An Ultrarunning Blog

The Ultramarathon of Life: A Story of Uncertainty, Adventure, and Hope

I frequently mention how training for and running ultras challenge the way I approach life and prepare my mind to tackle those unexpected lows and bumps in the road. During a 100-mile race, my mind is constantly assessing, constantly questioning and anticipating what challenge might surface next, all while attempting to soak in the present moment and enjoy it to the fullest. Geoff Roes is quoted as saying that ultras, like life, are about enjoying the highs and managing the lows.

What if that dirt starts to blister my feet? What if the next step is the one when my leg starts to cramp? What if this is the last gel my body will accept? What if my headlamp batteries are not as charged as I thought? Should I stubbornly keep moving forward or actually sit, rest, and try to let everything calm down and soak in?

What if my job suddenly comes to a screeching halt? What if I have to be exiled in Canada? What if I have to move out of my apartment and live out of storage? Should I stubbornly keep moving toward a career in the sciences or actually sit, rest, and try to let everything calm down and soak in where my passions could lead?

What if all this was true?

It is.

Adaptability. Running 100 milers has given me the opportunity to train my mind. In the heat of an unexpected situation, I have developed and nurtured an ability to breathe deeply, step back and assess what is going on and suss out my available options for remedy. Resourcefulness is the key to a successful ultra. You go in with a plan, a backup plan, and backup for your backup plan. And might as well have a backup for that. Then you realize planning does not really help all that much and you throw it out the window to be able to constantly adjust as needs arise. This isn’t to say planning is bad, but you must not hold on to it too tightly, everything will try to rip from your hands.

Toughness. Endurance creates space for opportunities unthinkable to appear. I do not know what life will look like in the coming months, but I am approaching this season with an open mind and a willing heart. To press on into the unknown and uncertainty is not a light load. These moments, these movements evoke a certain humbleness and excitement. You can drop out of an ultra. You can’t drop out of life. There is no flagged course; no set finish line.

Find your way.

Provision. I recently was able to go on two amazing adventures. Days after receiving the news that my job would be ending, I got away with some close friends to explore the Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. I took this opportunity to let nature give solace. The scenery and mountainous terrain was a welcome surprise. I had no idea this type of terrain and views existed so close to Vancouver, BC. On the first day, we had a general idea of the peaks we wanted to summit but we were able to make our own way around once we made it to the ridge. We got to run across the remnants of a snowfield, drink the water flowing straight from it, and then eat as many blueberries as we wanted on the ascent to the next peak. The next day we went to another area of the park. The blueberries were out in full force and were bursting with flavor.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Returning from Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, I had peace of mind in the midst of the storm. I had no idea what would come next for me but somehow I knew it would all work out. I didn’t know when or how, but I was ready to accept the next chapter in my journey. Before heading off to the second adventure, I went to run around Black Tusk just north of Vancouver.

Black Tusk.

Black Tusk.

The next adventure has been on my bucket list for years, and if it’s not on yours yet it should be. The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mount Rainier with 93 miles of relentless trail covering every type of terrain imaginable and 24,000 ft of ascent. I was fortunate enough to go along with a crew of now great friends. We took on the trail over 3 days which allowed us to soak in every ounce of scenery and the Wonderland Trail overloads you with scenery by the ton. The days were split to be 34 miles, 26.4 miles, and 31 miles. The first day was by far the hardest, gaining about 10,000 ft of elevation in just over 50km. I bottomed out massively towards the end of the first day but continually got stronger in the next days. I fell even more in love with the simplicity of trail running. My daily  needs were few. On the last day, as the alpine views took my breath away, the sun began to heat up. The trail crosses many flowing streams straight from glaciers and I was able to continually drink and cool down as I humbly passed through.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Wonderland Trail.

Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Wonderland Trail.

Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Mt. Rainier, Wonderland Trail.

Those people and conversations gave me hope that life is full of opportunities when I was doubting everything and fighting off depression. These adventures let me know that somehow, I would be taken care of.

Community. It started with Twitter. I posed the question of where to acquire free moving boxes. With Vancouver being one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, I recognized I could not afford to live in my apartment and needed to begin making preparations to move my belongings into storage. I had no idea that post would leave me with a multitude of house sitting options and offers to have spare rooms. My Canadian work permit extension was approved, so I get to stay in Vancouver at least for a little bit longer. Everything can eventually come around if you stay actively patient.

I still don’t know what is next for me professionally but I am beyond grateful to be given the chance to sit, rest, and soak in where my passions could lead. Life, like a 100 miler, is not a solo endeavor.

Open your eyes, your sea is changing.

Josh in Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park

 Keep searching.

Josh.

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