These past two months I spent a lot of time researching races and places online. It began reasonably enough. I had to write a sidebar to my article for Trail Runner, which comes out in the magazine’s next issue, about self-supported stage races around the world (see below for this calendar list). Also, I wanted to start planning races for 2013 and register for those with lotteries.
Increasingly, however, this time online devolved into procrastination and fantasy about all the adventurous runs I want to train for and travel to. Expensive, impractical ideas about a week of racing in Iceland or a traverse of the Inca Trail distracted me daily. I kept it to myself rather than talking to Morgan about it because I knew he would justifiably feel impatient and alienated from me, since those running trips don’t necessarily involve him and would take me away from our work together.
I guess you could say I developed the ultrarunning, adventure-seeking equivalent of an online porn habit. The hours I spent on blogs, websites and Facebook when I should have been working wasn’t the only problem. I found myself moody, unmotivated and uninspired by my regular running routine. I let this blog dry up because my running and life in general felt mundane and not worth sharing.
I confronted my frame of mind and made a concerted effort to feel better after last Sunday, when I had to skip a 50K on Mt. Tam because I needed to finish my run earlier due to family plans. I ran nearly four hours on the hills of Chabot Regional Park, but instead of feeling fulfilled after 22 miles that I ran solo and strong, I felt irrationally pissed and unsatisfied that I missed the event and ran “short” on a “boring” route. When I caught myself thinking that way, I said out loud, “What is my problem?”
It’s natural, I guess, to have a comedown after two unforgettable and uncommon experiences: first the ultrarunning camp in Alaska, then the weeklong Grand to Grand stage race. Those trips took me away from my family to indulge in adventure, self-discovery and socialization with a tribe of wonderful, kooky characters whose lives seem to revolve around outdoor exploration and endorphins.
The other day, two of them sent me emails that epitomize the extremes I’m talking about. The first, from one of my Grand to Grand tentmates, said she’s doing the 6633 Extreme Winter Ultra—a freezing cold, self-supported multiday race with a 120 mile or 350 mile option in the Arctic Circle. The other message came from a woman I went to the Alaska camp with. She wrote to invite me and others to join her at the Wild Coast Ultra in South Africa, a six-day, 270K (167-mile) race. That event has some of the craziest rules I’ve ever read, including: “The route is not marked … participants may take any route they choose … you will have to use your initiative to get water along the way … when crossing the rivers at outgoing tide, be very aware of the extreme power of the water rushing out …” And my favorite: “Bring an abundant sense of humor.”
I love meeting people like them, reading about this stuff and dreaming big dreams. But at some point I crossed a line from feeling inspired to struggling with a warped perspective that clouded my ability to enjoy and appreciate the here and now.
The other weekend, however, the cloud lifted and I felt like my normal self when I embraced the challenge of a half marathon trail race. I ran hard, had fun and felt fully gratified from those 13.5 miles at the Save Mount Diablo Trail Challenge. I’ve raced this course several times in past years but enjoyed it as if it were new. The people at the event, the challenge of running fast and the companionship of my husband who ran it too all contributed to a satisfying experience.
I also read a blog post that helped me regain gratitude. It was written by another Grand to Grand tentmate, Stephanie Case, who does ultras and self-supported stage races around the globe. For now, however, she is working for the UN in a Kabul security compound, her life and her daily runs restricted to a mere mile or so. Rather than complain about the restrictions of living in a security bubble, she celebrates its familiar routine and every person and detail around her. She typifies the kind of mindfulness and gratitude that I strive for and often but not always feel.
I’m going to put my far-flung running aspirations on a mental shelf—not abandon them, just set them aside—until it makes more sense to take them down. Meanwhile I’ll get my work done, take care of my kids and rest more to heal my tweaky lower back—the part of my body that seems to be a barometer for stress and overuse. I’m also going to look forward to the holidays with my family, the upcoming 50-mile North Face Endurance Challenge on December 1 and a Christmas vacation to Hawaii.
No shit, life is good and I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Dream Big, Go Far
If you, like me, want to do a self-supported stage race sometime in the future, here’s a list I put together. Unless otherwise noted, they’re seven days and approx 250K.
Atacama Crossing (Chile), March 3, 2013; and Oct. 5, 2014.
Marathon des Sables (Morocco), April 5, 2013; and April 4, 2014.
The Track Outback Race (Australia, 520K, 9 stages), May 8, 2013; and again in 2015.
Jungle Ultra (Peru, 230K, 5 stages), May 24, 2013.
Gobi March (China), June 2, 2013; and June 1, 2014.
Mountain Ultra (Colorado, 220K, 5 stages), Aug. 2, 2013.
RacingThePlanet Iceland, Aug. 4, 2013.
European Ultra (Portugal, 120K, 3 stages), Sept. 20, 2013.
Grand to Grand Ultra (Arizona/Utah), Sept. 22, 2013.
Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (South Africa), Oct. 17, 2013.
Ultra Africa Race (Cameroon, 200K, 5 stages), November 2013 and 2014 (dates TBA).
Desert Ultra (Namibia), Nov. 15, 2013.
Ultra India Race (200K, 5 stages), Jan. 14, 2014.
Ice Ultra (Sweden, 230K, 5 stages), Feb. 14, 2014.
Sahara Race (Egypt), Feb. 16, 2014.
RacingThePlanet Madagascar, Aug. 31, 2014. (website not live yet; will be found in 4Deserts.com’s Roving Race section)
The Last Desert (Antarctica), Nov. 16, 2014. (note: an invitation-only event for those who have completed two of the four events in the 4Deserts series above)