Running Away

They say if it doesn’t scare you to death, then your dream isn’t big enough.  As I stared across the abyss laid out at my feet, I knew this dream was big enough.

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The Rim2Rim2Rim, across the Grand Canyon and back, has every element that makes a run a nightmare.  It starts with a loss of 5000ft of altitude, which means it ends with the same gain.  Temps can edge into the triple digits.  It isn’t a race–you just go out and do it, so food is limited to what you bring, and water may or may not be available at the campgrounds.  45 miles is a lot of food and water, a lot of what ifs.  I’m not good at what ifs: I’m on a search and rescue team–I see what happens when the what ifs don’t work out.

The biggest pucker factor: No way out.  All races have bailout points.  If you decide not to go on, there is a way to quit.  Not in the Grand Canyon.  Either you walk out or the helicopter comes and gets you.  It’s not that it’s that remote or desolate, but adding that one last limiting factor to all the others truly adds a sense of realism that races lack.

My chance to run this journey came during the Badger Mountain race.  The Crew of the Year had casually mentioned they were planning to do this. I’m pretty sure I begged.  They had had a cancelation and let me fill the gap.

I did a lot of research prior to going out.  3000 calories seemed like the standard amount consumed, so I brought 4000.  I brought a 1.5 liter nalgene, then bought an extra one in case the gap between water stations was too great.  The rest of the ten essentials made it into my Soloman running pack: headlamp, extra batteries, first aid kit, duct tape, map, compass, sunscreen, pocket knife, light jacket. I was seriously impressed it all fit.

One of the advantages of running in the mountains of Colorado is that you can’t see that far. I had no real idea what 21 miles looks like. I found out as I stood at the starting point the day before, staring into this natural wonder.

It looks like a long way.

The self doubt began.

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I’m asked on a regular basis what I’m running from.  Certainly someone who chooses to run dozens of miles “for fun” must have issues.  Why else would anyone chose to put their bodies through that when there’s always a couch or a beach as an option?

I’ve heard about walkabouts and other ancient customs of growth and spiritualism where young men go out away from their homes to find something: their god, their purpose, themselves. This is what running is for me. Eight hours into this particular adventure and it is now nothing remotely related to fun. We have finished the first half; there is no bailing.  The temps are over one hundred.  There’s not enough water, and food is consumed purely as a necessity. Everything hurts. There is nothing more I want than to be done with this.  But there is no way I will quit.

There was no way I can quit.

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This is where I face my demons.  Twelve hours into it, and every pretense is stripped away. No pithy saying has any meaning.  It’s just me and every bad thought I’ve ever had.  Every self doubt.  Every insecurity. Everything I hate about myself. Everything I’m not sure of in my life.  It is all laid out on the block to be viewed by the judgemental eyes of my soul.

I’m not a nice person in those moments, and I wonder if this is the real me.  Running from something?  No.  I’m running right into everything most of us can hide from in our sterile, protected, first world lives.  I can’t distract myself with a movie or book, or hide in a drink or shopping spree. Complaining about the wait at Starbucks would be laughable if I could laugh.  I still have two hours left with this raw version of me, no escape, no mercy. Yes, I’m running, but not away.

16 hours after the start, standing where I began, I’ve made a kind of peace, my demons quiet for now. This is me, not the worst or the best me, not even the complete me.  But it is me.  When I first ran the LT100, they said that those who finished would never be the same.  I cannot describe what happens, but there is a shift.  You aren’t exactly different, but something has changed.  Something is better.  Something is quiet.

This is why I run. This is why I chose adventure over safety.  This is why I dare dream big enough to scare me to death.

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