Deep within the often unexplored caverns of the spirit and mind there exists a push and pull that drives internal conflict, strife, struggle, constitution, passion, and perseverance. In the week and days that have passed since the Mogollon Monster 100 Mile Endurance Run, I have sought to better understand the experience and how it relates to my relationship with running and people and other things. Since this is a blog mainly about ultra running and finding peace, it seems like a good venue to explore some of these ideas.
When an explorer sets off to experience and investigate a new frontier, the other side of the ocean or an island known to exist but has yet to be discovered, there exists and exciting and great unknown and uncertainty. Will the explorer make it and survive the journey, will the ship survive the tumultuous tides of the sea, will the new frontier be hostile, will the new found cave have a buried treasure or other interesting findings? These uncertainties drive the voyage. I have come to understand that this is analogous to ultra running but instead of navigating unexplored caverns and lands, the frontier, if you will, is the caverns of the mind. The place where self-determination, experience, and struggle and peace can coexist. Every training run and race is a new and different experience than the other. It invites opportunity, optimism, despair, and a wealth of sensory experiences that cannot be found in everyday life. The difficult part is opening oneself up to all the uncertainty and avoiding being afraid of fear.
The Conflict and Struggle
On Netflix, there's this movie called "The Endless." It is not a very good movie in my humble opinion but I think what it attempts is to offer the viewer the puzzle that comes with self. There is one scene that I related to and I find paints an eloquent picture of what ultra running does for me. Imagine being in a forest and finding a rope attached to something that cannot be scene in the dark. Now imagine an exercise called "The Struggle". The exercise consists of picking up the rope and pulling on it against the force that pulls back. This is The Struggle. The struggle with growth, the struggle with passion, the struggle with higher power and the universe, and the struggle all of which we overcome with perseverance. The greater the resistance within, the greater the struggle and pull from the unknown force and the weaker the person is against the unknown force. The greater the acceptance and passion and perseverance, the stronger the person is and weaker the unknown force is. This can be conceptualized and made tractable through the lens of individual experience. For me, the experience is ultra running, and particularly my recent race.
All day out there, the more I tried to fit the experience with my goals and expectations the greater the force working against me was. Emotional and physical pain was directly proportional to my unwillingness to accept that all my potential, hopes of a top 10 finish, and training efforts were not meant for the experience and circumstances that I was embroiled in. To this end, my purpose for being there seemed muddled. I carried this resistance with me through 80 miles the force that was pulling from the other side of the rope was defeating me physically and mentally. The gift of having made it that far, for even having the opportunity to be out there, for the awesome people who were committed to seeing me through it, and for the opportunity to explore the caverns of the mind were muddled and obfuscated by my resistance and lack of acceptance around the circumstances. Some kind of savvy explorer of the mind I was in those harrowing moments. I had a Charlie Brown moment and thought "Good grief". I breathed and asked myself what am I about.
Acceptance and Passion
I was sitting down at the mile 80 aid station and having a resistance and passionaless internal temper tantrum. Yes my body was thrashed and felt depleted and broken and it was the only reason I was throwing a fit inside. The experience itself was still being had, there was still, with certainty, a sun that would rise and bring light, there was still so much that mattered and meaningfulness to be had and even better, there was still unexplored caverns of my mind and spirit. The truth in that moment was that I had to accept and surrender to the circumstances not aligning with my expectations and personal goals. Is this not just like the trials we face in life that try to compromise our serenity? I had to surrender to life on life's terms and change only the parts of me that were breaking my spirit. This was not the first time I have to do this, I knew how to do it but was not doing so. I had to find my passion. One reason I run is because I have passion for the experience and the journey both in life and in ultra running I could only be physically strong enough to finish if I were to mentally and emotionally accept that finishing in of itself was imperative for my personal growth as a person and ultra runner and reignite my passion. So I left the mile 80 aid station accepting the tiny but passionate seed I was and not the tall tree I strive to be.
For a tree to grow, there must be a seed and that seed must accept that in order for it to grow to be a tall tree it has to be buried in the darkness and covered with dirt and accept the struggle to find the light and grow. I supposed finishing the race was my best effort at not being just a seed forever. Because without acceptance there cannot be change or growth and the seed never experiences life. I had to accept I was a seed in that moment and in doing so, found new unexplored parts of myself, which I can bring into not just my future experiences with running but with people and things too. The story is still being told.