The Pursuit of Happiness

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”       – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most Monday mornings when I’m attempting to drag my ass out of bed at five to go to work, it’s quotes like the one above that seem to be playing on a loop inside my skull (interspersed with the obligatory Monday morning suicide plotting). I can’t help but wonder what I am doing.

It’s my life. I only get to live it once. So why do I spend so much time doing things that I hate? Is the allure of security really that strong? Do I really need to fit into this perfect little cardboard box of societal norms?

Last week I was at a bar when someone asked me what I “did”. As in, what was my job, how did I make the money I just used to pay for the IPA I was drinking. Always an irksome question, it has been extremely difficult for me to answer lately. Not because I’m ashamed of what I do– but because there are other things I do (without collecting a paycheck) that are far more representative of who I am.

More than anything, I wanted to be able to say something like, “Oh, I’m a dirt-bag trail runner. I work on odd job here and there so I can pay the camping fees at trailheads and purchase an occasional pair of running shoes.” Alas, I don’t have the balls to spend the majority of my time doing what it is I actually love to do… So I just mumbled something into my beer about my day job and tried to change the subject as fast I could.

But the encounter got me thinking… Never before in my life have I been so close to a state of financial security (whatever the hell that means), and never before have I been so unhappy with my professional life.  So what am I doing? It’s my life. I only get one. Why have I resigned to spend it being a total bitch? Living a lie, biding my time until I die, trading excitement and passion for security and longevity?

All of us, in one way or another, are on our own pursuits of happiness. We’re trying to get it. We think we can get it. Yet we slave away, spending the majority of our time miserable, waiting for something to happen, complaining about our situation but never doing anything to change it.  It could be worse, right?  But that type of logic seems to be the root of the problem to begin with.  It’s all so convoluted. Complication after complication to consider.  All I want to do is run.

I want to run all the time.  Running is the simplest, most primal activity that I can possible think of. When I get out on the trail and start charging up the side of a mountain, sweat dripping into the dirt around me, everything else seems to melt away.  Running as hard as I can, blurring the line between control and abandon– this is where I feel alive.  This is my way of revolting against a society that refuses to let me be happy.  To let me be who I am.

Human beings, like all other creatures on this planet, evolved to procreate. To spread our genes. We didn’t evolve to be happy.  Truth be told, happiness is probably a detriment to our general ability to pass our genes to the next generation. We’re probably not going to find this elusive state of happiness we’re all so feverishly pursing. Especially not with our head buried in a screen or our ass stuck in a chair.

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but it seems to me that, as we were becoming the species we are now– the dominant species on earth, we spent most of our time running.  Running to eat and running to avoid being eaten. In either of these scenarios, success had to be a pretty joyful occasion– possibly the most joyful occasion of our ancestor’s lives– and it was always inexorably linked with running.

I run to be happy.  My ancestors were happy because they ran. Is there a difference?  Isn’t it all the same thing?  Is the bliss they felt after running down an antelope the same thing I experience after finishing a 50 mile race? There’s no way to know for sure.  What I do know is that when I toe the starting line at the Bandit 50k this Saturday, I’ll be on a good, old-fashioned pursuit of happiness, just like my ancestors used to do.IMG_0249

Chasing the Elusive 100-Mile Week

A lot goes into running 100 miles in a week. I’ve done it a couple times, a little over two years ago when I first stumbled across Tony Krupicka’s blog (he’s since changed his format and stopped logging all his runs).  I probably spent about three hours reading his posts on that first visit—my head (figuratively) exploding the entire time as all my previously held beliefs about running we’re being splattered all over my computer screen.  I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to consistently run 200+ miles a week.  I didn’t even know that people were running two or three times a day.  I was still under the erroneous impression that you should only run once a day.  Needless to say, Krupicka greatly expanded my running consciousness. 

After browsing a through a few of his entries and finally wrapping my head around the astronomical numbers that he was purporting, I decided it was time for me to hang a couple triple digit weeks of my own.  I started running twice and three times a day, and finally built to the point where I could handle the 100-mile load.  It was a solid accomplishment.  I could do it.  The only problem was, I wasn’t having any fun. 

