is an important, fundamental part of running. It's the celebration of our culture. It's a meeting place for like-minded individuals (people who usually skew toward introversion). And, perhaps most importantly, it's a huge motivating factor. Knowing that the competitors in your upcoming race are likely out on the trail makes it a lot easier to peel your face off the pillow at 6am and get out there too. But for all it's merits, racing isn't the pinnacle-- the summit, if you will.
This moment of clarity caused me to reassess my priorities. I suddenly felt stupid for being so upset about the DNF. These things happen. As cliche and overused as it may sound, they certainly teach you a lot more than race day success ever could. I started to feel overwhelmed with joy just to be out on the trail. Just to be in the mountains. To have my escape back after a four-day hiatus.
When I got back from my run (a full 90 minutes later than I had planned for) I felt compelled to sit down and write out exactly what running means to me. I didn't want to forget again after my next DNF (which I figure is inevitable).
Here's what I wrote:
Running has saved me. In a world overrun with technological stimulus, where we've made comfort and convenience the ultimate goal, running has shown me what is truly important.
I use running as an escape. An escape from all the screens staring at me, from the traffic, the advertisements, the commotion.
Out on the trail, running up a mountain, I feel at ease. All of the stress seems to melt away as I put more distance between myself and the city. I begin to lose myself in the primal, instinctual simplicity of charging up a mountain. Listening to my breath and footfalls, watching my sweat hit the dirt.
To me, running is the most visceral form of expression: Finding the most efficient, aesthetic line up a mountain and achieving that line by way of my own blood, sweat and tears. Moving with grace and style. Engaging my body in the way it was designed; doing what my ancestors have done for millions of years.
Running is my religion. It simultaneously builds my confidence and keeps me humble. It allows me to connect with the natural world-- to venture into wild environments in the simplest way possible-- and to connect with these environments in one of the deepest ways possible.
Without running, I don't know where I would be.