The habit of love cuts through confusion and stumbles its way out of difficulty. It remembers the way even when it forgets, for a dumbfounded moment, its reason for being, and the path is the only thing that matters. – Eudora Welty “A Worn Path”
I’m training for a hundred miler, which gives me lots of time on the trails for contemplation. It also ensures that while I have lots (and lots) of enjoyable miles, some are a pure struggle. I live in Arizona, and when you’ve been up since 4am, running for 5 or more hours and the temps are passing 110 it’s pretty much a given that you’re running on grit. It was during one of those last hours of running that the above quote resurfaced from high school English, which I’m sure would make Mrs. Ackerman proud.
The short version of the story is that an old woman named Phoenix is traveling by foot to get medicine for her grandson. His is a hopeless case and while the medicine helps with his symptoms we learn that he will never get better. Despite this, the hardships of the journey, the judgement of others, and the fact that in her age she sometimes forgets even why she is traveling, Phoenix presses on in her labor of love. And in my heat induced vision quest it struck me that this is what running ultras is all about.
Even in the best of times it can be hard to articulate why I run. However, there’s a feeling deep down inside that makes me sure it’s meant to be a part of my life. When you think about it in the scope of the history of humans, running long distances actually makes more sense than driving around in metal boxes or sitting in other climate controlled boxes tapping away at a computer. We have advanced so much, but where has it really gotten us? Running connects me to the core of myself that is still linked to the past.
Ultras also help me to appreciate what I have. There is an overwhelming amount of seemingly senseless suffering in the world, and I can’t help but feel grateful when I am suffering in a way I choose, doing something that I love. And grinding yourself down to the point of focusing on food, water and one foot in front of the other not only helps to put things in perspective, it can also make you incredibly grateful for what you have. There are few occasions where I’ve had the flood of emotions at seeing my husband and kids as when I finished my first 100 miler.
Running has brought joy and purpose in my life. It has changed me in ways that positively impact other aspects of my life. It gives me a quiet place in a world that sometimes feels like a giant competition of who can assert their position more loudly and accumulate more stuff.
I love running.
And I know it’s that love that carries me through tough runs, and will keep me moving forward in my race when when I forget, if only temporarily, why I’m out there.
The path will be the thing that matters.