I had managed to take this thing that I loved, that had literally changed my life in the way that few things can, and turned it into an obsessively quantified workload.  Before, I was just getting up in the mountains, ripping up and down gorgeous single-track trails, escaping the artificial, constructed monotony of my everyday life. 

When I started chasing 100 in a week, it became a lot more like work.  I was obsessing over miles, trading a chance to escape into the mountains for a quick, flat 15 miles on the road or the boardwalk  (because I could only get 10 miles in the same amount of time in the mountains).  I was sore all the time; I ignored little nagging injuries that could have used an easy day—or a day off all together.  The miles became the most important thing.  They trumped common sense. I started to lose the passion. 

Running suddenly became a lot less fun.  But I was hanging 100-mile weeks.  I had reached this arbitrary goal that I had imposed upon myself, but it didn’t feel as good as I thought.  Sure, it was fun looking at my Movescount profile and seeing that big number on there.  It was fun to say things like, “I can eat whatever I want tonight, I ran 102 miles this week.”  But that type of fun is fleeting.  It felt wrong.  I realized that what I had done wasn’t a legitimate 100-mile week.  It didn’t happen organically.  It was forced.  I wasn’t Tony Krupicka.  I had to be me. 

So I went back to enjoying myself on my runs.  Sure they were still hard.  I was still sore.  I still ignored nagging injuries (a lot less though) and I still banged out a quick 10k on the roads a couple times a month, but it was because I felt like a needed a shakeout run to dial in my form—not because I just wanted to tack more miles on to my weekly total. 

Now, over a year later, I’m finally honing in on the elusive, legitimate 100-mile week.  All on the trail and in the mountains.  Without running for the sake of mileage.  Just running because it feels right.  Running to have fun.  Running to push my personal limits.  Running to escape. 

Last week, I ran 87 miles with almost 20,000 ft of vertical gain.  It felt great.  I explored new terrain, ran twice a day four times, had two great long runs and never felt like I was doing too much or pushing too hard.  I stayed within myself.  Sure, I could have banged out a half-marathon on Sunday night just to hit the century mark… but it wasn’t about that. 

This week, I’m well on pace to eclipse 100 miles.  And it’s going to be legit.  I’m doing it right.  I’m not worrying about it, just letting it happen.  Organically.  Because it’s time.  

Running – The Cure for Everything

Yesterday I was having a shitty day.  I woke up with all the makings of a head cold—feeling stuffed up, congested and extra drowsy.  My eyes were refusing to open.  Then I went running.  I got up in the mountains, sucked my lungs full of that clean mountain air, blew a couple hundred snot-rockets into the dirt and watched the first few rays of sunlight trickle down onto the Pacific Ocean.  Head cold averted.  Things were looking up. 

Then I got to work and my boss started bitching.  Why was I thirty minutes late?  Did I have a chance to do all that work that he asked me to do even though it was way outside the scope of my job description and he wasn’t paying me for it?  When was I going to cut my hair?  Any chance I could stay late today?  Was I really wearing sweat shorts at work?  I started getting a headache.  My stress levels were rising.  Cortisol began coursing through my veins.  I could literally feel the muscle fibers on the right side of my neck binding themselves together into a gnarly cramp. 

So I went running.  I ran away from everything and everybody.  I charged up the trail listening to the pace of my stride increase with every step.  My heart began pumping, sending large quantities of blood surging into my muscles.  They loosened.  My cramp was gone.   As a topped out on the summit, thoroughly exhausted from the effort, I glanced back down at the city street I had left far behind.  It seemed my problems had stayed down there too.  They couldn’t chase me up the mountain.  Unnecessary stress averted.   Things were looking up again.   

I won’t bore you with all the mundane details of the rest of my day, but by about five o’clock I had accumulated a little IT band tightness, some dry skin, an allergy-induced sniffle and what seemed to be a mild case of constipation.  I needed to go running. 

