We grow into ourselves it seems. Every day, every minute, one decision at a time. Like the favourite jeans we never wish to admit no longer wear quite in the same manner they once did. We grow into our new skin. At the end of every day we can only truly live with ourselves. Learning to love ourselves, our worth, the space we take up, the places we create... that all takes time. It takes time, hope, love and tons of practice.
I know very little about running. I know very little about how to train for ultra running. Gratefully I leave the details up to my Coach. I know very little about recovery. I know it as a thankless, frustrating self hating pause in my passion. I know that that too passes. I know to run for a cause is nearly as motivating as to run for the pure love of running. I know I can only speak for me, for each of my own self serving steps along the path. And I know, am completely aware, that I know very little.
When you were little, and your parents read to you, or a teacher, or a librarian; their voice becomes the voice you hear in your head when you read. Your favourite science teacher engaged so much excitement for the subject that whenever you turned the page in the encyclopedia.... okay I am old. Whenever you click a new link in Google to continue researching, you hear that voice. Or your Home Ec instructor, "cream the brown sugar with the butter, using the back of the wooden spoon... no no not a fork" These become stretch marks, self narratives. Framework. Social regard for how you think on a topic.
What's my point?
Socially encultured ideas can be both helpful and harmful. How my generation was raised to think about disability, or rather how we were raised to NOT think about disability, for example, isn't on the helpful list. To be both disabled in such a world, and to believe it better to remain invisible is a difficult task. Perhaps it's harsh to say that coming to terms with the fact that I could never colour my kindergarten sky blue, if the word BLUE wasn't etched on the side of the crayon, has been a life long lesson. The second step of course is to realize that I can in fact, colour the sky whatever shade I enjoy. That is how I see it; in shades of possibility and promise. And the ground when I run, darting in and out of visibility. Why shelter the rest of the world from that perspective?
These days I don't do much trail running solo. I have found that following a rather connected guide runner has made a huge difference in my ability to learn the skill of trail manoeuvring. Not that I am skilled. But it offers me a sense of comfort I have not known. To trust the earth to rise and meet my feet is a lesson I must always cling to. To dance my feet through a smattering of rock and root on a slight slanted downhill, is not a task I can take on with fear. Fear can freeze my breath. Not the fear of the snake I might glance, or the toad that might hop across the trail between me and my guide runner two steps ahead. But fear of a misstep. Fear of failure. When the sunlight breaks through the cloud cover, when it worms its way between the upturned dew drying leaves, when my ground transitions from a contrast I've come to visual terms with to an impossible jigsaw puzzle... Fear stops me.
My memory of steps is very short. I can interpret and retain and dissect about three instructional descriptives at a time. Root left, pothole right, rock middle. Let that go. Four more have already been fired my way. Tree slanting in from the right, sharp drop left, narrowing trail into the middle. Do you remember what comes next? Do you duck? Or step up? Too late, you missed three more instructions. Three more chances at risk, at falling, at failure. Where in all that, do I have time to actually try and see the trail? We fall into a rhythm of footfalls. For every 10 things I'm told of, I catch glimpses of 2 or 3. Following the same route time and again lets me memorize the sequences of this impromptu jig through the trees. A number of times now, my wonderful, compassionate, ever so patient guide runner Steven has taken me on such a loop. Over and over we pass through three miles of varied terrain. Relentlessly, nearly feverishly, he calls out the same land marks in repetition. I hear them. I learn them. But others too. The way his pitch changes just before the first little technical climb, how he tries to hide its approach as if he knows my knowing there's a hill coming will slow my steps as they cloud with self doubt. Or the manner in which he slows down just before a sharp right turn with an ever protruding stump on the right. I feel his feet decide before I arrive, which way through the roots that snake across the trail would be safest for me. I watch the shadow of his hand held water bottle across the top of the open field for where it splits and changes in angle. There's a little ditch there, that will shallow your left toes if you are neglectful. I hear the traffic on the left side of the green space just before the mile one mark, and I know, that six steps of a root dance are coming. And that watch beeps. I forget the words. I hear thoughts instead. I feel the trees giggle to see us pass again. And again. Like the fishermen on the boardwalk, like the geese paddling in stillness, like the breeze that brings promise of a new season.
