Don’t miss any cutoffs sitting in the aid station.
Those of you who know me well or have been around this blog for a while know that I am an ultramarathon runner. I seek out trails and races well beyond the 26.2 mile marathon distance. While this may seem out of reach, I am learning that seeking a finish of a long race isn’t much different than seeking satisfaction, growth and happiness in life. Therefore to me, living life, loving my people, learning and growing and reaching for personal goals is really just its own ultramarathon.
This came to a head for me recently when I was really struggling personally. I texted a friend who knows me well and knows ultramarathons well. The following exchange took place:
There is a documentary (one of many) that documents the journey of running a 100-mile race. There is a scene where the man running is sitting in the aid station tired and torn. Exhausted. Pushed beyond his current ability. His people are rallying around him giving him aid and working to build his spirits. He is unsure he can go on. Then he says:
“Just give me 60 seconds to feel sorry for myself.”
His friends surround him, encouraging him, keeping their eye on the clock and are ready for him to get back up and finish the race when he's ready.
The draw of an ultramarathon is the unknown. It’s the idea that we train for months for a distance that seems so incredibly out of reach that while we hope it is possible, we know there are so many factors that can derail any well prepared for race. We get to that start line anyway, because the excitement of finishing something big and bold is bigger than the risk of not finishing. The chance we might fail is the draw that keeps us curious about how far we can go.
The draw of life is similar. There is the unknown. There is the ever present fact that life is fleeting and no matter what we do, we and everyone we love are going to die. It is a fact that as much as we may try to escape it, is hard truth. Why would anyone even bother then, right? Maybe because the excitement of having a life that is beautiful and meaningful is worth the risk of pain that ultimately comes when you put your heart out into the world.
We know the world is a terrifying place, yet we explore it and try to understand it and make friends and go places and get into cars and fly on planes knowing that at any moment we could experience some kind of accident, be in the wrong place at the wrong time or be diagnosed with a horrible disease. All of this could be enough to make us want to stay locked up in our homes, missing out on life. But we don’t. We know the chance we might fail is the draw that keeps us going to see how far in life we can go.
Occasionally though, life throws us something truly painful. We are going along in our world living life and something happens that stops us in our tracks. A loved one gets sick. A friend dies. An innocent animal is targeted for an unknown reason. The world becomes too heavy.
Sometimes in a race, there is an injury. Nutrition is off and fatigue sets in. The weather doesn’t cooperate. The course is more difficult than you thought it would be.
In either case, we seek aid. We sit on our friend’s couch or call our person or cry to our partner. We make it to the aid station and believe we cannot go on. We stop moving forward and are frozen in our grief. We have a choice. We can get up and keep going, or we can sit in that comfortable place and stop.
Life is an ultramarathon.
A few months ago, someone in my neighborhood shot my cat with a .22 caliber weapon. That same week, a childhood friend died from ALS, leaving behind 4 children and a loving wife. Also in that same week, a key member of our team at work left to pursue a fabulous new opportunity for her and her little family. It was all just so heavy, and I was so incredibly sad. For my cat, for this world we live in, for my own capacity at work and ultimately for the understanding that this world we live in is heavy and hard and full of so much pain. It was more than I could take. I needed aid.
My friend sent that text to me in response to my desire to “just feel sorry for myself for a little while longer”. I knew I wouldn’t be there for long, but I wasn’t ready to get up yet. It is safe and comfortable there in that aid station. Sitting still and feeling all the things and wanting to hide from all of the pain in this broken world. But my friend knows me and knows I cannot stay there forever. He reminded me not to miss any cutoffs sitting in the aid station. Don’t avoid the aid stations, they are there for a reason, but don’t stay there too long either, if we do we will certainly miss out on something beautiful that life has in store for us.
I had a virtual happy hour with a group of amazing women about a month after that text exchange with my friend. I mentioned that I stopped listening to podcasts, I stopped going to my new therapist and just stopped moving forward. I wasn’t depressed, I was resting. One of these amazing friends mentioned gently that I seemed to be sort of stagnant. That I was retreating into my safe place and maybe that’s okay for a while but I probably shouldn’t stay there too long. It reminded me of the text my friend sent me. I shared the words with my girls and they were so taken back by the profound meaning in those words, they said it should be my mantra.
Life is an ultramarathon. Go out there and run it. Get dirty, get hurt, get out in the world and see what happens. Get aid when you need it, just don’t miss any cutoffs while sitting in the aid station.