For the first time in my amateur running career, I made a choice that demonstrates substantive (albeit uncomfortable) growth. I decided to pull out of my anticipated 100 mile race in September. This decision wasn’t made over the course of a single afternoon, as it seems *many* of my decisions are. I’ll be the first to admit that my personality is one that is brash and determined; I’m a leo and abide tightly to the ferocity upon which our firesign is said to originate from. Rather, I made this decision to pull out of my race over the course of a few runs where surprisingly it wasn’t my body telling me no, it was my mind.
I recently graduated from college, and along with my diploma came a deep seated anxiety. Trying to understand what do without the structure of lectures, and exams, I set off networking to the best of my ability. This experience what I appropriately liken to throwing cooked spaghetti against a wall hoping something will stick. Flanked by a degree in English and a very strong willed desire to appear as though I have my sh*t together, the trajectory post-grad was not as sparkly as I wanted it to be. Landing a job at a (7-year old) start-up in the city, I thought I had made the right move in accepting the first position offered to me. Underpaid (in my opinion) and over-complicated, my role left me searching for answers and moreover, becoming privy to the type of career and work I am actually interested in. Newsflash, tech is not it.
I never quite realized the toll stress and anxiety have on our lives until it grew within my body like a wildfire nourished by dry brush. Pervasive and terrifying, this stress of mine manifested in ways that made me physically uncomfortable and psychologically demonstrable. Constipated. Bloated. Anxious. Short-tempered. I felt for a long time like a distended, uncomfortable version of myself, coaxing my body into running early morning miles with a stomach as sour as spoiled milk. And there are still days where this feeling of unease pervades my perspective and forces quips as sharp as thorns. Trust me, I am not proud. Substantive growth doesn’t happen overnight. Real, provocative growth takes time, and for a restless body like mine, it means learning to make peace with that discomfort.
This stress, in its primitive and underlying essence, is me being scared. Scared because I have absolutely no idea what it is that I really want to do with my life. Scared because what I’ve tried so far I haven’t felt good at, nor have I fully loved. And as a way masking this perpetual fear, I signed up for more races as a way to persuade myself that even if everything else seems unclear, running should not be. That I should continue to find growth in my racing. So I should race. I should race because that’s what a runner does, right?
My mind seems to run in the manner of an ultra-runner too. I think of myself as stubborn and determined, but mostly fueled by outrageously high expectations and devising plans to see them to fruition. Which is why when things sometimes don’t “click,” the walls of my mental maze slowly start encroaching on my vision and an exit strategy feels blurred and chaotic. It took me a while to understand that deciding to say no is not the same as quitting. And it also took me a while to understand that knowing when to ask for help and knowing when to pull back are attributes of the human psyche that should very much be revered rather than condemned.
The other morning, tying my running shoes and adjusting my top-bun, I let out a heavy sigh of relief. In that moment, with the wind whipping against my cheeks and my headphones tucked safely into place, I felt like I could just run. There is no more race slotted for the 14th of September. I’m working my way through the stickiness that is adjusting to a job I don’t feel suited for, trying my hand at reframing my mindset towards one geared for growth. I’m challenging myself to be more creative, to take risks in ways I wouldn’t otherwise, and I’m embracing what it feels like to maintain a level of responsibility no one warns you about in the realm of growing up. Being an adult is tremendously gross. Car registration bills, taxes, rent checks…what a joy it would be to return to the days of weekly allowances and visits by the tooth fairy. But through these growing pains, I’ve found little envelopes of freedom that have instilled in me tremendous pride for the woman I know myself to be. Growth requires patience.
I finally said no. I finally, finally, finally, understood that running 100 mile races will always be there. I don’t have denounced ultra-running for good to have permission to say, maybe this year I’ll let my body breathe…and I’ll try again next time. And not just on the heels of a DNF. I encourage whoever’s eyes are reading this, should you glean one small bit of advice from a human who feels as though nothing has been figured out, that the best thing you can do in a time of uncertainty is lay flat on your back. Rest one hand on your chest, and one hand on your belly, and take a generously deep breath. It will all be okay. It will all still be there tomorrow.