It was Friday, and I was driving south to meet a dear friend who was going to accompany me to the Deadhorse 50k race the following day. I left work and drove straight towards our meeting spot, the snowy wasatch skirted by golden brown foothills on my left, with foothills of similar caliber on my right.
Further south there was something rising from the hills on my right. There wasn't a stream or river to provide fog, was this dust? I tried to look for signs of wind; there was none. Was this smoke? But the foothills were neither blackened nor glowing. Preoccupied with this strange phenomenon, I focused in as I approached the strange hills. The evening winter light was striking these hills directly, perhaps for the first time that day... and then I realized I was witnessing a rising water vapor, 'breath,' similar to seeing one's breath on a cold day.
The hills where breathing, sighing. Although I'd driven beside these hills countless times, and run across similar at all times of day and year, I'd never seen them send off moisture in a breath-like repose before. I exhaled heavily, wanting to breathe with them.
Race day has more to do with the preparation than the race, or so I try remind myself. I wrote a little jingle as we drove down 'the battle was fought/ the war was won/ we get to the starting line/ to prove what was done.' Getting to this starting line had been a battle for me. Signing up had been a mental battle - a flatter race, with miles of roads, chock full of hundreds upon hundreds of people - none of this translates into something I would choose. I had entered to race with Ryan, it was a race he found intriguing, and when his family travel plans interfered with the race weekend, I decided to continue to train for it and go alone.
The drive down started reflection. I met my dear friend on the second trail race I ran, another one that doesn't align with my preferences - the Pony Express 50 in 2012. As we drove down to Moab, we talked about the years of running and racing, the places running has taken us, the people we've met.
The first few miles of the race I watched dozens of speeding bodies take off. Their enthusiasm to run hard was evident in each step of their stride. The passion was clear, they had trained and prepared to race today. Behind me I knew there were many who had also trained, who were going to stop and take photos, laugh with friends, take in the view. They also encased a passion for running, but utilized it differently. How interesting, this sport, that brings all of us together.
As the miles clicked by, I thought of my year, what I'd done prior to race day. I thought of running through the rain forest with Ryan and Yoda, of cooking dinners under the moss covered stone hut outside our campsite, how we laughed and hid and evaluated mushrooms for days under that hut, the only dry place we'd be for three full days.
I thought of painting, of camping in the Uintas and realizing I would prefer to spend the morning painting instead of running, that the satisfaction I'd get painting the scene in front of me would supersede running in this place, that I would be sated to run on the old familiar trails at home...how I was so conflicted with this new desire.
I thought of running behind the Hunstman Cancer Institute, the 4am runs before work, the runs with the kids as they trained for their first 5k. Exploring in the Wind Rivers with my love, in the San Rafael Swell with my dear friend, the runs alone with the flowers of the Candian lakefronts in June.
I thought of how this year I'd read more books than any year since I graduated college - books stuffed into every running bag and camping tub to be pulled out and read under the stars. Reading to Ryan poems by Comb Ridge before and after exploring ruins, the books I'd read aloud to the kids each evening, listening to long books for long drives, listening to books on drives to run....
The things that fill my heart are this - my family, friends, art, food and drink. My head is filled with poems, books, words, memories, recipes, ways to paint, work more efficiently, numbers, my boys and the things to teach them, numerical codes. My lungs fill with views, vistas, the thrill of exploration.
Not feeling the best during this race, I was struck with the thought that if these vital organs weren't filled with this passion to run, why am I doing this? Why am I running a race if the time racing could be spent with something that fills my heart? Something more.... comfortable, less painful?
Then I thought of all those memories this year, the years prior, the things I love. Running pulses through each of them. It strings together the need to explore, to take my children out, to have reprieve from stress, to build my relationships, to see and experience the emotions and sights that create art, to listen to books, to feel the wide range of emotions our humanness provides to us - not to just know those feelings exist, but the time to dwell on them, to feel them.
It would seem that if running isn't what fills those vital cardiovascular organs for me, it is the blood pulsing through, connecting them, keeping me alive.
I looked around at the other runners. A man just passed me, his mouth agape at the neon alpenglow radiating off nearby cliff faces. Ahead on the horizon there were runners with quick strides, close together, racing. Behind me, two women, arms around each other, taking a photo.
Whether it was running or racing that filled their head and their heart, or neither and it was all these other talents they may possess that are in their head or heart or lungs- one thing was shared among us, that it is running that beats through us, and in that, we are all blood brothers and sisters. We share the same coursing, the same beating, the same linkage between our organs.
The rest of the day was a battle. The little rhyme I thought of changed meaning, the race wasn't to show where my training had taken me, for a low fever and in general just not a great day wasn't going to give the results of the day I desired. Instead, the battle was getting to the start line, what I was given the opportunity to prove was how I could handle pain, ailment, disappointment, my attitude, my thoughts.
I honed in on being grateful for the family and friends and the experiences I've been fortunate to have this year. That I was grateful I could run a 50k at all. My thoughts would twist to the searing pain in my legs, the desire to nap.... and I'd pass a 30k runner, in a sighing happy burst, that would exclaim "oh, this is so beautiful!" It'd bring a smile, and I'd reroute my attitude. The goal no longer a time but to scrounge up a smile when seeing people, a piece of encouragement in passing.
For me, it was my chance to see how I'd grown as a person, to find fulfillment in the months prior, to manage my body the best I could. To celebrate, or suffer through, the result of a most wonderful summer spent developing relationships and passions that are inadvertently always linked to running.
I wondered what the hills sigh out on a cold winter afternoon, the same dirt and trails connecting them to me.