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Run Free

Running is not my job but somewhere along the way it has turned into one. I have lost the desire to run. It was never suppose to end this way but tragically it has and I am saddened by this reality. I began running to embrace the moment and escape some of the demons and darkness in my life. I began looking forward to the solitude as well as my alone time. It did not matter how far or how long I ran because I owned the run and nobody could take that feeling away from me. I naively wore street shoes, cotton shirts and even underwear beneath my nylon shorts. I enjoyed the peacefulness of being in the outdoors surrounded by rocks, lakes, trees and animals. Time seemed fleeting as I embraced new adventures. Exploring unknown trails and where they might lead made me feel like a kid again growing up on a dead end road against a forest.

I began running with no expectations and definitely lacked an understanding of the sport. I would drive myself to races and arrive with that unsettling feeling of being under trained. Fear would flood my thinking and feelings of unworthiness would soon rise to the surface. What was I doing hundreds of miles from home even thinking that I deserved to be here? Being surrounded by elite runners while waiting for the starting gun to go off can become extremely overwhelming for someone like myself who suffers from depression and anxiety disorders.

The world is moving too fast for me and I am no longer able to keep up. Despite my desire and efforts to live a simple, uncomplicated life, it is certainly becoming much more difficult to do so. The demands of people as well as advances in technology are both contributing factors. My running has evolved as well over the past two years and not for the better I am afraid. I have lost sight of the simplicity of what is a natural movement. When I first started running, I was amazed at how sensitive I was to my surroundings. As time went on and the demands of meeting expectations increased, I somehow lost the ability to feel the trail and become one with it. I was no longer able to stay in that place between thoughts where my feet would glide effortlessly over rocks and roots.

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I made the mistake of thinking that I could become a better runner by having a coach, acquiring the data and sticking to a training program. I believed that structure and accountability were the pillars upon which greatness was built. However circumstances in my personal life challenged those beliefs and only added more pressure to my already stressful life. In addition to mental illness, I have suffered two serious concussions which have left me exhausted and also affected my cognitive ability to absorb and interpret detailed information. I will find ways to manage and avoid situations where I am not able to cope. Running matters in my life and should I lose the ability to find comfort on the trails, then I will have failed in my efforts to find some peace and darkness will win in the end.

I have been discarded by the universe like a rusted out logging truck on the side of a trail. Loneliness flows through my veins like venom from a rattlesnake. My only intimacy is found in the backcountry where the wind kisses my lips and trees wrap themselves around me in a warm, friendly embrace. Beyond the rugged shoreline, meandering rivers stroke my senses with their sounds. In the distance, as the sun falls behind the horizon, I hear the deep howl of a lone Alpha Wolf standing watch over the forest. He reminds me that to run free is to run fearless. To trust your instincts above all else. If I am ever to know what it’s like to feel again, I must find my way back from the edge on a trail with no flags.

I have returned to my primal roots, running free today without the restraints of a heavy computer on my wrist and a tether around my chest. It felt liberating to leave my watch at home and free myself from the bondage of a heart rate strap digging into my sternum. With no predetermined time or distance to worry about, I was able to relax and simply listen to the rhythm of my feet dancing across the trail. At one point, I even allowed myself to walk for a moment without feeling the guilt of falling behind. I run to clear my mind and discard the clutter that accumulates there. I run to reduce the chronic pain in my body that keeps me exhausted most of the time. Mainly I run because of the way it makes me feel, good and bad. Being alone on a trail for long periods of time makes me vulnerable to mood swings and emotional distress. Fatigue is a feeling that has a way of awakening some of my darkest thoughts during a race which scares me.

Running free is a choice. The decision to run naked in the wilderness without a satellite tracking my every move is a personal one. When we choose to unplug ourselves from the pulse of the world, we make room in our brains for creativity. I read a quote from Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville Trail 100 who said “you just keep running, we will tell you when to stop”. All I have to remember is to keep the flags on my right going out and on my left coming back. Living simply takes effort but if we slow things down and open our hearts to the kindness of others, the world will be a better place. So I will continue to run free and run long without any gadgets and have a Guinness at the finish with my friends.

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Confusing Circumstances

Training for a 100 Mile Ultra Marathon Race while recovering from not one but two concussions gets tricky. I am happiest when running alone on a trail surrounded by the quiet peacefulness of nature. Trees, rivers, mountains and wondering animals comfort my soul and ask for nothing in return. I have discovered over the years that I have demons who follow me through life. They stay hidden until I am feeling tired or down and then they pounce on my chest and attempt to suffocate me with their weight. You know the feeling, like trying to breath while underwater or sucking a golf ball through a straw.

