During the last mile of the last trail race I ran, several large boulders on the trail required strategy to get over them. When I approached the first boulder, my thoughts were, how am I going to get over this huge boulder? Why are there all these huge boulders on the trail? Will I get off course to get over these boulders? What is my best strategy to do this? When it comes to trail running, there is always going to be a boulder to get over. There is still going to be a moment on the trail where something unexpected happens. Even if you read the course description and it reads a beautiful trail that is a variety of terrain, rocky rims, steep inclines, and tricky descents. You are not always prepared for what the trail will put in your path. Just like in life, boulders or unexpected circumstances will be in our way, and when we are unprepared. However, we have to determine the best strategy to deal with them.
This past July, I lost my father unexpectedly. It was a loss in life I was not prepared for, although I do not think anyone is prepared to lose someone they love. I am just shy of turning forty; my dad was sixty-five when he passed. I assumed I would have my dad in my life for the next twenty years. I did not think I would lose him at such an early age. Although I was fortunate to have him for as long as I did and to have a great relationship with him, I still feel cheated. The grief that I am currently experiencing is a massive boulder on my path in life. Right now, I feel like I’m off-trail, that my life is so profoundly different without my dad. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over this grief, but I do believe in time I will find healing.
My dad and I were extremely close. I am your typical “daddy’s girl.” There was not a thing in the world he wouldn’t do for me. When I first started trail running, my dad was a little nervous. Being a protective father, he was when I got into trail running and would go out on my own. I remember the first time I ran a trail and sent him photos of the run; his first question was, “Do you run with protection.” I laughed at him and asked what he meant. He said, “You need to run with something that will protect you from creeps and bears.” I laughed again, said, “Okay, dad,” and he responded with his typical “Listen to your father” comment, which I heard a lot growing up. I promised him I would carry mace when I ran, although I think he would have preferred me to run with a concealed gun. From that day forward, I started running with mace. It may not help with a bear, but it allowed my dad to worry less about me being on the trail.
Lately, when I’m on the trail, I remind myself how lucky and proud I am to be my father’s daughter. I know that he was always proud to have me as a daughter. One thing my dad was always proud of when it came to me was my running. He was my biggest supporter. He always wanted to know how my training was going, what races I had planned, and what distances I would be running next. I got to share two running goals with my dad before he passed away. One of them was the 50K I am registering for this December, and the other was my intention to go for another vision quest and run the Silver Rush 50 next year in Leadville, Colorado. Even though he thought running a 50K in December sounded cold, and 50 miles was an insane amount of miles, he was proud of me for setting those goals. My dad was an athlete, and I know I get my grit from him.
Lately, running has been the only thing that has felt normal in my life since losing my dad. Running reminds me that I can endure, and anytime I think I cannot handle a distance or start to feel that this run is too hard, I think of the strength I had standing at my father’s hospital bed as he laid dying. Holding his hand, knowing that it would be the last time I held his hand. Just that thought reminds me of the strength I have not just as a runner, but as a daughter. It reminds me that I can endure. However, running is not just about enduring for me; it is also about healing. I do believe running is helping me heal, especially now while I am off-trail and dealing with the most challenging loss I have ever experienced.
It has only been two months since my dad’s death, and the pain I feel is still fresh. A day does not go by that I don’t cry, and typically, I’m not a crier. Recently on a run, it was just so beautiful out that I could not stop crying. It is quite the noise one makes while breathing hard and crying during a run. I sounded like a horse snorting. As I ran that day, I could hear my dad’s voice in my head saying, “Life’s too short to be sad baby girl.” I know that is true, especially after losing him so suddenly. However, sometimes, that sadness is the strategy we need to process for what we are going through. That sadness can help us find strength, and that sadness can help get us over the boulder.
There will always be boulders on the trail and unexpected occurrences that we cannot control. Life, just like the trail, is a variety of terrain, full of sheer happiness, moments of challenging rocky descents, and beautiful experiences. Sometimes we get off-trail, but the strategy we use to get back on trail only makes us stronger. At this last trail race, the best plan for me to get over the boulder was to sit down on it, recognize how huge it was, then jump off and get back on track. I realize that there is no rhyme or reason for why the trail rolls the way it does, just like life. However, staying on the trial even as it moves in directions that we do not like is what makes us stronger runners. Even on the most difficult trail, as long as we get back on track, we can take on that boulder. We can endure; we can find our strength and healing.