One More Loop

Start the week letting your feet do their thing. Whether your scaling a mountain or commuting from the station; do it in @vivobarefoot shoes. 📷#regram @nelbouchalova #trail #runners #running #mountains #mothernature

If you follow me on social media, you know that I have recently gotten in to trail running. It’s a fun mixture of two things that I have enjoyed for many years: running and hiking. One of the side benefits of trail running has been a lot of thinking and reflecting. As has been my habit, I think and reflect and never get to the computer to blog about it. The following has been bouncing around in my head – probably literally and figuratively – for a couple of months.

On Valentine’s Day this year I ran my first trail race. I had only been trail running for about a month and a half at the time and really not qualified to race. It was a free event so I went for it. The Mt. Tom Challenge isn’t a race as much as it is, as the name implies, a challenge. A challenge, in trail and ultra running parlance, consists of a loop trail that you attempt to complete as many times as possible – or want – in a set amount of time. Mt. Tom is a little different than most challenges because it is crazy steep and is held on what is traditionally the snowiest weekend of the year. The 2.6 mile loop starts out with an insane 1100 feet of elevation in just over three quarters of a mile. That’s hard to hike for most people. You have two hours to do as many loops as you care or dare.

With that slope and at least a foot of snow on the ground, I set off up the mountain with a group of people that apparently had lost their sanity as well. Also, it was cold! I thought I was going to pass out before I got to the top of the slope. Think of climbing that slope – very little running going on at this point – while also sliding down every other footstep because of the heavy snow. It sucked bad. Normally the light at the end of this tunnel of pain is a flat or downhill portion. The next section of this run was about a 3/4 mile flat stretch. That should be a relief except that the foot of snow was a little crusted on top and it turned out to be easier to walk than to run for the rookie me. At this point I am at around 1.6 miles of the loop and still looking for the pay off. The payoff comes soon enough with a one mile drop back to the start. Whereas the rest of the course was single track, the downhill portion opened up onto an old jeep road. Think fresh powder on a ski slope and then think about running down it! It’s worrisome at first but then it is just downright, freefalling, crazy! The finish was the original part of the uphill climb. I finished one loop. I didn’t die. No one had to helivac me off the mountain. I was grateful.

Then the crazy thing happened. The mad-as-a-hatter, out-of-one’s mind thing that prompted this blog post. I DID IT AGAIN! I drank some water, ate a handful of gummi bears and headed up that beautiful, funereal mountain once again.

Why! I don’t know. There is something that happens between drudging up a mountain and flying down one that changes your mindset from ‘this sucks’ to ‘I got this.’

I’ve often said that the hardest thing about running multiple loops is running by your house or running by your car. Starting the second loop from your ‘safe place,’ the last bastion of comfort, takes more than a modicum of fortitude. Starting back up a mountain after a handful of gummi bears! Same but in the ‘you’ve-last-your-damn-mind’ kind of way.

Because this is what I do and why I write this blog, I reflected on this behavior and whether it translated into other parts of my life. I know that I don’t always go for one more loop in all of the things I do. Sometimes it is easy to stop at your safe place. Many times I have stopped at my car and drove off rather than leaning into a challenge. There have been times that I accepted the challenge and pushed forward through whatever pain or mental anguish was ahead of me but probably more often than not I succumbed to a weak mindset.

I had a professor once who had a theory or a belief that when Sisyphus reached the top of the hill with that rock, for at least a brief moment, he felt joy. Until the rock rolls back down the slope and the monotony of his life is renewed. I would add to my professor’s theory that the trip down was renewing and refreshing as well. At least it is for me.

I think the answer to my question is that we need to mix the Sisyphean nature of our lives with things that bring us joy. I swear, when I run down a mountain, through trees and rocks and sometimes mud; when I bound through shin deep snow trying to touch the ground as few times as possible with my shoulder and hips rolled forward, I feel as alive as I did when I was ten years old. No cares! Truly the Joie de vivre! That joy is enough to carry me through one more loop.

Trail running then becomes a microcosm of our life. A way has been found to experience great pain and great joy in one loop. Obviously we can’t live a life in 45 or so minutes but we can begin to pause to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when we are at our height, enjoy the refreshing, rejuvenating exhilaration of returning to the bottom of our climb and leaning into that feeling, that joy as we face the next climb.