When I did, it fixed everything (especially the constipation, that was fixed with a vengeance).  And it came with the added bonus of allowing me to witness the sunset from about 2,000 feet higher than anyone else around.  Running had singlehandedly turned my no-good, very bad day into a pretty damn good one. 

Ok, so running may not be the cure for everything.  It’s probably not going to fix a broken toe or help much with a rattlesnake bite, but roughly 99.6% of the time, I choose to prescribe myself a good long run for whatever seems to ail me.  And I’m rarely disappointed. 

Rolled my ankle playing hoops?  If I go running for an hour after the game, the next day I won’t even be able to tell it happened. 

Fighting with my significant other?  After a run I’m ready to admit I was wrong, even if I wasn’t (but let’s face it, I probably was). 

Hung-over?  Just gotta get on the trail and sweat it out.   

The Lakers lost again?  Hill repeats. 

Feeling fat?  Time for a long one. 

Tired?  The mountains have an energizing effect. 

Depressed? Anxious? Broke?  Horny?  You get the picture.  Running; it’s good for… well, everything. 

Chasing Flow

Dr. Angela Garcia, a Cultural Anthropologist at Stanford University, has coined the term “moment of incomprehensibility”.  In my rudimentary understanding of the subject, this is basically a moment where what is in front of you becomes utterly incomprehensible.  You can’t explain it.  You can’t find words to describe it.  All you can do is just be there.  Absorb it.  Try to take it all in. 

These moments don’t come around very often.  For most people, they don’t come around at all.  Most of the time, you have to be pretty far outside of your comfort zone to stumble across a true moment of incomprehensibility.  I’m not talking about being unable to fathom why the dude in front of you is going 15 mph under the speed limit or being baffled by the garbage spewing from the mouths of the Kardashians.  The moments that Dr. Garcia and I are talking about are beyond written description.  These are the moments I am chasing.  These are the moments that allow me to experience flow at it’s fullest. 

Standing atop Mt. Whitney, my first 14er, and experiencing the sheer, undeniable magnitude of it’s vast beauty.  Running through the early morning mist in the Santa Monica Mountains, climbing above the marine layer just in time to glimpse the first rays of the sunrise.  Scrambling between the switchbacks through the talus on the way up Mt. Timpanogos, stopping to suck wind, entirely exhausted, and glancing up at the seemingly unconquerable, gorgeous mass still waiting for me above.  Bombing down an underused single track, racing the setting sun, watching it slowly descend into the Pacific Ocean, increasing my pace as it disappears beneath the shimmering, purple water in a subtle, yet perfect flash. 

All of these experiences included a moment of incomprehensibility for me.  I have not described these moments here; to do so would be impossible. I have simply set the stage in which these moments took place.  My sense of awe was unmatched.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be in that moment.  The stars were aligned and I was absorbed by an overwhelming sense of rightness.  I melted into the landscape.  I became one with the mountain.  My soul was nourished.  Flow was realized. 

For me, Bobby Geronimo, this is what flow is all about.  Every time my foot falls on the trail, I’m chasing these elusive moments.  These moments don’t happen running through the city streets or staring at the screen of your iPhone.  These moments have to be earned.  These moments take blood and sweat, experience and knowledge, miles and miles, sacrifice.  These moments take an understanding of your own insignificance.  An understanding of your true place in the world.  These moments make me who I am. 

I want flow.  And I want it to be utterly incomprehensible. 

The 2015 Mt. Disappointment 50k

“I can’t believe we’re going to be late!” I mumbled, half to myself and half to my wife, as she pushed our Prius C up the windy road toward the summit of Mt. Wilson. On our right was a sheer rock face, to our left the San Gabriel Mountains stretched out toward the horizon, undulating across the vastness. 

I glanced at the clock on the dashboard, then at my watch. Yep, it was 6:38am.  Race check-in ended at 6:30am and the Mt. Disappointment 50k started at 7am.  She was giving the Prius just about as much as it could handle on these tight mountain roads (when you’re getting 55 miles to the gallon, you sacrifice a bit of top-end climbing power).  We came careening around a bend, just over a mile from the summit when a boulder the size of a small refrigerator came crashing down 25 feet in front of the car as we skidded to a stop.   

