Thursday, January 6, 2011


     People have told me I am an elite athlete, even if I don’t set records, just because of the demands I place on my body. Inside I think, I’m not elite. Those people are athletes. I’m just this average person who needs to lose a few pounds. I just happen to run and hike a lot. I realize that the truth is probably closer to the outside perception than to the internal one, but I don’t feel like an athlete. I don’t know what it’s like to be elite. I just know what it’s like to be me.
     Being me. I have always struggled to accept myself for who I am, and lately, for who I’m not. I am not “normal”—whatever that means. I often forget that running 50 miles at a time isn’t normal. That climbing a 14,000ft mountain as a side trip on a hike isn’t normal. That knocking off a 65 mile loop in a weekend backpacking trip isn’t normal. That having backpacked across the country three times isn’t normal. I forget that the way I approach distances that 99% of people only cover in a vehicle is the way that others approach a Sunday matinee. Casually. Without any thoughts of danger or failure. I never think twice about a distance. I don’t look at elevation profiles. I throw some food in a backpack, plan to drink from the streams and I go. I forget that running into a grizzly sow and cubs at 50yds is a thought that makes most people shit their pants. I just hope I have my camera out. I watched 127 hours and as Aron looked into his camera and said, “And why didn’t you tell anyone where you’re going? Oh right, cause you’re a badass.” I thought to myself, is that why I go and do and push and run?
     The simple answer is no. A more complex answer might be yes. Truth be told, I am insecure. I have never thought I’m good enough, fast enough, strong enough, thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough or any other “enough”. Nothing I do meets my own unattainable expectations of “enough”. So, I throw myself into the hardest physical endeavors I can. Not because I think I’m a badass, but because I desperately want to do something that will make me approve of myself. I lose myself in the wild and in the challenge. In the moments that I break my body I find out how “enough” I really am. It doesn’t matter anymore that someone is faster, or prettier, or stronger. I am at my limit and I am meeting it head on. I like coming back home after throwing myself against the brick wall of an endurance threshold and knowing that the bruises are from crashing right through it. And I like knowing that I’m going to do it again…soon.
     That however, is how I got injured. How to break a body in under 2 years: Run it, literally, into the ground. 60 maybe 80 miles a week. Year round. Make your taper and recovery weeks 40-50 miles a week. Spiral into guilt tripping despair if you miss a run. Drag your exhausted ass out into the rain for a 20 even though you ran that far yesterday and should probably be sleeping. Don’t count your bike commute, weight training, or the 50 miles or more you backpack on the weekends as exercise. Be sure to consume about 1500 calories a day less than your body is expending. That’s right. Stupid, I know. Somehow I thought the harder it was the more “enough” I would eventually become. I thought I could outrun the doubts. I thought I could reach some sort of ideal me only through a lot of suffering. In reality I discovered that I am capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. I also discovered that if I take care of myself I am going to be happier, healthier and more successful than if I just endlessly beat myself up.
     Normalcy still plagues my thoughts. This summer I ran and backpacked seemingly endless miles. They were the happiest hours of my life so far. But all the time, the pressing question that rang constantly in my head was, “Why am I not like other people I know?” Why I can’t be happy with the things that made my parents, my friends, my siblings happy? Marriage, babies, the 9-5, a home? Why instead do I like to climb things? Mountains. Passes. Rockslides. Trees. Canyons. Why do I thrive on freedom, adventure, life on the edge of what-comes-next? I would think these thoughts of inadequacy as I climbed. I would think about how not normal I am. How much happier I would be if I were like them. I would think until my head hurt and I was crying with the frustration of it all...and then I would put my head down and hike faster. I don’t know anything about what it’s like to be an athlete, I only know what it’s like to be me…

It’s 80 degrees and I’m drenched in sweat even though I’m stripped down to my bikini top and a sarong skirt. My glutes and hamstrings are burning with the effort of propulsion. They strain to push me and my backpack upward toward the sun and sky. I can feel the rapid bumping of my heart in my temples. Finally, at the top, the screaming turns to exhilaration as freshly oxygenated blood floods into the suddenly resting muscles. Joy rampages through every cell at the sight of a new valley sprawling in front of me. The sky is blue. The mountains are jagged and snowy. Sinuous rivers glisten. The forest is thick and untouched. I whoop. My voice rebounds off the granite outcrops. I am happy. I am whole. I am.
            A new thought comes to mind: “Are they really as happy as I think they are?”  

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