Monday, September 21, 2015

I Am Training For Life

On Black Balsam Mountain after a VERY long day of backpacking uphill for many hours. Photo courtesy of Yan Luss.

Life is hard, and it may or may not be short.

Before I started this last and longest lasting exercising streak of mine, I would start amazing and creative endeavors with loads of energy and focus, plateau and then stop. The energy would fizzle, my mind would be numb from exhaustion, and my heart would be let down yet again.

So how is it that I am able to run marathons and ultra marathons, now? How do I stay committed and focused?

Any long-distance running (or any sustained physical endeavor) requires patience, discipline, and the ability to

  • entertain yourself for HOURS,
  • be in one's head for extremely long bouts of time,
  • talk yourself off the ledge several times over several hours (or the edge of a crevasse), literally,
  • separate mind and body, converge mind and body, eat and drink when you REALLY don't want to,
  • drop your pants, pee, shake it off and keep running like it's normal...

In life you have to do the same sorts of things during hours-long boring and pointless meetings in which people talk just for the hell of it. During these meetings, you should be able to

  • entertain yourself for hours (in your head while pretending to listen)
  • talk yourself off the figurative ledge every time someone different starts talking
  • separate mind and body
  • talk to people when you really don't want to
  • Ok, so you don't have to drop your pants and pee and keep running like it's normal, but pretending like what someone has just said is brilliant is pretty similar.

There are many other aspects of life that require sustained, unwavering focus over a period of time. And long-distance running, or any other physical pursuit that requires the same sort of consistent energy is very REAL but also a metaphor for every time something in life requires indomitable and unflappable spirit.

Sunrise and fire smoke at Farlow Gap, Pisgah National Forest
What keeps me going on those super long runs?

I think, I plan, I arrange music, I zone out, I sing in my head,  I am in my head, I imagine that I am Scott Jurek on the hills and Lolo Jones when jumping or tripping over roots and rocks. I rejoice in the fact that I am surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I become completely engaged in the process and look forward to achieving whatever goal it is that I have set. I become present.

When doing long runs, I became acutely aware of where I am, who I am and why I am. I become tuned in to the fact that I am living, and that in order to keep living I have to make an intense effort to keep living.

This is what training for life is.

How do you stay committed and focused? How do you train for life?


  1. With all the publicity, I just heard of you. I read lots of ultra blogs. I am not a fat girl just old and slow. Love today's blog. I like your clarity around what goes on in my head. Thank you

  2. You are such an inspiration! Keep doing what you're doing. You're setting such a good example for others!

  3. Beautifully said! I get lost in my head too. Like you, I plan, I put life things in order and I pray. Congrats on your recent interviews.

  4. I've been running since 2004 and started off just like you. I watched your story on the evenign news and I was so moved, I teared up. I had to find your blog. I am training for a marathon right now and this weekend I will do 17. I have not run a full since 2013. I have completed 2 Ultras and absolutely loved it. I plan on thinking about you as I get into my long runs. It's hard to find someone to inspire me, but YOU did it. I look forward to reading your postings and thanks for being my motivation!

  5. Beautiful post and you inspire me to go further in my runs...a 5K seemed like a long way, but now I think I am ready for something slightly bigger...10K then possibly on to a longer one :)

  6. I read a piece on you in RW and was thoroughly inspired. I have been facing weight loss issues and wondering why all that exercise and runs and diet is not helping. Reading your blog has given me a perspective and encouragement to keep going and enjoying my runs. I look forward to many more posts from you.

  7. Like many others I just found you. I'm so glad you're story got picked up. You inspire me! I'll be thinking of you on my little run today!

  8. Awesome post! Sooo true to see that learning how to take care of myself through exercise runs an exact parallel to everyday life. I compose my blog posts in my head while I run. I sing....plan....cry...and I've even yelled at the world a few times! :-)

  9. You are bananas awesome and such a great voice for those of us who don't fit the average walking/running/biking stereotype! OHMYGOSH go you, Mirna!!! Over the last couple of years I gained a bunch of weight following and injury and quitting smoking, and in the last year have been working it off by eating healthy and walking, biking and now even running a little (super slow and awkward, I'm the Elaine Benes of running). Occasionally on my instagram I'll have random comments telling me "you're looking skinny" or "you're getting skinny". I CRINGE and delete them, even though they are written in kindness and support. But no, no, no, no - I do not want to be skinny nor do I strive to be skinny. Skinny = icky. I want to be healthy. Man, healthy is so dang sexy and cool (and um, HEALTHY!) - all those things no matter what one's size. I love the attention brought upon you and for you sharing your life. I truly think you're going to reach a ton of people and we're going to be seeing a lot more healthier people because of you! And ohmygosh, "drop your pants, pee, shake it off and keep running like it's normal" is my personal motto but wasn't articulated until now. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to embroider that on a pillow or something! XOXO from a stranger from the west, Monica

  10. I 'am 57 woman and at 21 I ran 5 miles non- stop. I 've gotten over-weight and health challenges. You inspired me to get back my healthy lifestyle. As I'am not dead yet and it's never too late. Just ask the Japanese old 90 year old that carry 50 pds of rocks uphill..

  11. I found out at 33 that I have ADHD. By then I had instinctively taught myself how to cope with mental drudgery. My mind constantly wanders. My teachers called me "day dreamer."

    I'm 41 now. Living with this new knowledge of myself I've had a lot of time to sort out what my real needs are. I figured out that I need time alone to let my mind run free from the constraints of everyday life.

    I love the idea of ultrarunning but I discovered that there is a threshold and beyond that I just get bored. Once my body hits a wall and I have trouble with coherent thought the boredom takes over.

    I'm signed up for my first ultra--the Rough Trail 50k in Red River Gorge--but after that I think I'm going to stick with half marathon distances and less. I'll never give up trail running though. Second only to mountain biking it is my best therapy.

  12. You inspire me. I have felt for so long ,being a bigger girl myself, that i would never be able run. I found that i enjoy it ( the very scarce times i did try to run), that it's something i feel like i accomplish,and i am starting, very slowly, to get into it. But you go full throttle, and that is what i would love to do. Keep going. I want to get there too.

    My name is Angela.

  13. In my long runs I get a lot of drivel happening in my head, and my last half marathon, back of the pack, running on my own, couldn't even see the dust of the person in front of me (it was a smallish in number race), and I decided to do it with no music. This was a new course along a rail trail, beautiful countryside, and yet "Dambusters" kept playing over and over and over in my head. WTF is that about???? :-) Is Dambusters my new mantra? Love your blog it's terrific.

  14. I pretend I am Scott Jurek, too! For me a long run is anything more than 2 miles...

    I really adore you. When you are finished with your real job(s) you could come be my guru.

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