Gulp

[Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome a new columnist to the iRunFar team, Aliza Lapierre! Her work will appear here monthly on Wednesdays. Welcome, Aliza!]

For the longest time, my instinctive nature was constantly telling me to protect myself from both the possibility of failure and the possibility of success. I was continually focusing on external variables that I had little or no control over. I was so deeply involved that I was unaware of the influences that were controlling me. These self-defeating behaviors became a part of my internal world, as I worried about rejection, disapproval, inadequacy, humiliation, and failure. I would not be involved in activities or situations where I could not calculate or predict how they would unfold. In other words, I attempted to control the uncontrollable. It was exhausting, it was stressful, and it created a great sense of internal pressure.

It has taken quite a while, but I have come to better understand my fear and anxiety. I spent countless years trying to hide the internal turmoil I often felt. I spent copious amounts of energy fighting back undesirable thoughts and feelings trying not to show it on my exterior in fear of what others would think. I hated living like that, but was afraid to be judged. I held as much as I could inside me, fearing that someone might catch a glimpse of insight into my innermost depths. I continually wondered how long I could keep deceiving people that I was a truly happy and well-put-together individual. I knew in my heart and soul that something had to change because I didn’t have the energy to keep putting on this facade.

After I started ultrarunning, a passion grew inside of me, and the sport helped open my eyes to the idea of challenging myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. On the trails, no one knew who I was or what to expect so I was working with a blank canvas. I could portray a strong, goal-oriented ultrarunner who knew exactly what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to get after it. Or I could portray a shy, self-doubting ultrarunner who felt like she had no right being in the midst of these true runners. What happened in actuality was a mixture of these two scenarios: my running was confident, but my body language, streaming consciousness, and interactions portrayed a clear lack of confidence and a sense of uncertainty. I knew that I didn’t want to be the meek athlete; I had (and have) the discipline to train and the drive to compete, but I was still allowing myself to be defined by negative feelings within myself.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize that a lot of my processing happens when I am running, as I find great peace in routine, exploration, and nature. The quietness and simplicity helps me focus on my thoughts with minimal distraction. Sometimes I need to be alone for this to happen. I need to feel like I am in control as I work through things at my own pace and on my own terms. Other times I am with one of my training partners who has the ability to help me dig deeper than the superficial responses that I think others want to hear. Their intentions are so pure and their words carefully placed so that I do not resort to changing the subject or silence. As we work our way up and down mountain trails, they help me expose thoughts that I hide and help me put together a plan of action, find resolution, or let those thoughts go by coming to peace with them. They have noted my process and I value their patience and acceptance. Alas, there are those really bad days where the best I can do is to work to set my uneasiness aside until I am able to approach it with more strength and clarity. Some days I wish that running could solve all my problems, but there are times when running seems to be the cause of my angst and not the solution.

It feels utterly embarrassing that simple things like registering for a race or writing an article like this one elicits doubt, hesitation, panic, and fear. I cannot fully explain how frustrating and outrageous I feel on days when I struggle to get out the door to run, not because I don’t want to, but rather because I convince myself I am incapable of completing the distance or prescribed workout. Who am I fooling? I am not an athlete, I am not a runner, I think to myself. On these days, I try to get out the door with the understanding that if I go a mile and still am not into it I can turn around and head home. And if I cannot get out the door, I get on the treadmill. I do not like to be defeated or controlled by my thoughts, but, yes, there are days where I become so chaotic inside that I crawl into bed and hope the next day is better.

With this being my first article on iRunFar, I have a feeling of honor and am using fear as my motivator to push myself outside my comfort zone. I wish I could be that confident person who toes the line of a race with the belief that I can challenge a course record, but that is not where I am at. I wish I could share my stories and not fear the criticism that may follow, but again that’s where I am at. I wish I could send this piece off to the editors at iRunFar without pacing around and around, but you’ve guessed it, that’s not where I am at.

I have come a long way socially and emotionally because of our sport. My family, training partners, sponsors, and individuals that have helped me process and accept what I feel have gotten me closer to knowing myself. I cannot imagine my life without trail running and the ultra community because it has given me the ability to say that I have chosen to fight to better learn what I am capable of and to discover what I have to offer others. I am proudly a work in progress.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What has running taught you about yourself?
  • Do you feel a little more comfortable in your own skin as a result of our sport?
Aliza Lapierre

finds peace and a sense of belonging while trail running. Her passion began by exploring the trails in her home state of Vermont and has been regenerated by exploration across the world. She continually works to redefine her perceived boundaries, while trying to inspire others to explore their capabilities as well.

