The Challenges

What you are about to read will seem like an airing of grievances. That’s fair enough. Like me, and my fragile psyche, they are better out than in. But more than just complaining, I think expressing these things helps me accept them for what they are and cut myself short when, in moments of duress, I resort to magical thinking, wishing every obstacle would just disappear.

It also bears saying that this site was never meant to be a litany of triumphs and pure joy. I think, as a smart reader, you would know that was bullshit. I would know. And then what would be the point?

And so, here is the stuff I’m struggling with. I’m grateful, at the end of the day, for each one. They are the things that make me better, even as they wear me down.

I have to start with myself. I’m an enormous obstacle to overcome. I make the same mistakes over and over, e.g. not enough water, not enough food, running too fast, underplanning solo runs, etc. It’s fair to say, that if I could get out of my own way, I’d be a better runner.

My thinking mind is also a challenge while running. Mostly, I’d just like to shut it off and the let the run run itself. In those elusive, glimmering moments when I’m flowing down the trail and everything feels right, the thinking mind disappears. The relief is palpable.

Then there’s the body, which ain’t what it used to be. The Achilles on my left side is perpetually irritated. I can rest it, massage it, ice it. Doesn’t matter. My right ankle is a perennial weakness, too. It’s been sprained about as much as it’s been not sprained. The benefit of this over time is that I can roll it on a rock or a unseen root, swear out loud, and then keep running. Maybe I’ve killed it? Broken its spirit?

I rolled it yesterday, and then again this morning.

My max heart rate is also declining, as it should, with age. In my twenties I’d see it regularly over 200bpm at max effort, as high as 213. Now it seems to top out around 180bpm, which really just means I’m slower when things get intense than I used to be, and I hit that upper limit more often than I’d like.

I’m also having some huge challenges with the heat this summer. I seem to be sweating way faster than I can replace fluid, even wearing a hydro-pack, so I need to work out some new strategies, adding electrolyte to the pack, drinking earlier and more actively. It’s a pain in the ass, not to mention the challenge of being soaked for most of the run, trying to keep it out of my eyes and mouth.

The knock-on from the sweating is the need to wear some sort of headband, which means I just don’t look as good as I used to. That is pure vanity, but it’s real. I care. I know I shouldn’t.

New England, where I live, presents its own challenges. Our trails are not made or groomed. They’ve been worn, over time, beginning with the last ice age and moving up through the agricultural boom of the early part of our national history. We have cow paths twisting through rocky woodland. We have mile after mile of irregular surface.

A lot of days, I spend more time dancing than running. That’s before you factor in the shallow root systems of most of our native tree species. What you end up with is a spider’s web of knobbly roots punctuated with ankle-breaking stones everywhere. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I’m tired of the ankle swelling and toe nail bruising.

The bugs are next level. I don’t hate bugs. In fact, I like them. I appreciate what they do. I’m not grossed out, scared, or even overly impatient with them. I don’t wear bug spray, because it’s gross in more ways than one. Having said that, swarms of flies pinging off the side of your too-sweaty head as you struggle to maintain pace in endless series of short, sharp climbs gets to be too much. You can’t stop for even second without the swarm doubling in intensity. I have a hard time believing my head is a crucial part of their ecosystem, but maybe it was just always this way. It’s some motivation to keep going.

Every season has its challenges. In the fall, the dead leaves cover the jutting rocks, making every trail a minefield. In the winter, snow and ice. In the spring, rain, mud.

This is a long way of saying it’s always something. Accept it all. Recognize that I am the primary challenge, and the only way to overcome that, is to change.