Monday, August 4, 2014

Falling down

It is no secret that running is continually providing each of us with lessons that extend beyond the trail. Even when we hit the road to escape whatever ails us, we often come back with clarity, perspective, and the resolve to get up again tomorrow. Sometimes, however, the running experience is a bit more literal.

Case in point, Saturday July 26th. Mississippi and I joined a friend, J, on a trip to Old Rag. Neither of us had been before and were excited to finally check it out. Given that J is currently prepping to climb Mt Rainier and has done Old Rag approximately 1,000 times, we thought he was the perfect lead. Also, we were lucky he let us crash his day because we pretty much invited ourselves.

An early alarm, some mandatory coffee, and a short car ride later we were there. Although it was my second trip to the Sperryville area, I forgot how close it really was. Good thing, as the parking lot was already filling with lots of other eager hikers. For no other reason than sheer curiosity, I hit start on my Garmin. We let J set the pace since he's the one getting the workout in and knows what to expect on the trail. If nothing else, Mississippi and I figured we'd get a reality check on our fitness level. It didn't take long.

I liked all the switchbacks on the ascent and we had a good sweat going in no time. I'd be lying if I said that my trouble spot wasn't bothering me, but it wasn't anything I couldn't easily ignore. We stopped now and again to admire the view and take in fluids. The rock scrambling was, for the moment, my favorite part. I can't remember the last time I used all those muscles and all the endorphins made me so happy to be outside and unplugged.  After a few false summits (thanks, J, such a tease), we were at the top. 4 miles on the dot. The views were wonderful and the weather was perfect.

Cue customary photos of happy hikers:

The 5 miles back down to the parking lot were much easier on the legs. No scrambling and less steep, at least. I knew ahead of time that there was a fire road involved and wore my NB1210s with the intention of running the last mile or two down that road to the car in order to see how trail running felt on tired legs. I also wanted to see how trail running felt on my constantly sore tendony parts. With NFEC on the horizon I wanted any kind of sign that it might be physically possible. Enter this:

I honestly didn't know it was happening until after it happened. The road was mostly downhill but nothing steep and not particularly technical. I was cruising right along and grinning like an idiot. It had been so long since I'd be outside running on a trail, I was just so grateful. It couldn't have been more than 20 seconds from falling to being up and running down the trail again. Like a real winner the first thing I checked was my Garmin. Not broken. Nothing was gushing blood either. The closest first aid was the car and my hiking partners were a ways behind me still walking, so it just seemed logical to shake it off and finish the run. Oh, and ask a total stranger to take the lovely photo above once I finished.

So, the metaphor part.  We all fall down. Often and over again. The lesson is in getting back up and moving forward. Yes, apparently my gut instinct was to hop up and finish what I started. But this wasn't always the case. Had this exact fall happened a year or six months ago, the outcome would have been very different yet still 100% under my control. I would have sat there and cried. Blamed the trail and its wayward rocks. Called myself clumsy, stupid, and a laundry list of other oh so flattering adjectives. Told myself to quit running because I clearly suck at it and would only continue to embarrass myself if I kept training. Not to mention the epic humiliation sure to befall me on race day. 

I can't tell you exactly why that didn't happen this time. I wish I could. What I do know is how badly I want to finish my first ultra. That I believe that I am 100% capable of doing so. That one bad run doesn't represent me or my worth as a runner. That trails are inherently more dangerous than paved roads and this fall will not be the last one I take. I'm glad that I fell. I'm even happier that my brain didn't think for a second about anything other than GETTING UP. I don't think the smile ever left my face. 

When you want something bad enough, when it means just that much to you, nothing else matters. I don't need anyone else to believe that I can do this. Or anything else I want to accomplish in life (oh hi, Masters degree). Sure, supportive friends and family are incredible but they are not a given. Nor will they be able to do any of the WORK that needs to be done to get you there. You run the miles. You lift the weights. You rise to the early alarm. You fall down. You are also the only one who can get you back up. 

So, in that moment. On that day, when it comes. Because it will. When you fall, get up. Run on.