"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope."
It was a bitter cold, and eerily windy winter night. The date was January 13th, 2005. An emotionally temultuous 2004 had come and gone, yet the advent of a new year forshadowed far bleeker things to come. 2005 had yet just begun, but the hauntings of the prior year had not settled. It was only two months after I completed my first ultramarathon, which was only possible because I relentlessly pushed my body on behalf of my grandma's own enduring. My grandmother was four months into a battle with a cancer that had attempted to ravage her body over the last two decades. On this eve, and seemingly hallowed ground, her valiant battle came to an end. It was in the late hours of the evening that a mighty wind shook my grandparent's small apartment and she passed away.
I am reminded that running serves a myriad of purposes. It can be as mundane as a daily training routine, a weight loss plan, for competition, personal achievement, or for rememberence. However, when we strip away all the superficial layers that make up the motif of our passion, we'll find that there is always something rooted deeper than our often nonsensical pursuits. There are those times we find ourselves enamored with every footfall, and the times in stark contrast where we question why we even step out the door for a run. Awards, times, goals, natural surroundings and fellowship are part of the allure, but inward is where the greatest secret is kept.
I am thinking of the stories told and untold that shape me. That shape us. Testing ourselves and our limits is a way of smiling in the face of the mortality that faces us all. None of us will live forever, and therefor why live life set inside the so called parameters defined on our behalf by societal norms? As humans, we are given a range of physical pain and pleasure, as well an the same measure of emotional and mental agony and illumination. Why live life in mediocrity, in the middle 50%, always in the safe zone? To experience all of these IS to experience ALL of what being human is about. I hope you're all thinking of that Teddy Roosevelt quote that essentially says the same thing. Sometimes it takes the most bitter and darkest of times to come to the realization that we can still celebrate in the trials, as well as victories, so long as we are still alive to do it. That is what we call character.
I love hearing how runners like Shannon McGinn began running because of cancer, or how a hero like Anita Finkle can still bring it for 100 miles months after her final treatments. On the opposite side it saddens me when fellow runners lose loved ones, or suffer their own hardships outside of our peaceful little world of ultras and trails. What I do know is that the things that will bring these people back is something, some place where they will need to dig deep and find restoration. This is where the Apostle Paul's message in Romans rings loud and clear. Suffering isn't just some emo method of self induced harm, or penance for self righteous betterment. It is a constant reminder that life is not just about how you live in the best of times, but how you look yourself in the mirror, stand up straight, and go forward into the headwinds of the distant lands of conflict. Even ultra stud Geoff Roess said it's not about how fast you run in the fast parts of a race, it's about how "fast" you can still go during the worst parts. Sounds pretty similar to me. Sometimes the greatest motivation in life is seeing something on the other side of the storm that is worth fighting for, and then stretching your arms to reach it.
I am happy that running is not my greater joy, or the source of my fulfilment. It is, however, a wonderful and metaphorical reminder of what truly matters. When I acknowledge that, that is when the best part of me comes out. That is when I love running the most, but better yet being alive has never felt better.