A dense dust cloud— way too thick to see through— plumed up across the road like a mini mushroom cloud.  We both sat back in our seats, mouths agape, processing the scene in front of us, wondering what might have been had we rounded that corner 10 seconds earlier.  When the dust cleared, the exploded pieces of boulder were still to big to drive the Prius over, so I rushed out to move them, hoping there wasn’t a second boulder coming down on top of my head… 

We were a little shook-up as we pulled into the parking lot atop Mt. Wilson (5,712’).  Not exactly the most auspicious beginning to a race day.  It was 6:44am.  Luckily, I was able to get checked-in, get dressed and hit the port-o-potty just in time to hear the awesome Gary Hilliard give his pre-race briefing.  Without much time to think, let alone get anxious, we were off, leaving the Summit of Mt. Wilson, only to return 31 miles later.  

Unbeknownst to me, the race began with a two-and-a-half mile downhill stretch of asphalt road.  There wasn’t a shoulder, but there also wasn’t any traffic so we all just bombed down the middle of the road.  The majority of the Ultras I have run typically begin with climbing and and end on a decent.  The Mt. Disappointment 50k started with a sustained downhill and ended with a three mile, 2,600’ climb up the Kenyon Devore trail back to the Summit of Mt. Wilson and the finish line.  

The course record for this climb on Strava was over 40 mins.  And presumably that person was fresh, not 28 miles into a run.  I could easily see myself getting to this final climb depleted, on the verge of bonking, with the full heat of the day upon me and getting buried, taking 2 hours to make the summit and effectively destroying my time.  I wanted to avoid this result at all costs.  It had been over a year since I finished a race (a couple DNFs and stress fracture had made sure of that) and I wanted to get a good finish under my belt. 

I resigned to go out slow, force myself to get a bunch of calories down and have plenty left in the tank for the final climb.  Looking back at my splits on Strava after the race, I ran my first two miles at 6:45 and 6:30/min pace, respectively.  Not exactly the “slow” pace I was looking for at the beginning of the race and probably the reason why, as I write this four days later, my quads are still sore as hell.  It’s hard to hold back on a downhill section of road, especially right after the gun went off, with a couple hundred runners all around you, everyone’s adrenaline spiking.  

We got off the road soon enough (to never return, thank god) as we arrived at the Eaton Saddle and continued up toward the Markham Saddle.  Leaving the Markham Saddle we were provided with our first of several stunning views, a panoramic shot of a handful of San Gabriel peaks, including Mt. Disappointment herself.  I was continually awed throughout the race and spent a good deal of time chastising myself for not spending more time in this mountain range. It’s too close to my house, I gotta get out there more.  But I think this experience sealed my 100-miler fate. My first attempt at running 100 miles will be the 2016 Angeles Crest 100.  It’s in my backyard and it’s GORGEOUS.  Only makes sense.  

I pulled into the Red Box aid station (mile 5.2) at 44 mins elapsed feeling good. I filled my bottles, drank a couple dixie cups full of coke, said a quick hello to my wife and our dog Frank and I was off. I wasn’t really sure where I was as far as placement at this point but I kept myself from asking any of the volunteers about the runners in front of me.  I was determined to run my own race, listen to my body and not worry about where I finished.  

I headed down the Gabrielino Trail toward the Switzer Falls trailhead, turning and climbing a fireroad a few hundred feet up to Highway 2 and the next aid (mile 10.3).  I arrived here just under 90 minutes and I felt really good, surprised that the weather was staying so mild.  I had fully expected 95-degree temps by 10am, so the breezy 70-degree weather we were now experiencing was most welcome.  I filled my bottles, drank a few cups of coke and stuffed the back pockets of my Patagonia Strider Pro shorts with Cheeze-Its and Pretzels and took off again, munching my way up the 1,500’ climb to the next aid station only a couple miles away (mile 12.8).

