Thursday, August 8, 2019

Running Is Life

What an aggrandizing, over-zealous title. But there's truth to that title in a small way.

For some time, I've realized that in every running race there are these small moments that are microcosms of big life themes. Lessons learned in only minutes that could take years to understand in the broad context of a life. For some time, I've thought about writing about them. But it's always felt like self-puffery, like an excuse to tell you about my latest running exploit, like a way to brag just a bit more. And perhaps there's some truth to that.

Despite that, I'm going to try writing about some of these moments anyway. For one, I've missed writing and really want to begin again. For another, I want to put these moments to words to help my own learning of the lesson taught. And finally, just maybe someone else will get something out of it other than "man, this guy likes to talk about himself."

Some of these will be small, little, almost nothings. Others will hit on really big themes. Some will even appear as trite banalities such is "like life, running is about a journey and not just reaching a goal" although I'll do my best to minimize those.

So I invite you to join along as I share one thing learned while out running and racing that applies broadly to life. I'll try to do this weekly for as long as the ideas strike me. I'd love to hear your feedback, if something really resonates or if you think I'm way off base. And I'll begin with a short vignette from the Never Summer 100k ultramarathon this week.

Lesson: They're Just Regular People

This thought has been swirling in my mind for some time, but it really connected with me as I climbed up the steep incline to the summit of North Diamond Peak at the Never Summer 100k race. The idea is a simple one, but a bit shocking, as well.

Growing up, I'd flip through National Geographic magazine and read other stuff describing explorers of the world, of wilderness, of exotic locations. People trekking to the north pole, climbing Everest, diving to the bottom of the ocean. We would occasionally drive to Switzerland for family vacations, and there would always be a TV channel in the hotel playing video of a mountaineering expedition climbing some alpine ridge to summit a mountain. These were fascinating stories of exploration and adventure to me.

In my mind, the people that did these things became superhumans with born abilities that the rest of us did not have and could not cultivate. They were other and better than the rest of us. They could do things the rest of us could only dream of doing. They were unique and special.

Thunderheads loom above as we climb high up Diamond Peak
As I climbed North Diamond Peak with a line of other racers, it really struck home with me how wrong that thinking had been. Here I was, just a regular guy in a line of regular people, after just over four years of meaningful running training; climbing an incredibly steep mountain summit with a thunderstorm only inches over our heads to then run several miles along an exposed alpine ridge. And this was just a short piece of the entire race for that day!
There's absolutely nothing superhuman about me, no unique born abilities that others don't have, nothing special. As I looked around at the others climbing with me, I suspected many of them would say the same about themselves. Sure, some people may have been born with a bit more natural talent at running and hiking and climbing, some were bigger and others smaller, some stronger and more muscular and others skinnier and more lithe, but everyone was pretty much a "regular" person and certainly not a superhuman.

As my racing adventures have become more adventuresome, from early local races to now full-blown high elevation mountain ultramarathons, this idea that most of these people aren't superhuman has been percolating. Of course, there are some outliers at the very top of any sport who have extraordinary abilities, but I bet even those people are more regular than not. There is nothing special about me, except I did some training and signed up! It's both a liberating thought and a frightening one.

The question out of the lesson then is, what other things have I decided I could not do simply because I had the belief that those things were reserved for superhumans? Maybe something professionally? Perhaps another athletic endeavor? Maybe something in day to day life? What have I passed up that I really should try taking on? I almost think it's exactly those things that I've attributed to "only for superhumans" that are exactly what my heart desires to pursue, but fears to do so.

What about you?

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