For the Love

After finishing the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 (ITI), I expected to be crushed both physically and mentally. I had foreseen swollen feet and legs, weird spasms in my hips, random cramping, general lethargy, and discomfort in my sleep. It seemed inevitable to me that after putting myself through such an intense effort, while resting less than two hours a night for a week, I would experience the all too familiar post-race depression. Typically, every time I finish something of grand proportions, I am filled with a strange sense of void. Regardless of the outcome, success or failure, I rarely enjoy arriving. Instead, I take most satisfaction in the process. Crossing the finish line seems indicative of the end of a particular journey. The buildup, the focus, the strength required to prepare and pull through, all release in a single moment at the finish. The gratification of completion is nearly always contrasted with a feeling of emptiness, of what’s next?

My assumption before the ITI was that if I pushed myself hard enough, if I honestly challenged my preconceived limitations, I would be setting myself up for severe post-race burnout. I was willing to go there, but the mental breakdown, that drained, vacant sensation of apathy is what I feared most. I have seen it in friends around me. I have flirted with it myself under lesser circumstances. A physical injury is tangible – there is something concrete to work towards and heal. Mental injury is more subtle, more invasive and destructive. You cannot fake your way out of the struggle, grit your teeth and ignore the pain. A mental injury is like cancer, permeating all aspects of one’s being.

Day after day during the race, I was tried to my very core. Each time I reached a checkpoint, I hit rock bottom, questioning my ability to continue. Every time I felt as if I had one percent of strength left. One percent is enough though to hold me together. In the Farewell Burn, playing with metaphor, I created an image of a slow burning flame inside of me, symbolizing the one percent of strength I had left. I nurtured the flame, protected it from the elements, kept it burning. At the end in McGrath, I let the flame grow, I let it take over me and heal me. I had no sense of the emptiness I had feared, no longing for something more. I was content.

To my surprise, when I came home I had but one yearning – to go running again. This column’s aim is to invite the reader to re-discover one’s local surroundings. This entry points to something even simpler – to revel in the pure movement of setting one foot in front of the other.

After the ITI, my body certainly felt weathered and still does. Each step felt slow and slightly uncomfortable. I was not going to get anywhere spectacular. Jogging to the mailbox, a couple blocks from my house, felt like an accomplishment. The uneven early spring snow tugged on my tendons. I had to take frequent walk breaks. Yet, I was happy. I felt nourished by the restorative power of movement. I give thanks everyday for my ability to move. Similarly, I elate in the seemingly insignificant observations of the small happenings of a sleepy town.

Each morning, a rowdy magpie celebrates daybreak on our porch. It makes so much noise, I often wonder if there is not a much larger animal out there. When I let dog out, she immediately rushes the flock of sparrows nesting under my neighbor’s house. It is part of her spring routine. On my way up to Crow’s Nest the other day, a great vantage point to catch a view of the divide, I watched as the black poodle from up the way trotted by with a chicken in its muzzle. I chuckled at the thought of the drama this will create. There is comfort in familiarity, in the simple joys of ambling aimlessly along the hills around my home. To me, it all comes down to perspective. The ITI stripped me from my attachment to a result, from the desire to arrive. In some ways the massive excess of the endeavour restored balance in me. It showed me what was important – the continuity of our journey rather than its finality, not to rest in arriving, but to keep moving. Run with honesty, with authenticity, run for the love.

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 35 comments

    1. Phil

      Just spent a long day in London, back in the Peak district now, seeing the photographs and reading the paragraphs above i can feel the stress just flowing away. Get the feeling that Joe has achieved more than just a race finish?

      Cheers Joe.

  1. Molly's dad

    Beautiful images and words Joe and congratulations on completing such an amazing race.

    Am I correct in thinking that Joe is also shod by the farriers working out of the innov8 stable?

  2. Shelby

    I'm proud of you Joe for battling the fierce conditions of ITI and coming out the other side joyful in the simplicity of moving over familiar terrain. Running is a gift and the delight is as well. Enjoy your recovery!

