Thursday, January 8, 2015

Finding My Happiness

Sitting in front of a blank calendar, staring at two computer screens with various race websites pulled up, I began to play my annual game of connect the dots. A simple but methodical game of placing them just right so that when the season is over and they are all connected, I’d have the final picture I wanted from my season.

“Know, first, who you are; and THEN adorn yourself accordingly”- Epictetus

This quote has served me well throughout my life. It speaks of the need for introspective understanding. It’s important to know what makes one truly happy in order to make decisions that will perpetuate a feeling of happiness and self-satisfaction.

Years ago when I began running, what had become my motivation was health. I bordered obesity and in the distractions of marriage, school and careers, I enveloped my once moderately athletic frame with something that was… well… not. Watching my body transform pushed me to endure the miles on a daily basis. Months later, I was finding that running had become about something more than pounding pavement for weight loss. The rhythms of my pace and connection with being outside became the encouragement for why I laced ‘em up each day.

As the cycle continued and I improved as an athlete, I found that I enjoyed pushing myself deep into a primal instinct as much as I enjoyed playfully traversing across whatever terrain I could find myself in. Digging deep and challenging myself became both the effort and the reward. Yet another transformation was forming and my dots were once again changing.

After finding intrinsic value in spending time connecting with nature and also deep within myself for hours on the trail, I yearned to become a MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail). I found something very compelling about traversing mountains, summiting peaks, and connecting with the land. My inner child appreciated the opportunity for discovery and exploration at every turn of the trail.

I neglected a certain part of myself and spent this year building up a “base” and enjoying the mountains as much as possible. My dots were plentiful and lines connecting them rather short. I entered races purely for enjoyment and to explore new areas.

Fun had become my excuse not to ever push myself to the limit. I confused fun with traipsing through the forests rather than competing. In fact, by the end of the season I had so much fun that I couldn’t find the ability to reach that primal instinct through all the exhaustion beset upon my worn down body. Frustration even occurred when I couldn’t push through my final race of the season and fell drastically short of my goals. If having fun in the mountains was my goal, why was I becoming frustrated with my performances?

Is it possible to run for enjoyment AND compete at the same time? I always viewed elite runners and professionals as people who were there to compete, not have fun. Having fun was more about taking it easy and snapping trailfies (yup, they’re a thing). Competing was all business and associated with pain for miles and miles. But what then, drove me to reach that primal instinct?

Truth is, I neglected a large part of who I am as a runner this last year. While I was able to appease the adventurous part of my ego, I rarely tapped into that primal instinct that allowed me to reach a place of peace and rhythmic consciousness with my body. Did I enjoy the adventures and the miles? Most certainly… but I missed the push and competition. Not with other runners, but the competition with myself to dig a little deeper.

So where to place these dots? To what end am I looking to train and perform? Am I betraying the purity of the sport if I make a concerted effort to compete and perform well?

One thing I have to accept is that I am a person that finds enjoyment in performance. Not egotistically, per se, but intrinsically. Yes, I will continue to spend the time to find pure joy in the mountains while connecting myself to the earth in the most basic and primordial manner I’ve found. But I will also release the beast and allow that primal nature to take over.

After a year full of #milesofsmiles and as many adventures as I could fit in, it’s time to reach back to the elation that comes from competing and transcending the pain of hard efforts to gain an awareness of body and spirit. This is a part of running that is compelling and sustaining for me.

I will be more methodical in training, more intent when performing, and more adventurous to explore limits and potential. This will be a year of having fun in a different way. And hopefully, when all these dots are connected and the new picture is there, it will fill me with the happiness that this last season was able to.

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