Apr 16, 2018
Ultra Resilience: The Tough Go Trail Running
A trail runner and endurance athlete’s take on heartbreak, and how he copes when the going gets tough.
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Queenstown, New Zealand: 11:00pm and it was –3 degrees with heavy gale winds. While my flat mates were all cuddled up next to a fireplace in the cabin trying hard not to freeze to death, I put on my running shoes, picked up a headlamp, filled up my water bottle and headed out for a run. A long run.
I ran when I was angry with God and ended up reconnecting with Him on the same run.
She lives in Australia and we were going to catch up after four long months apart. I had been thinking of ideas to surprise her. The wood fire was going with a fine bottle of red wine and dinner ready. I had been looking forward to this day but life had other plans. An intense conversation ensued, she told me why our relationship wasn’t going to work. Not the kind of conversation you want to have on a date.
The story of how we met is Hollywood worthy but that’s for another time. I blame it on my constant travel- always seeking adventure. The girl and I had spent less than three months together last year. She wanted more. I was spontaneous, adventurous, a dream chaser and lover of mountains and people. All the reasons she loved me had all of a sudden become a deal breaker.
I tried to reason with her but she didn’t seem to understand and stormed out with tearful eyes. For the last five years, running has been a huge part of my life. I ran through thunderstorms, blizzards, blistering heat and even through three feet of snow. When I didn’t get a long overdue promotion, I ran. I ran to restore my ego, I ran to regain my lost identity, and I ran for solitude. I ran when I was angry with God and ended up reconnecting with Him on the same run. In order to overcome post traumatic stress, I ran. I even ran when I had symptoms of cancer and I ran when the medical tests were negative. I ran to deal with the loss of a good friend and I ran when I learned that a close friend was counting her time on earth.
When a couple breaks up, it doesn’t matter who does it, there’s always panic. One begins chasing, begging, pleading and calling. I started running. Running has always been my drug of choice. That night I wanted to run to dull the voices in my head, to ease my heartache, and to numb the pain. Heartbreak is emotionally draining and leaves you feeling empty. How does running in the middle of the night in –3 degree weather help? It just does.
‘Runner’s high’ is a real thing. I knew I could count on my friends to listen, and a bottle of bourbon whiskey to ease the pain, but that night, I just wanted to take it out on the trail. It was just me and the open road. I longed for quiet, for my brain to shut up, but it didn’t. So I increased my pace. It was the only way I could shut it down and keep myself warm in that weather.
If there’s one thing that running ultras has taught me, it’s resilience and
Sunrises and sunsets from mountain summits, lying under the stars by a fire sipping hot tea, refusing to leave a tent to face the cold weather, and other good memories came storming in. It was even worse when it dawned on me, that it was all over and history now. I cried my heart out, sitting by lake Wakatipu.
The wind picked up and the waves crashed upon the shore signaling that it was time to move. A relationship that I had hoped would last the rest of my life and lead to a beautiful family had ended painfully. Self-doubt and insecurity started creeping in. The struggle was real. I picked up my pace.
I told myself it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. This didn’t mean I had to spiral out of control. I just had to put one foot in front of the other. This too would pass and I would be okay.
If there’s one thing that running ultras has taught me, it’s resilience and mental strength. To be confident in myself and not seek the approval of others. To persevere in the face of adversity. I have DNF’d (Did Not Finish) during races before but I have always returned stronger, and more prepared. Life and love are intertwined.
It was 2:00am when I finally got home. After running over 25km, I quickly got out of my sweaty clothes, hit the shower and crawled into my bed. It didn’t take long to pass into a deep sleep due to exhaustion.
Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. The mental strength necessary to reach my potential in ultra running will benefit my entire life. It helped me to deal with my heartache, to accept reality and to experience pain. Though nothing but time truly heals, running helps too. That’s how I found myself, on a freezing cold and dark winter night, in miserable and gusty weather.
Feature Image © Richard-Bowles