When I first started running, I couldn’t even go a mile. It was something I had to do in PE class, and nothing about it felt right. The tightening in my chest, burning in my throat, how awkward and heavy my limbs felt as I tried to propel myself forward… Every breath caused a new side cramp. My teeth felt like they would fall out of my gums. Every fiber of my being told me to stop. So I did.
I was never good at sports, either, but ended up playing soccer all the way through college. Adding friends and a ball into the mix made running more tolerable. Sometimes it was even fun, and I wasn’t in it for anything else.
It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I found my running shoes again. Suddenly my life was on fire. On the surface, everything looked great. I was working at the hottest company in America, I was engaged, I had a new house and car. But my commute was killing me, my relationship was suffering, and my job had lost its meaning. So, I quit—everything, even my engagement.
I desperately needed a re-set. The only thing I could remember truly enjoying was running outdoors with my friends in college.
No one was more surprised than me when I signed up for my first ultra-marathon running event—I’d never even completed a marathon. But if I somehow pulled it off, it meant I could jump into an abyss and reach the other side on my own. Whether I had this in me or not was something I desperately needed to find out.
Training forced me into outdoor adventures every day, no matter how I felt. Whether I was sad or angry, I had a date with the trail, and the trail never changed its mind.
Things happened out there. I cried a lot. I fell a lot. I got poison oak on my lady parts. I lost track of time. I lost track of myself. I bumped into things in the night I wasn’t prepared for, like baby foxes, coyotes, and people living outdoors. Step by step, I confronted my fears of being alone in the world.
I used a spreadsheet to help me keep track of my mileage, and just keep going. Sometimes I walked. Other times I jogged. Eventually I started to jog more and walk less. About five months later, I was able to tackle a mountain in 10 hours over two days.
During that time, I learned how to eat. I discovered patience. The numbers and notes on that spreadsheet ruled my life. My attendance wasn’t perfect, and my runs didn’t always turn out as planned—but as long as I was filling it out, I knew I was making progress.
When race day came, I ran farther than I’d ever run in my life: 50 miles. I crossed the finish line 12 hours later—a different person than when I’d started. I found something inside me I didn’t know was there. Whether it was part animal or part athlete, I really wasn’t sure. All I knew for certain was I felt alive. My life was my own again, and I had proof that anything is possible.
Today I run for a living, and every day on the trail feels like a gift.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.