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.