“Really,” she continued, “you ran fifty kilometres?” She was perplexed, that was obvious. And questioning my motives. Was I simply running to escape? To hide from my emotions, to mask them and make them go away? Perhaps I should try something calmer, like sitting still and smelling a eucalypt leaf. Not give up the running, no, but slow it down some.
I wanted to cry. Here was this woman who was meant to be helping me, just not getting it. I didn’t have the time to explain – our session was just about to end, so I nodded, stammered something about it being a “great experience running 50km” and left feeling unheard.
So I’m going to speak now. I promise I’ll send her a link to this blog so she gets it too.
Why did I run 50km? Why did I train to run 50km, which took a lot more hours than the actual fifty kilometre event? It was not to escape my feelings. It was to give them room to be. Each time I trained, I was alone for hours and hours, running in the wilderness, proving to myself again and again and again that I could overcome my fear of getting lost, my fear of strangers attacking me, my fear that my body simply could not do this. I had so many fears inside that facing them felt so very powerful, a shout out to my highest, strongest, best self to step forward and be with me again.
I ran (I run) to become one with that strongest self, to give it room to breathe. Instead of fleeing, my flight becomes a lift-off, an awakening. I allow myself to cry as I run sometimes, to sob out the pain that being a parent can bring. I also sing aloud in abundant joy, and sometimes as a call to arms. I imagine, once in a while, that there is someone feeling lost, feeling sad, on a trail nearby that I can’t see – that they hear me singing my songs of hope, and that the words feel as if they are being sung for them. Never give up, never give up, never give up, I sing. Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light…. We weren’t born to follow, come on, get up off your knees, when life is a bitter pill to swallow, you gotta hold on to what you believe…
I often run the same series of trails, but they are never really the same. Early in the morning, they are darkish, roots and rocks hidden and requiring care. In the rain, the trails become muddy. But not just muddy; there are a multitude of different kinds of mud. Some is slickly red and forces me to the leaf litter on the side of the trail so I don’t fall down; other mud is dark, thick, and oozy, and fills the cleats in my trail shoes, making me heavy for a few moments; still others mud is thin, watery, splashy. It all matters; it is all noticeable. After a strong wind, the trails are littered with small branches from gigantic gum trees, or sometimes entire trees have fallen across the path. I look upwards at the trees then, and am thankful they fell when no one was present. Sometimes the sun lifts just above the horizon after I have run for an hour in the pre-dawn – I am lit up golden, and think this is how being born must have felt. Other days, all is fog and mist; on still others the air is acrid with the smell of a planned burn that has been extinguished. Animals bolt about, rabbits and wallabies, skinks and goannas From the tree-tops, kookaburras laugh, and sulfur-crested cockatoos cavort, and sometimes leave me a single white feather to take home. In summer, I sweat and pant; in autumn the leaves become golden or red or a startling yellow; in winter, I am forced into long sleeves. Once in a while, I pass a walker or another runner. One day, in the pouring rain, I saw no one for three-and-a-half hours, then one lone man appeared as if from nowhere. I said hello, and he looked at me as if I were insane, and then I thought he might be insane, and I ran away down the hill, away from him, whispering under my breath, “Catch me if you can.” Once in a while, I join other runners and we go shoulder-to-shoulder, talking of nothing, of the runner nonsense which bonds strangers more closely than family.
The fifty kilometres that seemed a “bit over the top”, that started this reflection on why I run so far? Ah, the Blue Mountains, the North Face 50 race that I’d trained for over the last eight months. It was not a run; it was a quest. A way out of the box called family that had kept me in Melbourne for years and years, a kicking down some barriers that I had allowed to be built around me. Which I had helped build. Was it over the top? Of course it was – all great things are. Because they involve staring down limits, kicking them down, saying limits be damned, I am going to do this.
Running from emotions? No. Running towards life. Towards friendships forged in the most challenging of circumstances. Towards a self-belief that carries me through the more difficult moments of my life. Towards nature and my best self. To suggest those who run far are simply running away is to miss the point entirely.
I do not sit to meditate – it makes my flesh crawl, and makes me picture scary people sneaking up on me. Instead, I dance in joy or despair or both down the trails of the world. I allow the movement of my body to bring my soul back from whatever dark place it has wandered off to. I sing it back to me, breathe it back to me.
Sitting has its place; I do it in the car on the way home, with my music turned up loud and the sweat drying on the back of my neck.