Last weekend I dragged myself up at some early-for-a-Sunday hour and trekked out 80 to hop on the ‘shorter’ version of the final 19-mile training run for the CastlePeak 100K, which I’m helping out with organizing aid stations for this year. I had a blast; the trails up there are gorgeous and offer some of the best sights in Tahoe, the terrain was varying and equal parts normal and challenging, and the people were new and different and fun to get to know.
As I’ve sort of noted in my unintentionally infrequent posts this summer, I’ve been trying to reset my running, in the spirit of mental and physical ‘recovery’ (or so we’ll call it), and I needed a trail adventure into the unknown to reinvigorate my outdoor spirit. It did, but it also left me wiped out for quite a few days and served as a quiet reminder of why this reset is happening.
Physically, I’m tired. I was running last year (and for years, consistently), but I started from essentially nothing at the end of last February and went form zero to full-speed ahead within an impromptu 13.1 Saturday morning miles, and then proceeded to, over the course of the next 14 months, run a spontaneous (un-fueled) trail marathon, a trail 50K (with two weeks notice), an actual marathon, a 30K (that I added several extra miles to, thank you sense of direction), a very poorly fueled 50K and the Boston Marathon. Considering I vowed adamantly to never run another marathon after my previous 2009 Edinburgh foray into distance running and that I had never run on trails before that point… that’s a lot. Even if I were somewhat in this game already, it’s still a lot, and there was very little ‘sitting’ or stationary action in between all of those times. I did really enjoy it. I still really enjoy it – there is nothing like the feeling of being on top of a mountain after scrambling up rocks, or flying down a single-track through towering redwoods, or sliding alone through rolling hills at sunrise.
But my body hurts. Like, really hurts, and I’m starting to accept that I probably do have a really high pain threshold, because the constant deep muscle and nerve pain in my legs and extreme cannot-move-my-body exhaustion is a bit beyond what ‘normal’ people feel, or what I ever felt when I wasn’t doing this sort of stuff. Deep exhaustion is just that – exhausting – and sleep does no good.
I can deal with that pain, and sometimes, in a perverse way, it feels good, but there’s also a mental part to it. Running was my crutch over the past year, when I needed something to channel my energy into, fill idle days, and allow me to escape and (quite literally) run away from the reality of my very discombobulated day-to-day life… and it worked, until my very discombobulated day-to-day life started to get less discombobulated and more back in order, and I started to descend back down through the sunrises and sunsets and fog to earth and finally became grounded enough to tackle all of the shit that I was trying to run away from. Disappearing for hours in the wilderness let me untangle my thoughts and reestablish some sense of who I was and what made me happy, but it gradually started to reach the point where I was spending more and more time during that escape flashing into reality and wanting to be home so I could be present in whatever else I had going on instead. With that gradual slip also came a gradual resurgence of my horrible, ever-present (but usually suppressed) ‘you must run for X-Y-Z reasons, and you are not good enough for reasons X-Y-Z if you don’t’ voice, and that is forever my check engine light sign that too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing.
I stopped wearing my watch, stopped logging into Strava, stopped calculating, and stopped planning, and a week quickly turned into eight, my miles steadily decreased, and my mind settled, because it turns out that, in amongst all of the fun I was having frolicking in desolation, I was also adding yet another thing onto the guilt and shame plate that was already dropping pressure onto my life. And just as I am not worthless and useless at all of the things I was made to believe I was worthless and useless at over the past decade, my self-worth and value is not defined by the miles I run or the food I eat or the kudos I get or the photos I take. It’s defined by how I (myself!) feel, and if scaling the Palisades with new faces on a July Sunday morning makes me happy (which it definitely, definitely did), than that’s great, but if missing out on another explore to play golf on another July Sunday morning also makes me happy (which it definitely, definitely does), that’s great too, and does not make me antisocial or a failure.
It’s crazy how easy it is to get caught in self-induced pressure cycles, and it’s crazy how hard it is to recognized that we’re trapped. It’s also crazy how these cycles repeat in almost identical form throughout my life (our lives?).
Anyway – despite not running (…as much, rest assured I am still out there in stealth), I’ve loved the change of pace of the summer and love how and where things are going. I’ve played a ridiculous amount of golf (which is particularly astounding, given my normal feelings on the subject) and managed my best round ever (like, by a lot), and it’s been a refreshing way to still be outside but not be pounding my body to death. I’ve still explored new places and seen gorgeous unexpected sunrises and sunsets, while on my feet or driving down open roads. I’ve seen people I want to see and done things I want to do, and I’ve tried to be somewhat easier on myself about feeling guilt when I can’t fit everything in. I feel genuinely at-ease most of the time, and the nightmares are still there but infrequent, and the fight-or-flight reactions to things that shouldn’t provoke fight-or-flight reactions are becoming time-boxed to minutes rather than hours or days. I feel actually present in each day and not distracted by mind spaghetti. I can see the huge, glowing light at the end of this very dark two-year tunnel, and while it make me want to throw up because it’s so imminent and I’m still not fully sure it’s going to ever be here (some ball is going to drop), the light is there, and like all things… this too will pass.