There are 13 comments

  1. Josh Katzman

    Well said Aliza! And let me just say, you certainly were poised with confidence and strength dragging me around Cochran’s last summer! May that certainty pull you along the Western States trail this year – can’t think of a single runner in New England who won’t be cheering from you back East! And very glad to see your new column!

  2. Scott O.

    What a wonderful surprise to see Aliza joining the crew of iRunFar columnists. She, via her blog, was the first ultrarunner I came across when I first considered running long, and I look forward to many future posts from her on this site.

  3. Gary Robbins

    It’s great to see you undertake this new challenge Aliza. As with your running I’m certain you’ll learn a lot about yourself, while improving with each and every effort you put forth.

    Your candidness is what makes you such a lovely person, and more people than you realize will associate with this initial, open and honest posting.

    GR

  4. Sheila B.

    Aliza, great post that I can completely relate to (except for the elite runner part-not to add any more pressure on you!). As a fellow New Englander and part time Vermonter I have followed your running and am always so impressed by your grace and humility as well as your success. I shared some trail with you husband at Stone Cat a few years back while you were crushing the marathon. So excited to follow you during Western States. Most importantly, enjoy the day. We will be cheering from afar!

  5. Sean

    Aliza, I fully identify with you. I competed for years as an elite cyclist and I was accustomed to winning sprints and hanging gracefully and effortlessly with the top riders. As I grew older, got married, had kids and started a career and business, my fitness slipped away. I still rode, but I was full of self criticism. I knew I would never be as fast as I once was, if for no other reason than not having hours to dedicate to training. I stopped competing because I knew I would compare myself to my prior accomplishments; I was not emotionally prepared to be a middle- or back-of-the-pack finisher, an also-ran. It would only set me up for disappointment.

    I started running in early March of this year. I discovered trail running and ultras. Six weeks into my running career I fearlessly signed up for a 12k trail race. I say fearlessly partly because I had no idea what 2,000 vertical feet meant, but mainly because I had nothing to lose. Being new to the sport, I am unburdened by past accomplishment. It allows me to rediscover and redefine myself at age 50.

    With running I carry no baggage of who or what I once was. As you say, I can be shy or strong on any given day. I can put away the thoughts of inadequacy that I feel on the bike (hell, I’m as inadequate as they come on the trail!) and just run.

    Running tore down the limits I now realize I’d unconsciously imposed on myself. A half marathon seemed insanely long until I did a 15 mile training run. I learned that distance, like age, is just a number, a measure of how much time you’re willing to devote. If I could race a 12k, why not 25k? If I could run 15 miles on a Saturday morning, why not a marathon? Why not 50 miles?

    Indeed, why not? I have no illusions of standing on a podium, but there is accomplishment and satisfaction for me in doing what my younger self would have considered beyond reach, not to mention being a part of a community that accepts and even celebrates the journey. Along the way, I’ve learned to be more accepting of myself and others, to find peace and release on the trails.

    1. A.Lapierre

      Thanks for sharing Sean!

      Your last sentence of “Along the way, I’ve learned to be more accepting of myself and others, to find peace and release on the trails” really resonants with me. I’ve really tried to live my life not judging others and have now been working on adding in the piece of not judging myself.

      The trails have allowed me to let some of my internal criticism go, which makes me feel much lighter and free. I have not been able to unearth this sense of comfort in other realms of my life yet, but am certainly working on it.

      Both running and nature are powerful and I am glad you are getting out and exploring.

  6. Rob Sargeant

    Ultra running has taught me that not all pain is significant. The first time I completed a 50 mile ultra my legs felt like cement, my joints were inflamed, and afterwards, I couldn’t walk down the stairs at my home for three days without bracing most of my weight against the railings. I thought, “What have I done to myself?”

    After a few days though, I was back to running again without any pain. That’s when I realized the amazing ability of our bodies to recover. I think the process has given me more mental fortitude too, when I face other challenges in life.

  7. M @readeatwriterun

    Well said – I absolutely love and aspire to this

    “I have chosen to fight to better learn what I am capable of and to discover what I have to offer others. I am proudly a work in progress.”

    I, as I expect many others do, share similar feelings, doubts, thoughts and behaviors. Thanks for giving face and honest voice to your journey and struggles, you are helping all of us. Maybe we can help you too!

  8. Adam Wilcox

    Aliza,

    A great man (and mutual friend of ours) said “always have the courage to tell the truth”. Lots of respect to you for having the courage to share the truth, instead of the front most of us put up.

  9. Andy

    Aliza, I commend and congratulate Your progress and honesty. I am a recovered alcoholic of 10 years. I have completed 20 ultra marathons and am happily married. You can do all things through faith and determination.

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