Bestest Everest and I at SD100 (photo: Brett Rivers)
Life is like a trail race.
When I ran Vermont 100 in 2008, the course was marked quite well. Every "respectable" interval there was a flag or, better yet, a "confidence marker" which was a large yellow pie plate with a giant C on it. Flags and marking in a trail race are our life line to success. Yes, knowing the course helps, but in the end we rely on these tiny little markers to get us where we want to go.
I followed the markers quite successfully for the majority of the race. However, at one important and not obvious intersection we (I was with pacer JB by this point) missed a marker due to some distraction (racers on horseback asking for directions) and blazed right past a crucial turn. We realized our error in less than a mile and retraced our steps back to where we had gotten off course. I lost a few minutes, but in the end, the mis-direction just provided me with a necessary shot of adrenaline to change up the pace of the later miles of a 100 miler and more importantly, made me be more cognizant of my surroundings and keeping myself present.
In life, we go along our path, living our lives, make our way and look for little markers along the way to know we are going the right direction. A reassuring word from a friend, a pat on the back, a reassurance, a feeling; our "confidence markers" can come in all shapes and forms.
In life, just like trail racing, we sometimes go off track. We take a wrong turn or go down a path that isn't the way we truly want to go. We lose the markers and go into uncharted territory.
When you make a wrong turn, correct it then don't look back.
UROC 100k (photo: Running Times)
But just like in trail racing, we have a choice to stop, look at a map, turn around and go back to where we got off track. Sure, it means took a little extra time getting there, but we make it there, maybe a little worse for the wear or a little wiser, but we make it there.
Other times, we choose to keep moving forward, even when we haven't seen a marker in a long time. We keep pressing forward in faith that we know the way and are self-reliant for reassurance. I've climbed mountains this way, literally (hello Hardrock) and metaphorically. It is hugely empowering to proceed into uncertainty like this and finally be rewarded with a marker, a weigh station, a sign you are going the right way.
We can be not so lucky when we move forward in faith. Sometimes we end up cutting the course, ending up at a dead end or other such disasters. It is then that we can choose to either change our goals or find our way back. No matter what path we choose, there is always a way to find a way back, to be true to ourselves and our journey.
I realize that this year has been a lesson in finding and losing, changing and rediscovering, my own path as a runner. At the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to focus all of my attention on being the best runner I could be and make a go at qualifying for the Olympic Trials. I was all in. I made my qualifier in my second attempt in a horrible weather day at the LA Marathon. This was a huge confidence marker along the way. My goal was not just to qualify but to be prepared to be my best come the Trials in January 2012. But somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn. I started doubting myself, I started to question my goals, I let other's expectations permeate into my brain. I went down a path, ignoring the signs that I was getting away from where I wanted to go and plunged headlong down the mountain.
I just realized I was off course. I was going the wrong way. Sure the path I was heading down was a suitable path, totally acceptable and safe. But it was not where I wanted to head. No, I set my sights on being the best I could be and I don't want to relinquish that. I don't want to settle, I want to make my once in a lifetime experience (because making the Olympic Trials could be once in a lifetime!), magical. That is where I want my path to go for now. I lost that dream, that goal for a while. I pushed it aside because I was scared. I let it move to the back burner because I wasn't respecting myself as a multifaceted runner.
But that is where I want to go. I finally stopped going the wrong way, I realized I was off course and I corrected my path. The Trials are in just over two months and I plan on doing everything in my power to be as prepared as I can be on that day. I finally see the signs that that is the right way for me to go right now, that that path is the one that is true for me in the immediate future. From there, I am sure I will dream other dreams, pursue other paths and be lost and found all over again. But for now, I see the signs and I know I am going the right way. And I can't wait to see where this path will take me.