Thursday, 28 August 2014

Come on and let your red heart show

When I was sad eight or nine months ago (which now seems like a lifetime ago, but at the time seemed like my entire life), I couldn't get out of bed in the mornings. I stopped running on my own - early morning alarms became snooze button after snooze button. The only way I could run was if I was meeting people. I woke up tired, started my run sad, but somehow, by those final kilometers, my mind could breathe peacefully.

Last May, I ran the Grand Canyon double-crossing with a group of friends. It was a beautiful day, with hard parts. One of the hard parts was me. Running long, running on trails - there are so many ups and downs. The highs are giddy: remote places, strange and lovely places, the surprising strength and trust in your body. The lows can be so, so hard: facing down hours and hours of hard running on tired legs with a questioning mind.

I felt good - my body, anyways. We were there for the experience: to take pictures, take walk breaks, take our time. I pushed, and pushed hard. I pushed other people to go hard. That's okay, maybe, in a workout - a tempo, even a two hour run. Not on a 14+ hr day. Not everybody can be pushed - I ignored that other people hit low points, and the best they could do is what they were doing: keep moving, keep going, knowing it will get better but not exactly knowing when.

Everyone, during the run, took a turn at the back of the group. Everyone - except me. Here's the thing about running long in groups - we're supposed to get each other through the ups and downs. I take my spot at the back of the group, because it will always, sometime, be me back there, relying on my friends to pull me through.

So I finished the run - with miles and miles of Canyon under my legs, with photos, and with a slightly empty feeling at what was supposed to be the group hug at the end. We made it, but I didn't help to make it together.

"I went out into the hollow wood / because a fire is in my head."
Me, and every other runner, every other person, gets lonely sometimes. Running finds the raw edges of this loneliness, and each step covers them a bit more. Each grey seawall before the sunrise is a smooth blanket over a broken heart or ragged mind. I leave my apartment empty, and I finish peaceful.

I know I am happy when I get get up and make it out the door on my own, before my alarm clock. Some friends are different - I know a guy who got lost, really lost, 5 hours with two granola bars in his backpack lost, on Crown Mountain. It was getting dark, and he was tired. But out there, in the grand quiet, he enjoyed the solitary sunset over the mountains. Others are like me - we struggle with the first steps, the getting going, and we quietly help each other through early mornings and miles until, once again, it feels easy.

I talk about running, a lot, when I don't have words. Running is easy. Sad or depressed becomes tired, becomes training hard. Anxious becomes a taper. There are ups and downs in running, like life. But running has a finish line - a victory, an achievement, a happy ending. Running has measureable improvement, a training plan, success stories. Life just keeps on going.

So here is what I have been trying to say. A friend of a friend - someone I never met, don't know - killed themself a few days ago. An athlete, part of a different community. This isn't my story, and this certainly isn't my grief. But running is my community, and my people. In life, on the trails, I have relied on other people to pull me along when it seemed like there were too many miles ahead of me and I was just so tired.

And I believe the strength of a running group, of a community, isn't just in how we celebrate the ups. Life and running can be hard: bodies, hearts and heads can all break down. It's about realizing the need to take a turn at the back - it's understanding the downs,  being there, quietly,walking beside until someone is ready, bit by bit, to start running again.

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