Self narrative takes me away. And fear will stop my step. Sunlight invading my spaced out mind. Fell behind three steps too many and I am lost. Now I'm angry I am lost. I hear still, but can't piece it together from six steps back. Step over a root not there yet. Self doubt. Threat of failure. And I must remind myself, I don't do this running thing by anyone else's standards. I do it the only way I know how. "I've fallen behind" is commonly heard from me. Likely more in my head than outloud. I've fallen behind. Yet I feel I've started behind. Stuck in this encultured sense of trying to be invisible, less of a burden. Yes I started behind. But started didn't I? That counts. A mile is a mile, no matter how fast. And a mile is a mile whether you saw it or felt it.
The last time we ran in circles, Steven and I, I said you run ahead really fast.... because he's fast, so fast in fact that in the time it took you to read this, he's finished another 10km. Seriously, if I could run that fast, getting out the door for anything less than 12km would seem a waste. So I said, Steven, you run ahead really fast. I'll run a loop alone. You can catch me on your second loop. Self narrative. I can't do that. The suns up. Self doubt. There's too many options for turning, I'll get lost. Neither one of us armed with phones (return to the stone age right?) You can catch me translated into you can find me, save me from the snakes, and guide us both out of the scary woods. Self narrative. I'm not supposed to do this. Surely there's a rule book. I will fall. My surprise? He said "I'm not that fast, I won't catch you"
Wait. Back up the bus. Was that self doubt? Disguised in good graces of proper mathematics and logic? Here I am in my head, suffering my own self narrative, my own encultured worry of worth and you, my hero, think you aren't that fast? Not, oh dear Rhonda, it's technical in there, you might fall, or get lost, or ... insert any number of terrible things my mother loses sleep over (bless her). Holy self narrative batman.
Of course my answer was, you should leave then. You're faster when you're moving. No doubt. And he was gone. Before I could take it back. Before the fear took me, froze me. Before I forgot the taste of the banana I'd just wolfed down and instead tasted vile self doubt. And no one left to save me from my self narrative.
I did get lost, for about 20 meters. Again stepped over a root that wasn't there. Turned to see the pond on the wrong side of me. Retraced my steps. Found where they seemed to fit among the planks on the board walk again. Heard that traffic on the left side to the green space. Hopped over a log sequence in three that I couldn't see at all. Left hop, left weave, right hop, duck right, hop last time. Between two rocks, grooved there. Past this place I was told there was a little board. Ran over it 15 times or more and have yet to see it. No shadow to follow, ditch was still very real. Gravity reminded me to stop listening to myself.
Then it hit me.
I wasn't listening to myself. The voice in my head, the one reminding me of the careful steps over the board with the nail, the rocks lining the right side of the trail, the root centre, root right, root right around the tree... That voice, keeping me safe, my new self narrative, was Steven's voice. I've followed him for so many hours, he's become my internal story teller. My sooth sayer of trees and mud. My interpretator of the earth in all her glory.
We grow into ourselves it seems. Every day, every minute, every decision at a time. I know very little about this running thing. I do know this, after seven years, it still loves me back. It forgives me for not stretching enough, for not climbing hills enough, for not fuelling enough, for not visiting enough. Running finds a way into all the corners of my life. It opens doors of access that I never knew existed before. Every day I learn that the self defined edges I live in are merely comfort zones of landing between big scary goals.
I also am learning, that blue skies are overrated, that one makes their own magic, that if you offer a loved one a crayon and to be their canvas, you let them write a little in your heart and in your self narrative. I am learning that some sense of acceptance along the journey is an important missing piece. I am learning, that ultra running, is forever an ultra mental test.