The last time we spoke a little over a year ago, I was pretty broken and trying to make sense of all the ‘what next?’ trails. I had suffered a fairly serious non-running-related knee injury that, for all intents and purposes, isn’t ever going to heal. Which means, quite definitively, running is out if, as several specialists said, I’d like to one day carry my grandkids around and march up the odd mountain. So, I did the Will Gadd and ‘kept moving.’ I did, in fact, keep mountain biking and took up road cycling and tried my very best to feel at home with my new homies. I read books and magazines and watched a ton of videos. I’ve thought about how things have changed since nothing more than a moment of inattentiveness has undone my running life entirely. I’ve settled into my new career as a teacher and sat a bunch on the cushion. I have cultivated gratitude and fed the positive wolf.
And yet, as I write this postcard to you, I can’t help but NOT say, “I wish you were here.” I don’t. I don’t wish you were here with me, but I do wish I was there with you.
Our man of punk and radical honesty Henry Rollins once said that “hope is the last refuge of the defeated” and so, not wishing to incur some sort of karmic wrath from the old man, I refuse to hope. But action–action is subtle and sublime and undoes empty words by filling them with intention and red marker on the calendar. “The most sublime act,” says William Blake, “is to set another before you;” action breeds action breeds, you guessed it, adventure.
So, I’ve put my shoes back on. See, I was never a real, real competitor, not one of the tough buggers that would give the field a run for their money, but I’ve long adhered to what our steward, spokesman, and muse Kilian Jornet has said, that “the one who crosses the finish line first is not necessarily the winner.”
How many of us have sat, Scott Jurker-like, at the finish line as the back-of-the-packers have come in, sometimes just moments before the cutoff? I mean, sure, the folks at the front suffered–running fast is totally hard!–but the ones at the back always seem to have a look of utter transcendence on their faces, written down their legs in mud, scratched into their arms, and carved into lines on their faces. I love these people. These people feel like my people. Last, yes, but not dead, but dead f**king last. Those who truly love Type 2 fun. Yeah, that’s me too.
And there’s a certain glory that comes with all that too, something that those of us who deeply and personally love this sport know all too well. Because, let’s face it, it’s hard to make it when all that’s left is just, well, making it. But remember that photo of Gunhild Swanson from the finish of the 2015 Western States 100? With just six seconds to go in the 30-hour event she came cruising across the finish line and there, amidst all of the phones and faces, as Swanson put one hand on her hip and said to the world ‘well, there,’ off in the background is our very own AJW with a look on his face like he himself had just won the whole damn thing! That’s the feel right there–the deep, visceral knowledge that something truly remarkable had just occurred and was worthy of a full, Viking-style celebration.
So, I’ve put my shoes back on and, I can hardly believe my luck, after all of this biking my legs are really, really strong. And so is my head. And the pain in the injured knee? Well, so long as I don’t run, it doesn’t seem like it’s there.
Hike. Just hike; no running at all. Can I do that? Take up ultra-distance endurance training and racing again, but no running? Not one step. Shooting for cutoffs instead of top 10s or even a solid age-level place. Honestly, I don’t even need to twist a spin and justify it–that sounds awesome!
Years ago, when I ran my first 100-kilometer race in Vermont, my kids met me at one of the aid stations around 75k and they were over the moon that I had made it so far. “You must have really big lungs,” they said to me. “All the better to hold this huge heart where you live,” I had said.
It’s an understatement to say I miss that, and all of you, and the pain and the community and the adventure. When it became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to run anymore, I used to say to people, “it’s not about the running, but about being outside with friends doing wild things in cool places.” But the more I said it, the more I forgot what that meant. Now I think I’m getting it. So why not hike–just to be there, pushing limits, finding myself in the midst of being lost, and discovering real civility in the middle of the wild. And if I’m last, I think I’d like that too. Who knows, maybe Scott or Bryon or AJW or Meghan will be there to give me a high five. And maybe you’ll see transcendence written all over my face.
Yeah. Relentless forward progress.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you transitioned away from running as your primary means of movement to another way of traveling through the wilds? If so, what is your new means of movement and why is this?
- Have you slowed down over your years of running, such that you are finishing much farther back in the pack than you used to? How do you mentally approach this change?