In Health

Ultrarunning just sort of happened to me. It showed up at a time when my life felt confusing and scary and difficult. It showed up at time when I needed simplicity and quiet … when I needed space from something in me that’d been chasing me in circles. And all those moments in the mountains and all those long, challenging days at races gave me that. In many ways ultrarunning served as my teacher. It served as a means to rediscover a deeper part of myself. It served as a method to reconnect with the very landscape that feeds me. It served as a means to reintroduce me to running outside of all the things that made me walk away from running in the first place. For several years, ultrarunning gave me freedom.

But, like anything else in excess, at some point along the journey, I stopped feeling free. It wasn’t the mountains and running that trapped me. The mountains will always feel freeing. And running will always be a teacher. It was me inside those long miles that first stopped making sense and later fell away completely.

And, no matter how many times I told myself to walk away, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Despite all the signs “it was time,” I just never could quite listen. Ultrarunning was a rock for me. … Until it wasn’t. Until all it really did was hurt.

 

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PC : Lifetime Fitness Leadville Race Series

 

And so, finally, I gave it up. I haphazardly gave it up physically almost a year ago–I just couldn’t make myself put in the miles–but mentally letting go? That’s a whole different beast. Letting go of that, felt like rebirth.

After I faced adrenal fatigue a couple years ago I’m not sure I ever fully recovered. Or maybe I did but my body was like, “Hey, um, I don’t really want to do all that super long running stuff anymore. So, I’m just going to do what I want.” And what my body wanted, turns out, was very different from what I was doing.

Two hours runs became my limit. When I tried to push, my body pushed back. Like any seasoned ultrarunner, I ignored most of those signs and easily switched off my mind-body connection in an effort to “push through.” Eventually my mind and my body teamed up and pushed me back. “Nope,” they told me. “It’s not going to work. You have to listen to us … together.”

I guess I’m stubborn?

I was trying to be tough and strong and all those things you think you’re supposed to be as an athlete. But instead, I was literally stumbling backwards. We can’t be strong if we ignore our own mind-body connection! I’s the precarious balance of the two—and the crucial communication between them—that sustains health. And while “pushing through” is valuable in learning discipline and strength, it can also be debilitating when taken to the extreme. It can push us so far we forget how to soften and give ourselves rest. Rest. REST.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it’s important to take a look at how you’re spending your free time every day. And this doesn’t have to be about ultraunning–even though in my case it is. It could literally be about anything. The point is simply to check in with yourself.

Just check in.

Does what you do every day serve you? Do you love it? Is it fulfilling? Is it pushing you to be a better person? Is it teaching you? If the answer is yes, then hallelujah, you are on the right track! But, if the answer is no, then don’t be afraid to change it and reinvent what you love to do and how you love to do it.

Ah, the scary word: change.

 

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Ashley winning the Leadville 100. PC : Austin Lottimer

 

I’ve taken a lot of flack over the years for “changing.” Friends are always telling me I change my mind too much. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes I agree with them. But why does it really matter? Change if you want to change. And recognize the milestones and eras of your life that shape you.

Ultrarunning is one of those crucial stages of definition for me. It will always be there. It will always be a lesson. It will always be a place for me that’s totally different from everything else in the world. And I’m thankful to have been there. And I am thankful for all the beautiful places (both outside and in) that it has taken me.

And now, I am thankful for the opportunity to step back from it and focus on something else entirely … like training to run my fastest 5K possible.

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  • Anadele

    Read and heed!

  • KarenC

    Nicely written

  • Jenn Smiley

    hear hear! listen to your body and do what you love!

  • Mike Foote

    Kudos to you Ashley. Glad to have shared smal moments of your ultra running journey with you.

    • Ashley Arnold

      Thank you, friend! 🙂 Me, too!

  • Kassie Zott

    Thanks for sharing! "Change if you want change" is a healthy (& necessary) part of life. There is no shame in growing out of one thing and into another.

  • Wanda

    Absolutely. Don’t ever feel forced to keep doing something just because people expect it. Do something new. Change is great. So happy to have met you and been a rat with you.

    • Ashley Arnold

      Once a rat, I feel like we’re rats for life. Thank you!

  • Rachel Cieslewicz

    Ashely, I have so much respect for you on many levels. This article is beautifully written. I hope to see you more someday, either on the trails, or not.

    • Ashley Arnold

      Thanks, Rachel! Hope to bump into you again, too! 🙂

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