I had my first team practice in six years this week. With the click of a few buttons and small charge on my MasterCard I now have coaches, teammates, and a training plan that will eventually lead me to the starting line of the longest race of my life. At least, to date.
I registered for the Northface 50 mile trail race because I needed another box to check off. I’ve run marathons before. I know that I can complete them. I am familiar with the discomfort involved and know that I can overcome it. But at 29, I need a new challenge, and admittedly, a big distraction.
I already run almost daily. I have for the past 18 years. It is my personal drug to help manage my everyday crazy. Nothing else seems to work. You can still cry on a bike. Even when pedaling hard. The inevitable downhill makes it too easy to let go. I know this.
Typically, I sign up for a road race when I need to prove something to myself. That I am faster than a competitor. That I am stronger than him or her. That I am still capable of coming back from injury. When I am struggling to define myself and locate my next steps. Running has always brought me back to center and to a different mindset. Sometimes better. Sometimes just different. And always to a path with another fork I must choose between.
My last marathon I signed up for because I needed something to work towards after a breakup. This time, I am working towards a better me. And 26.2 miles doesn’t seem like it will cut it. I am also nursing a different kind of heartache that requires a type of mapping system I still need to learn how to operate. Because this race is not about getting over a boy. It’s about not quitting when things get hard. Not looking for an easier path that doesn’t require so much of ourselves.
It’s much more difficult to encounter a mountain and decide to climb. But then again, I have always taken to hills. I don’t believe in halfway hikes. And I’ve never heard anybody say, “the view from the top wasn’t worth it.”
I also aim to train myself to approach goal-setting differently. Heck, I just want to actually set goals for myself. Ones that seem out of reach. I want to learn how to create and execute a plan to achieve them. To trust the training. To do my part. To exercise patience. And not leave anything on the trail. I need to remind myself to look for markers indicating which way to go.
Now, I have 15 weeks to develop legs that will carry me up and over the hills of Mt. Tamalpais for eight hours (or less) – the equivalent of running from my parent’s home in Massachusetts to Boston, and then back.
My teammates are nice. They are supportive. They are strangers I am in this strange journey with together. They do not know I am injury prone. Or that I intend to race this run, not just finish it. They do not even know my last name.
I have been called ‘crazy,’ by coworkers, friends, and family. And maybe I am. But so are the 25 other souls who began in the fog at Muir Beach Saturday morning. Who climbed Mt. Tam only to run down, back up, and then down again. We passed mountain bikers checking maps, appearing like ghosts and retreating into the clouds. They were reminders of a person a few ultra marathons away.
I couldn’t see anything but the trail unwinding before me, or hear the ocean below. Just the sounds of footsteps in unison all around, pushing me to run harder. Faster. And farther. On the last long climb I passed a lone hiker inching his way to the top. He pulled to the side and watched me and my running partner breeze by.
“Crazy,” he said.