  3. Jon Webb

    "It showed me what was important – the continuity of our journey rather than its finality, not to rest in arriving, but to keep moving. Run with honesty, with authenticity, run for the love."

    Thanks Joe! Needed that…

  4. Tony Mollica

    Nice article Joe! The pictures were wonderful!

    It truly is the journey that is the most important part. It should be savored and appreciated. The journey is not just something to endure on the way to "the destination". Way cool that you can appreciate that as a young men! Have a great journey Joe!

  5. thomas

    I wrote to your article "A taste of Home"

    thomas says:

    January 30, 2013 at 3:17 am

    Hi Joe,

    awesome pictures, great words, good luck for the

    Iditarod Trail Invitational

    Your result is exceptional, you are such a great runner, and !! writer, I am sure we will here and read a lot more from you. You deserve my respect, I am looking up to you

    thomas from germany

  6. Heidi Grant

    A wonderful read, from the heart, and so inspiring to everyone who just loves to get out there – slowly or quickly.

  7. Jay kelly

    Great report! Thank you for your honesty, I too deal with post race depression. I will try using your burning flame imagery. Happy trails!

  8. Erin Krupp

    Great article and great photography as well. Love the fact that you inspire us to keep moving, to not give up in every battle, and to continue our journey. Being in the race can really be tiring and I agree with you, sometimes I am asking myself if I can still make it to the finish line, because the moment I try to run again, I feel this weakness in my body like I cannot do it anymore, but then, there's this something inside my brain which keeps on saying "Go on! You can do it!" So I listened to it, motivated myself once again and then, I finished the race. Afterwards, it felt so good because I didn't give up, instead I fought until the end. When you finish the race, you have this sense of achievement which makes me happy and fulfilled.

  9. Fabrice

    Joe, you with Anton Kilian and a few took running a steep ahead from all of us. I just love reading you guys stories, it make dream of some adventures I might do some days.

  10. Stevie S.

    "…the restorative power of movement…" Perfect. Great article. Nice to

    read on the page what so many others are thinking. Great Job.

  11. Phil

    Just spent a long day in London, back in the Peak district now, seeing the photographs and reading the paragraphs above i can feel the stress just flowing away. Get the feeling that Joe has achieved more than just a race finish?

    Cheers Joe.

    PS. Very tired so posted in the wrong place above, sorry. 2nd time lucky!

  12. Andrea

    Great photos and write-up! Thanks for the reminder to simply enjoy the purity of running and experiencing the great outdoors. The artistic effects on your photos work very well – the added emphasis on red and blue tones adds a poignant element to draw in the observer.(I like to play around with various filters and effects in my photos as well).

    Very nice article!

  13. Jason Thompson

    Thanks for the great article and photos. This idea really resonates with me: "To my surprise, when I came home I had but one yearning – to go running again. […] This entry points to something even simpler – to revel in the pure movement of setting one foot in front of the other." I had a similar experience last December, after returning from an amazing adventure run (Zion traverse), when the following words struck me during a short jog around my urban neighborhood: "every run is an adventure run" — or, I guess, can be. One of the gifts of distance running fitness — and the increasingly deep sense of connection to the environment that in my experience it provides — is the opportunity to embrace (if so we decide) even the most modest foray outdoors with the same spirit of discovery and wonder that a big mountain run can't help but occasion. (T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.")

  14. cory feign

    a saying about this goes something like… there is only one finish line, and we're all training towards the same inevitable goal: to cross it happily and full of good memories

  15. marco

    a 10k or sometimes even a marathon are about crossing the finish line as quckly as possible, but 50, 100 milers and adventures such as the ITI are about the journey. Is not necessarily the journey through the geography, but a journey through your consciousness. after reading your report I sense that you experienced an awesome ride through your consciousness. your reflections are the testament to it. Great article.

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