From this aid we were looking at a 7.8 mile stretch that circumnavigated Strawberry Peak (6,164’), back down to the Red Box aid station (where I knew my crew was waiting).  I drank a lot of water at this station, filled my bottles, put a handful of ginger snaps in my shorts and decided that if I was going to make a move in this race and improve my position, now was the time.  I bombed the single-track down toward the Josephine Saddle, keeping my pace hovering right around an eight minute mile, picking off a couple of runners here and there, falling in to chat with some before running on by.  

The next section of the race was amazing.  We began to round Strawberry Peak on a exposed stretch of single track with huge granite faces— at least 1,000’—on one side and 5,000’ drop down to the valley on the other.  The whole Northwest side of the peak was amazing, as I ran on this little silver of winding trail carved into the side of the mountain, beautiful views all around as I ticked off the ridges wrapping Strawberry.  Not really that hungry, I forced myself to get a couple Justin’s Maple Almond Butter packets into my system (I’ve never been one for gels or GUs, my stomach doesn’t seem to handle them well) and continued to feel really good. 

It started to get a little hot during this section and with my slightly increased pace, I drained both my 20oz bottles of water with about three miles still to go to the next aid station.  Luckily the views kept my mind off both the heat and my burgeoning dehydration as we ran right past Mt. Lawlor and dropped back into the Red Box aid station at mile 20.6 (3:42 elapsed).  From this point, I was looking at five downhill miles to West Fork, the final aid, before beginning the roughly five mile, 3,500’ climb back to the finish, including the final push up the Kenyon Devore trail to the summit of Mt. Wilson.  

I handed a bottle to my wife (who, as an ultra vet by now, was savvily posted in the shade in her comfy chair, next to the cooler, reading a book) and asked for coke and ice before I made my way over to the table and started eating potato chips.  I knew if I was going to leave this aid station with only one bottle of water and the other full of coke (I wanted calories for the final climb) I had to get a lot of water in me here.  I slammed six or seven cups before my wife made me slam a couple more and I left the aid with a full stomach, feeling good, ready to attack the last 10 miles.  

The five miles down to West Fork went by quickly.  I was able to keep my pace sub-8/min for the majority of this section and drank almost my whole bottle of coke.  I passed one more person on this section, chatting for a moment about the climb looming ahead, before I pushed on and arrived at the West Fork aid station alone (4:18 elapsed).  

It took a lot for me not to ask the volunteers about the runners ahead.  I knew I was somewhere in the top ten, but I had no idea how close I was to the people in front of me.  I still didn’t want to know.  I kept telling myself I was running my own race. They didn’t matter.  How I felt was what mattered.  I filled my bottles, stuffed my pockets with pretzels and, for the first time all day, dumped a cold cup of water on my head.  I had been holding off dumping water onto myself up until this point— we’re in one of the worst drought cycles in history in the state of California— but I figured one cup could be justified at this point, so I stood over some plants and emptied a dixie cup onto my head.  It felt awesome.  

The final climb ended up being somewhat anti-climactic.  I had been thinking about it for almost five hours, effectively scaring myself into sticking with my race strategy. When I finally hit it, I was feeling good, had plenty of energy and was able to stick the Strava section in under an hour (58:44).  Despite maintaining a running cadence and a decent pace, I never saw the runner in front of me, and looking back down the switchbacks at least 1,000’ below me, no one was in sight.  My position was pretty much locked in.  I just kept moving, pushing as hard as a could, hoping I would miraculously catch someone in front of me.  It didn’t happen.  

When I finally hit the parking lot and thought I was done, I realized I still had to run up the observation deck to the finish line.  It was probably only 50’ of elevation gain but it seemed like about 500.  Running through the finish line I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed (5:38 elapsed).  I finished in 7th place, nothing short of respectable, and from a management standpoint, I did a great job: I was never on the verge of bonking, I consumed a proper number of calories and kept myself decently hydrated.  

The problem was that maybe I didn’t suffer enough.  If there was never a point where I considered quitting, does that mean I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough?  Part of the reason I run these races is to go to those dark places, find out a little something about myself, and then push through to the other side, becoming a stronger person in the process.  I didn’t feel like that happened here. Did I hold too much back?  Did I really give my best effort? 