Those climbs are everywhere. Those climbs happen every day.

Joy is everywhere. Find it. Lean into it. Climb again.

Why Not? Why Not Me?

Urinetown

Around the end of November I was having a conversation with a teacher in our building who is also the musical director for the high school play. She mentioned some casting struggles and I jokingly said I would fill in for any part that she had available. I was joking but it got me thinking. Thinking can be a dangerous activity! Thinking is what pushes you to do things outside of your comfort zone. ‘Why not?’ is a dangerous way to convince yourself that most things are possible.

Just think about that for a moment. Ask yourself ‘why not?’ and then don’t allow yourself any easy ways out. I can help you because I went through the list:

  1. I don’t have time – Wrong, you have time. Most things are really not a matter of time but a matter of priorities. If you really  want to do something, make it a priority.
  2. I can’t sing – Wrong, someone once told me that Kermit the Frog had a top 40 hit. I haven’t looked that up but it was enough for me.
  3. I can’t get up in front of people – Wrong, you can! As I wrote previously, confidence just takes a deep breath and if you have enough deep breaths left you can do most anything. I stole that idea from the book The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin; great read.
  4. I won’t be good at it – This was a distinct possibility! In the end I decided to audition and let someone else decide if I was good enough. That probably took more guts than anything else. Putting yourself out there for others to judge takes a strong self image which I don’t always have.

Your questions will be different based on your ‘why not?’ but the point is, you have to delineate between excuses and explanations. Humans are good at making excuses to avoid challenging ourselves. We develop habits that keep us in a safe place. It’s normal. To really get out there and change your life and impact the lives of others you have to confront those habits and make an intentional change.

The next question then is ‘Why?’. I think I answered some of those above but there is more:

  1. I am a fan of musicals. I guess I always have been. I remember my dad acting in a musical when I was a kid and directing one. I also remember watching Oklahoma, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Growing up I never acted on this love because I was afraid to. I wasn’t very athletic as a teen and athletics was everything where I grew up. It never occurred to me to perform in a musical or, god forbid, tell anyone I liked show tunes. My spot on the teenage hierarchy was already pretty tenuous. Putting that information out there would have been a death knell. As I got older and made friends with others who were musical fans. I loosened up and began to take my wife to shows and play show tunes in my truck. Picture that, a middle aged guy in his pick up truck blaring show tunes!
  2. What I discovered from this newfound courage to watch and listen to musicals is that they brought me a lot of joy. I would sit in a theater and start smiling from the beginning of the show clear through to the end. That is my second ‘why?’. If a show could bring me joy, why couldn’t I bring that same joy to others. Would people come and see the show and leave with as much joy as I did? Hopefully. This was an opportunity to do something that was bigger than me. To participate in a group that’s purpose was to bring joy to others. To make people happy and forget about whatever else they had going on in their lives for two hours. That’s a pretty powerful purpose if you think about it.
  3. My final reason for deciding to take this on was my girls and anyone else who needed a little nudge. I wanted to show my daughters that the possibilities for your life are endless, the opportunities for happiness are out there, you just have to grab them. I’ve written before about ‘choosing yourself.’ This is a perfect example of just that. I didn’t wait around to be chosen. Waiting around to be chosen dictates our entire existence. I chose myself. I put myself out there and said, ‘Hey, you should do this.’ We should all do that more often.

A funny thing about how I write is that I never know where I’m going until I start. One paragraph leads to a thought and then I just keep writing. My intention was to write about my experience in my first musical performance and I never quite got there. Let me end with a paraphrase of the email I sent to our director prior to our final day’s performances:

Thank you…you were willing to take a chance on a middle aged guy with no experience singing, dancing or acting. When I landed a role that has lines and a solo I thought maybe you were confused about who I was.

I worked hard at this. Harder than I ever expected to…you took a chance on me and I didn’t want to disappoint you.

Initially I thought this would be a ‘one and done’ but now I hope that you will welcome me back again. I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself and that is an awesome feeling.

…I have done a lot of different things in my life but this has to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

 

Thank you! We both chose me! Why not?