When people find out I pay to run 50 miles and call it fun, they usually slide my name over into the “crazy friend” column very quickly, but that’s because they don’t understand. They have never caught the early morning sunrise peeking through the tree tops to greet them at mile 15. They have never stopped to lay down in a creek on a 90-degree day and felt the cool water flowing around their exhausted muscles after being 30 miles in. They have yet to cross the finish line of one of these races, having faced every single one of their demons out on that course, and still made it out on top.
Running is more than just a hobby for me; it is my lifeblood, my sanity, my meditation. If I’m at my worst, I run hard to beat out whatever is bothering me. If I’m at my best, I run mindfully to appreciate each footfall. However, I can’t say that it has always been this way.
I have never experienced the typical “runners high” you hear about. How it all of a sudden it takes over your mind and body and gives you that euphoric feeling. I’ve chased it for quite a while, experimenting with longer distances and pushing myself harder than I thought I could, all in an attempt to find that “sweet spot.” I never found it, which you can imagine made me very frustrated. I enjoyed running, but it didn’t bring me the pure joy that I could see on everyone else’s faces.
A few months later, I had set out to do a 26 mile training run. I was at mile 12, hiking Eeyore-like up a mile long climb wondering why on Earth I was doing this. I had already gotten lost, accidentally added extra miles, was sick to my stomach, busted it hard over a root, and had let a couple (more than a couple) self-pity sobs escape. Nothing seemed to be going right.
Before I decided to call it quits, I popped out onto a clearing and noticed the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tears started to roll from my eyes all over again, but this time they were happy tears, grateful tears. I realized how lucky I was to be out on that trail experiencing that adventure. Then it clicked for me, a runners high was a conscious choice. It was finding the beauty in my darkest moment on the trail, being fully present in it, appreciating it, and being thankful for the opportunity to experience it (even if it was painful.) I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and finished the rest of my run with a silly grin on my face.
I’m by no means saying that running is now one big euphoric party for me. I still hit the wall, cry “woe is me,” and bum out hard at times. But I am better equipped to handle it all. Whenever I feel like I no longer understand why I’m out there, I stop, take a deep breath, look around me until I find something beautiful, and then make myself smile at it (no matter how badly I don’t want to.) This is enough to break the negative cycle that my brain can sometimes get caught up in. It helps bring me to a place where I can take a step back and appreciate all that I am experiencing. In a way, it even makes me look forward to the troubling times on the trail because it gives me an opportunity to find joy in the pain, and move forward with a different perspective. I have worked through some of the most challenging moments in my life with a pained grin on my face and dirt on my shoes.
Find something beautiful to smile about next time you are bumming hard on the trail, and see if it doesn’t turn your whole thought process around.