At the end of the day, I think it was a good thing.  My last few races I’ve been way on the other side of the whole bonking spectrum (i.e. trying to drag my cramping ass through the dirt because my quads are so completely locked up that I can’t flex my knee), so I think this was a great learning experience.  I’m starting to learn how to execute a race properly.  I’m learning to listen to my body and give it what it needs.  I’m beginning to become less reactive and starting to stay on top of things.  I’m growing as an ultrarunner.  

All in all, it was a great day and a great race.  Gary Hilliard and his wife did a great job.  There were awesome volunteers all over the course, the race was well marked, the course is gorgeous and the atmosphere was perfect.  High energy and fun all around.  I highly recommend this race.  

One day, it’s all going to come together for me.  I’m going to find the perfect balance of calorie consumption, hydration and race effort.  I’m going to deftly toe the line between redlining and bonking and come out victorious.  It’ll probably only take me 40 or 50 more races to get it all figured out.

Be Evolutionarily Relevant

As I’ve been tacking more and more miles onto my personal odometer, it’s become harder to keep my running obsession under the radar.  It’s not that I’m trying to keep it hidden; I’m incredibly proud of the running I’ve done and what running has done for me.  It’s just that I skew introverted to begin with and as soon as people start to realize what I’m doing, it inevitably leads to questions.  Questions that I generally have no interest in answering.

Every ultrarunner understands exactly what I’m saying because every ultrarunner has been asked, at some point, ‘Why?!?’, when something like the distance of your next race happens to be disclosed through casual conversation with a non-runner.  And we all know that someone who would ask that type of question has no idea how to fully understand the answer.  At least not in a real, practical sense.  So we utter clichés and talk vaguely about the intrinsic value of running.  

More often that not, when I arrive back at work after a long run in the middle of the day, I’m forced into some variation of a conversation that goes something like this:

“Bro! You were running this whole time?!?” You’ve been gone for like three hours!”

“Actually that was about four and a half… bro.”

“That’s nuts man!  I can’t do anything for four and half hours besides sleep. Why would you do that?”

“Oh, you know, I really enjoy getting away from everything—getting out in the mountains—and just running around.  It calms me down.”

  “You’re insane!! Why would anyone do that?! What do you think about while you’re out there?  Does your ipod last that—Bro! Where you going? Why you walking away?”

When looking at the human body from an evolutionary perspective, it seems odd that nobody ever has conversations like this:

“So, how was your day today?”

“Eh—it was pretty rough.  I sat at my desk at work for eight hours and then I sat in my car for an hour on my commute home before sitting for another five hours in front of the TV.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting for 14 hours today!?! That’s crazy!! How could you have possible done that?!? Isn’t your back killing you?  I’ve never heard of anyone sitting for so long!!”

“Well, I did get up a few times… I had to go to the bathroom and get something to eat… walk to my car.”

“Still, I don’t how you anyone could sit for so long!!  I would have lost my freaking mind! You’re a way stronger person than me.”

What happened to our evolutionary relevance?  As Harvard Evolutionary Biologist Daniel Lieberman points out in his book, The Story of the Human Body, humans are incredibly slow in comparison with the majority of quadrupeds.  The fastest humans top out around 23 miles an hour for—at the most—20 seconds.  Your average lion is running around 45 miles an hour for over four minutes.  

Tools like the bow and arrow weren’t invented until about 100,000 years ago and even the most basic stone spear points only appeared 500,000 years ago.  Yet there is archeological evidence that early humans have been hunting quadrupeds like kudu, zebra and wildebeest for almost 2 million years.  These animals were faster, stronger and much more agile than the humans hunting them.  But as mostly hairless bipeds, our ancestors could do a couple of things better than the rest of the animals on the planet: sweat and run long distances. 

So, according to Lieberman, we waited until the day was hot and we ran our prey down until it collapsed from heat stroke.  We evolved to be endurance runners. Now, we sit in chairs and type on computers.  We’ve lost touch with our evolutionary history.  Most of us have completely stopped using our bodies in the way they were designed.  And for some asinine reason, we expect no consequences for these actions. 

