The Trail Doesn't Care---Pine Creek 100 Mile Challenge
You can come to the trail prepared or not...it doesn’t care.
You can come to the trail with something weighing heavy on your heart...it doesn’t care.
You can come to the trail overwhelmed, overscheduled, and just plain tired...it doesn’t care.
You can come to the trail happy and eager...it still doesn’t care.
The trail is what it is. You come to it, and it will give you what it’s got. If you’re quiet, it will teach you things. If you are preoccupied with thoughts, it will force it’s will, and make it’s obstacles that much more challenging. The sweet spot is in taking both the physical and emotional challenges in stride. Let thoughts come and go. Let emotions enter at will. Look around. Find the balance. Feel what you feel.
I’ve heard that this sport is “90% mental, and the rest is in your head”, and I believe it to be true. I can train my body to move, but I can’t figure out how to get my brain to stop.
At the Pine Creek Challenge, the trail is a oxymoron. It is flat...oh, so very flat. You are surrounded by canyon walls, a beautiful creek, and no signs of civilization for miles. You can put your cell phone away, you’re not going to be able to use it. And, when your earbuds die, all you are left with is pitch-black silence, for miles, and miles. It becomes a labyrinth for your thoughts to swirl.
It is during the night, that I start to see runners “just grab a seat” at the aid stations. They don’t get up. It’s when I see people crying on the side of the trail. They are not seeking comfort. It’s when runners seek either groups or solitude. They know what they need. The ones who finish, have to dig down with their minds, as well as their bodies.
There is no distraction on this course. There is no place to “right yourself” and bring you back to your day to day. It is just a long-trail. Once you are on it, your only choices are to keep going or to quit. It’s all on you. There is no reaching out for support.
However, just as the trail and thoughts can get dark, great epiphanies can take place. Suddenly, your brain can flip something that you have been perseverating on. It can show you the same event, from a different angle. You may see something from another’s perspective or understand intent. Things can make sense. You can let go of initial reactions, and get down to feelings. You can focus on what works, versus what is a struggle. You can remember all that is good,
and give that so much more power, than what is a struggle. All, while making relentless forward progress.
When the sun rises, you can feel just as accomplished as you will when you finish. You feel stronger that you have made it through the night and the darkest things your brain could conjure. You actually feel excited about tackling challenges that seemed insurmountable just hours ago. You feel lighter, because you let stuff go.
The finish line is often celebrated as a physical accomplishment, and I do not wish to diminish that. But, sometimes, the real victory is facing fears and challenges, and learning that, you can run through it.