As my 11-year old self approached the park with my father, I was ridden with anxiety about date attire. Pretty pressing at that age. Come to think of it, I had no idea where this notion arose, but regardless, it was overpowering my thoughts entirely. In this case, “A walk in the park” didn’t imply effortlessness. We arrived to an empty park greeted by an alluring sunset. The bewitching sway of the trees guided by the entrancing breeze was a palpable calm that magnified my unease. My fretfulness could no longer be subdued. Pop! “Dad, what should I wear for my date?” Since I fashion the emotions that squander my mind, little is left to mystery. With a placid chuckle he told me, “Self love is the most attractive shirt to wear.”
Embarking on an ultra can be daunting, but it can also be a serendipitous place to find self gratitude. It’s defined by a distance exceeding the traditional marathon length of 42.19km or 26.21mi. A 50k is only five miles longer, but can add an hour or more of running accompanied by elevated mental doubts and deeper lows. E and I arrived in California two days before our race. Her intent was to finish the 35k and I the 50k. Keeping mindful of proper nutrition and rest, we ran briefly to make accords with our strides the day before the event. We awoke early as planned in order to fuel-up, stretch, and record our pre-race thoughts to be compared with thoughts thereafter. Arriving at the venue with high spirits, we were ecstatic to begin the race, shaking our derrières to our respective power songs moments before start time. My mouth watered to the thought of two Coconut Bliss ice cream pints awaiting our return to be self rewarded. 3, 2, 1, GO!
I’ve always gravitated away from earth, retreating inward for solitude as helplessly as a leaf blowing in the wind—top heavy with insights arrived at too easily. The steady thuds of my feet, heart, and breath create a monotonous beat that hypnotizes me—riding a wave of inexplicably good fortune that seems to inflate a careless sense of invulnerability. My mind empties. Nature is the perfect mirror. She offers a vivid glimpse transcending the superficial reflection, exposing our inner selves. And beyond that glimpse, an environment to be fully self aware—giving chance for an efflorescence. Love of self.
Throughout the suffer-fest that was the Woodside Ramble, located within the heart of the San Fran Peninsula, beautiful forested sceneries in the cool canyons of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks tried to mask the pain with its canopy of moss-covered redwoods. Before the race I had reminded E to take advantage of all the aid stations she passes by—to get food, water, salt tabs—every time. Guess what I did? I ran strong 8min/mi for 20miles without stopping, having passed two aid stations already and quickly approaching the next. “No, I don’t need anything, I am good,” *facepalm. Inevitably, I was hit by ravenous hunger and debilitating fatigue. My body was quick in telling me to stop, sending cramps throughout my thighs and calves. I got tunnel visioned, neglecting to practice what I preached. I had to amble for a mile and a half to the next aid station where I devoured food like a lion who hasn’t eaten in days; not forgetting to ask for salt tabs. Another half mile of ambling rid of my cramps allowing me to finish the race at a slow 10min/mi pace.
A month has passed since I’ve had that recurring dream of being in the park with my late father. I haven’t seen him in 13 years but the continuity of his effect will never cease. I find that great physical challenges and endeavors are one of the few things that truly allow me to wear that self-love shirt. Overcoming arduous challenges leads me to truly appreciate my vessel through life. Curiosity in what I am capable of urges me to put myself in wondrous situations. We grow when faced with difficult situations, whether they are self-induced or not. Our reactive tendencies are revealed when pushed out of our comfort zones, forcing us to adapt or perish. When we approach these revelations with self-betterment, we can use new discoveries to see comfort even in highly uncomfortable situations, letting us live happier lives. Allowing us to actually see our surroundings. Allowing us to love ourselves.