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I have been recovering from my second concussion and my progress has been slower than either I or my Doctor would have liked but I am trying to remain optimistic. I have not always been a runner, in fact for most of my life I have avoided the act completely. It is not easy being me most days so finding the strength to get out there and run can certainly be challenging especially when it is minus twenty and my water bottles freezes to quickly preventing me from getting the required electrolytes into my system. For some unknown reason, I have decided that this year, I will attempt to run 100 miles in 24 hours.

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It is hard to get my broken head wrapped around that number but I personally know people that have achieved such a feat and there is a part of my that simply needs to see if I can manage my way to somehow finish this distance after beating my body into a pulp. I’m not young and can definitely see sixty from where I stand now. At an age when malls and coffee shops are quickly devouring our seniors with doughnuts and fast foods, I have chosen to slowly destroy myself by running from Saturday until Sunday without stopping.

A concussed brain is something that must be taken seriously. My short term memory is terrible but I have been given some cognitive exercises to try and get my brain working. My occupational therapist asked me to pick up a brain games book but after a half hour at Chapters searching for the right one, I left with just a headache and the disturbing realization that I am not really very bright. I get confused easily and often wonder why things are so difficult for me? I have always tried to be a good person by being helpful and respectful of others but I have been unable to find my place in a world that does not care if your unable to keep up. There are lots of us out there struggling to find meaning in our lonely lives but always falling short of the expectations that others seem to think we need.

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Running has allowed me to escape the crushing grip of depression, if only for a brief moment at a time. When I am alone on the trail in the early morning hours being visited by chickadees and the occasional deer, my life is perfect and void of the stench of life. My feet dance across the ground dodging rocks and roots. The wind in my face tells me that I am alive and encourages me to stay in the moment and embrace the calmness of nature. The outdoors is my alter which allows me to speak with the creator of the universe. I seldom get answers to my irrational questions but have faith that there is a living God who cares about my fate. We must find a way to believe in something when dealing with loss or when people let us down. Fear is nothing more than wisdom in the face of danger.

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My Doctors are sending for a head MRI to better access the condition of my brain. I am feeling a little unsettled with this decision but whatever they discover in the deep recesses of mind melon will either amaze or give reason to be concerned. I am taking a road trip next week with a copy of the MRI imaging cd to have a neurosurgeon evaluate my brain. It is hard to remain focussed on training when so much of my time is preoccupied with remembering which appointments I have to get to on any given day. Doctors, surgeons, physiotherapists, occupational therapists all compete for my attention to earn a living.

Time is not on my side as we near the end of January. My first race, the Peak Races 50 Miler in Pittsfield, Vermont on Saturday May 14th is quickly approaching and there is so much training that still needs to be done if I am to avoid a DNF in my first mountain race. Running flat over a long period of time is difficult enough on the body but with an elevation gain of 10,000 feet over the 50 mile course in Vermont will be ruthless in it’s attempt to crush the weak and the unprepared. The mountain doesn’t care that you fell short of your training goals or signed up for a challenge that is beyond your wheelhouse.

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I struggled to get through a short recovery run today at Parrots Bay Conservation area. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion despite my efforts to pick up the pace. This weeks upcoming MRI is concerning and I just do not have a good feeling about it. It never turns out good when Doctor’s begin exploratory exercises in your head. My younger brother died of a brain tumour at the age of thirty four so family history is not on my side. My mood has been sliding these past couple days with the uncertainty of things to come. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and before you know it, the black dog is walking beside you.

Mental illness has a way of sticking around like an uninvited guest at a house party. It never goes away and is a constant reminder that we need to take care of each other. Running has allowed me the opportunity to meet a community of people who love me just the way I am. Even with all of my broken pieces, they listen when I vent, support me when I’m down and most importantly, they encourage me to run at times when I don’t believe that I am worthy to be in their company. I go to events to see my family and running a race is just something I do while there.

