A discussion about finding one’s place in the world again after a hard ultramarathon.

By on September 23, 2014 | 11 comments

As the plane begins its descent into the Denver International Airport, I forcefully blink my eyes open, hugging my cheek to the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the Rockies. I feel an all-too-familiar pressure behind my eyes and forehead from fatigue. A few days ago, I completed the Tor des Géants in Italy, sleeping a mere five hours in the 105 hours it took me to get around the course. I went into the race still nursing a quad injury and a bit banged up from a long season. Unfortunately, the long run did not really heal anything, as it sometimes does, and simply left me more tired and physically compromised than before. However difficult it was to complete the race, I did feel a huge sense of satisfaction in reaching the finishing line.

The euphoria of completion is short lived, though, as a fog of fatigue, aimlessness, and lethargy overcomes the senses. Time, in such an event, rapidly becomes warped. I lose my grasp of ‘rational time,’ of the time to eat, work, play, and instead exist in more of a continuum, without a reference to either a beginning or an end. Time simply kept passing by as I stumbled my way along the trail.

As a bigger picture, this translates as demonstrating my insignificance. If I were to die, a few would take note, but mostly the world would keep spinning and time would move on, unaffected. At a micro level, in my head, when I cease to see time in a rational way, rather existing only in a continuum, all that is left is the present moment. Actually being present distills life to its simplest form, that of simply being. There is no more thought or judgement while pain and joy become irrelevant notions. My only awareness becomes that of existence.

This is a state I rarely experience, typically only induced by a formidable amount of physical distress or from being far out of my comfort zone. The only downside to these types of experiences is that returning to a normal, everyday life can be quite challenging. It is difficult to land.

Back in Gold Hill, my thoughts feel slightly blurred, less defined. Sending an email seems strenuous. Every time I interact with someone, I feel like I need to slide in a small apology that I am still re-adjusting to the real world. I eat a lot and take long naps. Of course, sleep deprivation and general physical fatigue has a lot to do with this apathy. However, there is something deeper beyond the exhaustion that is hard to explain, a sort of longing to touch that feeling of immensity once more. There is a tendency of the mind to wonder to new projects, longer, farther, more challenging, anything to tap back into the higher stream of consciousness, a notable dissociation with the body that protests even from the slightest activity.

Only able to muster small amounts of effort, a walk around the neighborhood with my dog seems appropriate. I make my way up Hill Street toward the meadow behind town. Ambling toward me along the dirt road is a tall fellow I do not recognize. He waves at me, then stops to greet me as we cross paths. He introduces himself as Jackson, from South Africa. He is about 6’4”, unshod, jeans rolled up, a thick mop of blond hair tied up on his head, and a scruffy chin beard. His unbuttoned shirt reveals a tattoo of a heart just below his left clavicle. He has just graduated high school and is here for a short visit. He has known some of our neighbors since he was a kid. He reveals to me that he is a jazz musician. He is holding a notepad and a couple of pens and tells me he is going to sketch that cool, red building across from the store so he better be on his way. Before leaving, he pauses and says:

“It’s so inspiring here. The burnt trees up there, mixed in with the speckled fall colors, the light on the tall, dry grass. It’s incredible. You live in a special place.” He walks away with a distinct, carefree tranquility in his step.

Once I reach the meadow, I sit on an old stump to take in the evening. It is true, I do live in a special place. In that moment, I realize that the fleeting feeling of awareness I thought I had lost after the race was there all along. It is simply a matter of perception. I am no longer seeking, no longer lost. I have landed.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you ever feel lost after a big event that takes you for days out of your normal life and routine?
  • Do you think this feeling of disassociation is natural to challenging physical endeavors or are there certain circumstances of an event that enhance this effect?
  • When this happens, how do you ‘land’ again?



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.