The next time someone comes up to me and asks me why I run such long distances with an incredulous look plastered across their face, I’m going to simply reply that I’m “attempting to stay evolutionarily relevant”.  I think that sums it all up nicely.  What more should I really have to say?

Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m going to run outside under the hot sun and sweat my ass off.  

The Best Type of Fun

A few days ago as I was run-commuting home from work, I happened upon an old episode of the Dirt Bag Diaries, Fun Divided by Three.  Let me just be clear: out on the trail, in the mountains, I would never attempt to distract myself with music or a podcast.  Running home from work on the street, it suddenly becomes a necessary diversion from the traffic.  Judge me if you will. 

Anyway, there I am running along the Pacific Coast Highway, staring longingly up at the mountains to my immediate left, when Fitz Cahall starts talking about the different types of fun. 

According to Fitz, all the “fun” experiences you have fit into one of three distinct categories.  I’d like to think there’s a little more grey area in there but essentially Fitz describes this sort of (reverse) correlative scale between how much fun something is during the planning and execution stages and how much fun it is to talk about afterward.  I was intrigued.  I kept listening. 

At the bottom of the scale you’ve got the type of fun that sounds like a good time during planning, is a good time in actuality, and is fun to talk about afterward for fifteen minutes or so  (i.e. a leisurely four-mile hike you planned with your significant other along an idyllic single track as the sun sinks low on the horizon, culminating in a summit/sunset picnic and a bottle of expensive Malbec).   Just regular old fun. 

Then about halfway up the scale you’re getting into the fun that sounds like fun when you’re drawing it up, is mostly fun while you’re doing it but definitely includes pain, moments of sincere regret and a lot of expletives, and makes a great story to tell over a beer for the next couple years (i.e. a 20-mile mountain run you plan with your buddies for a sunny Saturday morning that ends up being 35 miles because you got lost, were almost hit by lightning and forced to cross multiple chest-high rivers while possibly being stalked by a cougar. Oh, and the dude who was supposed to bring the S! Caps forgot them in the car). 

Then all the way at the top, you’ve got the type of fun that isn’t really fun at all until it’s over.  The type of fun that sounds miserable while you’re planning, you’re lucky to make it out with all limbs intact, and makes for one of the best stories you’ll tell for the rest of your life.  Fitz says something about post-holing at 25,000 feet through four feet of fresh powder when he’s describing this top of the scale or “type three fun”. 

If you’re an ultra runner, a trail runner or even someone who spends time in the mountains, you likely have your own version of type three fun.  We all have those experiences.  Running along the beach that day, my mind started to wander to my first 50 miler… or that time that Parker and I decided to run the 14-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Timpanagos the day after we ran the Skyline Mountain Marathon (and two days after I flew to Utah and left my sea-level apartment) with nothing but a couple of 20oz handheld bottles and two Larabars (apparently all the vomiting the day before didn’t fully hammer home the need for some basic acclimatization).

I love telling the stories from those experiences.  There were serious moments of doubt.  Serious moments of pain.  For a while, I didn’t think I would finish that first 50 miler.  It hurt more than anything I had ever done up to that point.   And there were times when I didn’t think I would ever make it off Mt. Timp (and I may not have if it wasn’t for Parker).  There were definitely times when sitting down and giving up sounded like the most reasonable option.  So why do these experiences, the hardest and most trying times, become the best memories and stories later? 

In my opinion, these raw, visceral experiences are the only thing that makes us feel truly alive.  Our daily lives aren’t doing it.  How alive have you ever felt staring a TV or computer screen? Without pushing ourselves to find our limits, we can never know who we truly are.  It’s in these times of self-doubt—where we find ourselves stripped of all pretense—that we discover who we are and what were capable of. 

We accept challenges and we conquer them.  We push ourselves to those deep, dark places we thought we were never capable of getting out of.  And then we get out.  And we can’t wait to talk about it over a beer.