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I will end by saying that you matter to someone. Most days that seems impossible to believe when you’re sitting alone somewhere wrapped in a cloak of darkness. The world is a cruel, unfair place where the weak litter the trail like empty gel packages discarded by ignorant runners with no respect for mother earth. Let me assure you that the Universe is a loving one with a place for all of us regardless of the baggage we carry on our journey through life. I know this to be true with all certainty and have experienced it myself while alone in the backcountry. The wind speaks as it strokes the leaves like an invisible lover needing to be touched. Water carresses the shoreline and calms the mind if we take the time to listen. The flutter of birds ensure that you are never alone while the glow from the moon calms your soul while guiding you through the night.

Be brave my friends and find the courage to get outdoors and welcome the kindness that will come out to greet you.

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Running Through The Darkness

Living with Chronic Depression and Anxiety Disorder for as long as I have wears you down. I am always tired and begin my days with very little energy. My tank is never more than half full but I somehow manage to function despite my limited resources. I have never been a runner in the traditional sense. I got involved in this sport at an age when most people are looking for ways to avoid pain and discomfort by picking up the television remote.

In the fall of 2013 at Lemoine Point Conservation area, I increased my walking pace to a slow run and after only ten minutes, I found myself out of breath. I stuck with the walk/run routine for a few weeks until I noticed one day that I was doing more running than walking. The bitter cold of winter was upon me and I was talked into signing up for the Running Room’s 5KM Resolution Run on New Years Day 2014. It was my first official racing event. At the time, I had only been running 10KM most days but was encouraged to sign up for the Limestone Race Weekend and enter the Half Marathon distance. I was terrified just thinking about 21.1KM and I was getting cold feet before the start and almost bailed. I liked the feeling of crossing the finish line and realized that most of my fears had been an illusion soon discarded once the race began.

In the days that followed, I felt the need to enter another event and while reading Canadian Running Magazine, I came across the Tour Du Lac Brome Merrill Country Road Race in Knowlton, Quebec in June. My French is limited but off I went to run along the rolling, gravel roads in the Eastern Townships. Now with three events behind me, the taste for more was on my lips. Youtube presented me with The Limberlost Challenge in Huntsville in July. Up to this point on my journey, I had never put my feet on single track trail. I was no where near being ready for the challenges I would face in the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve. Although I had registered for the Ultra distance of 56KM, I gladly pulled the plug at 42KM and accepted defeat.

Upon my return home still licking my wounds, I was encouraged to consider going to the Haliburton Forest Trail Run. My lack of training for any of my previous races had caught up to me. I was really tired but ignorance is bliss, so I pulled out my visa card and signed up for the 50KM race. I did not know at the time that there was much more waiting for me in the Haliburton Forest than sore legs and exhaustion. For no good reason at all, complete strangers opened their arms and welcomed me into their lives.

The excitement from my Haliburton experience quickly turned dark and I began to slide badly as Christmas approached. Depression can be cruel in it’s attempts to destroy the fabric of ones physical as well as mental state. It appears without warning and attacks relentlessly, over and over until I submit completely and surrender to the forces of darkness. My life is cluttered with failures and disappointments. Why has the Universe ripped out my heart and filled my veins with such anguish? Doctor’s have been unsuccessful in treating my mental illness. Thousands of hours of counselling has done nothing more than reminded me of the hell which is my existence. Pharmaceutical medications keep me back from the edge in exchange for my willingness to accept their unknown side effects.

I live in a world without touch and I have certainly paid the ultimate price for doing so. We as human beings, need to be held, comforted and made to feel whole through the act of intimacy. Our spiritual nature allows us to become one within each other to find meaning in our lives. Mother earth is kind and generous with her unlimited offerings. It is on single track trail, deep in the wildness of the backcountry that my soul is briefly released from the chains which hold me here. It is selfish of me to say but I do not like people much. Crowds cause me anxiety and I avoid them whenever possible. My broken brain has become my enemy. It fuels the engine which is trying to kill me.

Running does not come easy for me as some of you may believe. The simple task of moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other can be painful beyond reason. It makes absolutely no rational sense for me to continue doing this to myself but running long comforts my unlovable soul. I have pushed myself extremely hard over the past couple of weeks and the running Gods have struck me down for my recklessness. Surviving 50 Miles at the Sulphur Springs Trail Run meant enduring 14 hours and 5 minutes on an emotional rollercoaster. Another 44K at the Sri Chinmoy 6 Hour Ultra two weeks later, stripped away even more of my exposed emotions and has left me bruised and battered. Running the equivalent of three full marathons in 14 days hurts. I continued to train hard until on June 26th when I caught my right toe and crashed head first into a log/rock combo suffering a concussion.