The Acceptance And Denial Debate

AJW's TaproomOne of the great gifts of distance running is the time and space it affords us to turn inward. In the midst of a run, I often find myself most at peace as stillness settles over my mind and body and I open myself up to internal dialogue. Most times that internal dialogue is rather mundane, but from time to time it becomes more profound. On my daily runs recently, I have been gripped by an internal debate, a debate between acceptance and denial.

I suppose this is not unusual for an aging ultrarunner. On the one hand, I am at a place in my running life where I am forced into a position of acceptance. A place in which I run more slowly, occasionally more painfully, and often more deliberately. On the other hand, I cannot help but deny those limits, stretch the boundaries, and seek to break out of a potentially static routine. If it is through a series of denials that I’ve become the runner I am, then why should that be taken away by the passage of time?

In a sense, the ultrarunner’s life is all about the amplitude between acceptance and denial. And, like with many dichotomies, perhaps the best answers lie somewhere in the middle. Yet, many of us have gotten to where we are because we are both world-class deniers and master-class acceptors. Through our rough-hewn ability to push away pain, fatigue, and suffering in the midst of long exhausting efforts, we have become open to transcending the ordinary and sought out the extraordinary. At the same time, the best of us, and those of us who’ve been around the longest, also know our limits, respect our abilities, and strive for the familiar. In short, long-distance runners are the walking embodiment of the acceptance/denial debate.

For me, in running and in life, I tend to be an acceptance/denial ‘waffler.’ In fact, I believe that years of running long have extended the debate to the rest of my life. In times of acceptance, I tend to be patient, cautious, and reflective. My life slows down in these moments and a calmness descends over me. Conversely, in periods of denial, things speed up, I tend to take a few more risks, and decisions can be more reactive and spontaneous. I’ve noticed that if I stay too long in one sphere that things go wrong, get stale, and perhaps even fall off kilter. Yet toggling too frequently between the extremes makes me scattered and undisciplined. In short, I think as a runner and as a human, I need both, in equal doses.

The gift of inward dialogue on the run has given me sustenance and made me who I am. It has also allowed me to face questions about life and living that I wasn’t quite sure how to ask. In the case of the acceptance/denial debate, the internal dialogue continues as I seek to ever evolve into a better runner and a better person. As such, I continue to look eagerly forward to that daily appointment with myself, however fast or slow, that can perhaps lead me to more clarity, focus, and understanding.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

New Belgium Brewing Company Voodoo Ranger IPAI’ve always liked New Belgium Brewing Company, headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado, ever since I had my first Fat Tire many years ago. Recently I was introduced to New Belgium’s newest offering, Voodoo Ranger IPA. This delicious new spin on their classic Ranger IPA has a burst of fruit balanced with a gentle sting of West Coast hops. It’s perfect for a late-spring post-run treat and at 7% and 52 IBUs, it is balanced in all the right ways.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What parts acceptance and what parts denial have gotten you to where you are with your running? And how about in life?
  • Would you agree with AJW that falling somewhere in the middle with acceptance and denial is a good place to ‘operate’ as a trail and ultrarunner?

There are 9 comments

  1. Eric Coppock

    Many times it has occurred to me that the greatest truths in life initially present as contradictions … when we get past the “is it this or that” superficial reaction, we start to understand.

  2. Todd R. Sears

    Nice piece. I might take issue with the dichotomy between Acceptance and Denial, and instead opt for Acceptance and Rejection. I don’t deny the inevitable and incremental creeping ravages of age. I can’t; it would be naive to do so. I just tend to very intentionally, very consciously, reject them. Also naive, but arguably self-aware, at least. I’m 55 and have only been in this sport for less than a year so don’t have the experience or refined understanding of ultrarunning nuance that you have. But, I am running a 100-mile race in Maine tomorrow morning, and I know that it will hurt me, confound me, and compromise my mind and muscle, and I will be helpless to stop it. It will humble me. At the end, after the cocktail of giddiness and tears, I will be able to look back and say, with some truth, that I am, in my own way, “not going gentle into that good night.” That’s why I took up ultras. That and the people are cool and they tend to like good beer.

    I think Dylan Thomas got it right. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

  3. John Tincher

    Thanks AJW. I have been struggling with similar issues a lot lately. As my 49th birthday draws closer and I look at my almost 3 year old grandchild, I see my life growing shorter with fewer years to make choices and his full of options and potential. If I dwell in reality and see the struggles all around me, I fall into a state sadness. On the other hand, if I ignore them and see only the happy side, I lose touch with reality. It is the balance between the two that I think makes us as ultrarunners such even keeled people. We chose to suffer and hurt for the satisfaction and contentment of finishing the challenge. It is how we embrace our races (and our lives), knowing we will be beaten-up over their course that helps defines us.

  4. Luke

    Perhaps the trick is to remove expectations. Expectations that you can do what you did when you were 25 that only lead you to reflect negatively on what you CAN do now. And expectations that you can’t do what you did when you were 25 that only lead you to impose limits on yourself. Just go be your best self.

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