There is a growing body research that points to humans off all shapes and sizes feeling more isolated, more distracted, and more separated from themselves, each other, and the environment. All of that is pretty fucking depressing and one hell of a way to start a blog post titled, Love. So what gives? Well despite these feelings of isolation we have never in the entirety of human history had the opportunity to connect with this many people. The vast majority of people I would consider close friends live hours away from me, via airplane, but I talk with them off and on everyday in text messages, gram posts, and other forms of buffoonery. It is a paradox, we are more connected yet feel less connected, feeling less sure of ourselves, less confident in our paths on the planet. So how does any of this loop back to running and/or love.
Running is a solitary sport. Unless you are running in high school, college, or professionally you are most likely not running with a team and even then your work outs are tailored for your event, your success. To run fast inherently drives one to singularity, to be in the front, with everyone behind, to be alone. This solitude is not exclusive to the front of the pack, I ran 362 hours last year, that's 15 days spent pushing pavement, trail, or treadmill towards goals and nearly all of them where in the early morning, often by myself, with only the light of my headlamp to share in the sight of the single track. Why am I doing this? Why are we doing this? Why in a world feeling more isolationist are we spending our waking hours by ourselves running?
I wouldn't be the first person, by a long shot, to say I do some of my best thinking while running. I'd say most of my initial thinking on how to handle work, kids, family, friends, and life in general is done on the trails, between the branches. A few weeks back, I found myself alone during the Bandera 100k. The sun was just setting and I was being treated to one of those sunsets that you dream about. Those beautiful pastels that streak the sky as the life giving orb that centers our physical existence falls out of view in the distance beyond the far off hills. I got emotional, there's about a billion reasons for it, but maybe the singular thought that bubbled up to the forefront of my mind was just how much I loved pretty much everything.
In my opinion, love is the ability to community freely, to share one's actual train of thought with someone without fear of reprise or retort. Love often gets saddled with the feeling of duty, responsibility, and sacrifice, when in my eyes love is the utmost freedom, the freedom to be one’s most true self and be accepted. And not the self we curate for the world to see but the self that we are when we are alone. When we are stripped of all pretense. When we are done giving a shit about everything and anything, including the saying of "I don't give a shit". To find people that will accept you at these moments is rare. Rare because communication between people is always difficult, even with the best intentions. Just the act of talking requires one person to formulate wordless emotions and feelings into language, vocabulary, tone, speed, context, body language, and timing and then the other person has to decode those words into one's own matrix of infinitely complex thought. Further, communication only really happens when the sender receives feedback that the intention of the message was properly received. Shit is complex and we are constantly messing with it, experimenting everyday with something, everything, it's incredible we get anything done.
This is where running comes in, all those miles, all that exertion, all that fucking time, can help us not only be more of ourselves but be better situated to love and be loved. Once we are done with the introspective analysis we are constantly doing to ourselves, on the trail we can begin to search out. Search not with a need or desire but with openness. We find love on the trails because the trees, the ground, the air, the rain, the anything, is just what it is, nothing more nothing less. We accept it as it is with our behavior, with our choice to be there, experiencing the forest as it is, not as we want or need it to be. We love the trail. When we run with others, we find love. You've all seen it, the first few miles can be bullshitting back and forth, talking this and that, but once you're past a certain point, different from every group (mile 18 ish), shit starts getting real, you can bullshit a lot, but once you've been running for a few hours together a runner will accept the other runner as an equal, as a person who has done the time, one who shares an experience that lives deep in our humanity. The sensation of actual feeling, of heat, of cold, of exertion, of speed, these are things that need no words but are beautifully communicated with just the sounds of strides. And that is why I think we are here, why you are reading this, why we run with the banded sun across our chest, and why we sign up for ultras. An ultra in a chance. A chance to live in a moment of acceptance, an extended moment of love. Acceptance that at some point during these miles you will laugh at the devil and taunt him with reckless abandon as you fly down the big descent, you will beg for death's sweet release as the heat crushes your thoughts that you where truly prepared for the day, and you will love. Love that you are amongst people who understand you with no words, who smile as you stand from that aid station chair, who run with you into night with no other desire but to see you finish, to share your miles, to sing your songs, to know, to really know each other. And to love.
I'll see you out there friends, Happy Valentine's Day.