iHikeFar

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?

Andrew Titus hiking in the woods of his New Brunswick, Canada home. Photo courtesy of Andrew Titus.

Andrew Titus

used to run far; however, like some ol' wise guy once said, "the job of the athlete is simple: to keep moving." So, that's what he does, whether in his hiking boots, on cross-country skis, or astride a bike. A writer, teacher, father, and husband, you are sure to see him cruising the forests of his St. John River Valley home in New Brunswick, Canada, still happy as can be–even without the running.

There are 14 comments

  1. Günter Schmid

    Wonderful, i love the way you juggle the words into sentences. This created a feeling inside, like we could be brothers. Meanwhile, cruising the mountains far-far-away, in Dornbirn, Austria, Europe.

  2. John Vanderpot

    Dude, for some reason I was just thinking about you the other day, that postcard from a year or so ago, and I was wondering how you were doing — since this happens fairly regularly these days my pet theory is maybe intuitive intelligence, unlike say speed, can spike in very middle middle-age?

    Anyway, the difference between my shuffle and a halfway aggressive hiker is really just a matter of terms?

    (And yes, there’s been plenty of times they’ve dropped me!)

    There are a lot of very generous cut-off courses out there (feel free to take a look at my ultrasignup acct. for pointers?), and for obvious reasons I’m getting better and better at finding them, often if there’s a longer run going on they give you almost as much time, for instance a couple weeks back at Coldwater they gave 31:30 for 52M — like, what could possibly go wrong? (Ha!)

    Your writing certainly isn’t suffering and I hope the classroom is treating you well…

  3. Kim Neill

    Thank you, Andrew! I say I’m hiking/walking my run…LOL. Living at altitude, combined with thyroid issues, has made it difficult for me to really run. So I walk-run-hike. I’m grateful to be able to get outside everyday, and I can still put in some serious miles. But I still miss running.

  4. Terri Rylander

    I too am not running much (couple hundred yards at a time) after having been an ultra runner. Heart has developed a leaky heart valve which significantly lowers my blood ox and sends my hr into the 170-180s – even downhill. Even power hiking is tough. But it doesn’t stop me. The joy of being outside, in nature overcomes the loss of the feeling of freedom you feel running trails. So, you’ll see me out there, hiking, sometimes doing a little run. Not gonna give up.

  5. Andrew Shuff

    After nearly 10 years of running I just grew tired of it. Tired of always feeling like I wasn’t doing enough and tired of taking time from my family. I never the desire to push further though. Now I walk/hike. Every day is training and all day is training. I’ve completed a marathon walking and 33 miles in a 12 hour, a little short on my goal of 40 miles but I was out there. The next goal on the horizon is a 41 miler. I will walk. Walk hard and fast. Moving forward just as I did before and I’ll get there. Thanks for the great read.

  6. Morgan Williams

    Andrew, I’ve written on here on several occasions about recovering from a bad set of injuries. The initial prognosis was “you’ll never run again”. The reality is that I can for maybe up to an hour and a half, but it’s never a pain-free experience.

    I was a hiker as a kid, taking to running only when I was 20. I’ve returned to hiking as a primary activity.

    A recent 3 week trip to the Himalayas was especially productive and helpful. An intense period of work shortly after getting home, that effectively undid all the physical and mental good that came from the Nepal trip, moved me to a point of understanding that I have to change my life to allow daily walking or hiking. The physical and mental benefits are huge.

    I find I’m running less and less. The bike delivers some physical satisfaction but somehow doesn’t deliver mentally. Hiking it is then. And if I want to beast myself I can. Or be more leisurely.

    Do what you can, when you can. And remember Kilian’s other wise words:

    “I think my big moment is always tomorrow”.

  7. Natasha Sankovitch

    A knee injury seems about to sideline me from running, too. And like you, Andrew, I, too, can hike and bike without pain. Your essay may help me accept that I may not be able to continue running. There’s just something about running . . . It’s going to take some time, but, as I said, your essay may help. Thank you.

  8. Kev

    with my cerebral palsy walking/hiking will always be my main form of transportation in the woods. I’ve done a 100k but consider myself retired from the racing side. It’ll always be more important getting out there everyday and spending time in nature. I still volunteer and help at ultras though. I LOVE the back of the packers. Keep on keepin’ on man!

  9. Jackie

    I did a 50 miler, and then my right knee said, “no more running 6 days a week and I don’t like downhills anymore either”. Okay. So I struggled with my new reality for a few years but have now found acceptance. I can run 2-3 times a week for up to 6 miles, not enough for ultras but I am grateful for what I can do. And due to an unstable ankle that has resisted 2 surgical repairs, I can no longer run technical trails. But I can hike! I can hike all damn day! And sometimes that’s just what I do. I also started rowing. I have been rowing now for 10 months, and it’s coming along nicely, but the funny thing is, I have yet to call myself a rower. I still think of myself as a runner.

  10. Graham

    I injured my knee a couple of years ago. I’m lucky – I’ve managed to get going again though my speed and endurance are way, way off… I’ve gone from winning my age group in local races to coming in near last, all in the space of 2 years. That has been hard to take, but I’ve more or less accepted it. I still fantasise about one last ultra even if I know that’s not really a sensible idea

    Along the way to a partial recovery I’ve explored other things. I’ve always biked and walked but biking can make my knee worse for some reason. Neither has really scratched the same itch that running does. The closest I’ve found is kickbiking… although kickbikes look similar to pedal powered bikes, I’ve found they are utterly different, requiring much more physical effort, akin to running, and I feel more “connected” to the environment I’m moving through than on a bicycle that’s difficult to put into words. I’m certain that kickbiking has built up my legs to allow me to get running again. I’m amazed that they seem to little known, at least here in the UK.

    I’ve also started indoor rowing in the last month… too short a time to tell, but I’ve found it far more engaging than turbo training and I can understand how people become so keen on it.

  11. Chris Wristen

    Andrew, this is some excellent reading, and it definitely resonated with me. I’m working my way back into running now, but back in 2018 I wore down the cartilage under my left kneecap from pronating and went seven months without running a step while going to physical therapy and re-focusing on strength training. A few days after having the MRI that revealed the damage in my knee, I hiked a 10K race in California that I had signed up for when I assumed I’d still be able to run. Hiking that race helped me start to see the potential in getting out on the trails even if I couldn’t run. I ultimately hiked a 48-hour ultra that summer (it was basically the carrot for me to be a good PT patient and to make sure I got out on the trails for 3-4 hours each Saturday or Sunday). While I’m happy to be running some low mileage now, I am forever grateful for that time hiking as it allowed me to refocus on what I love about the trails. It also gave me some peace of mind knowing that as the years catch up with me, I’ll be happy to hike if I am unable to run.

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