Life Lessons – The San Juan Solstice

Dawn at the top of the first climb up Alpine Gulch.

“…All of life is practice in one form or another.” – Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind

“What is the difference then between work activities and recreational activities?…the only difference between the two activities is that we have pre-judged them. We make it into work or play by our judgments.” – Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind

To say that “such and such is a great metaphor for life,” might be one of the most overused cliches when trying to justify the reasons for doing silly things like running 50 miles through the mountains. Never-the-less, it was the parallels between my current situation and my life in general that I contemplated in the pre-dawn murk as I ran along the Engineer Pass road just outside of Lake City in the first couple miles of the San Juan Solstice 50 mile race. My contact lenses would not sit right on my eyeballs, causing my vision to be blurry. Since the 4 a.m. wake-up call I had been fiddling with them, trying to get them to perform the duty they were designed for–correcting my vision without glasses. In frustration I switched to a brand new pair while still in the hotel room and vainly tried over and over again to spin them around on my eye so that the special areas that corrected my astigmatisms would sit in the right place. But the race began without a solution–or clear vision–and a couple miles down the road I was still fidgeting with them, running along the road with my fingers in my eyes. But no luck.

I tried to do the best I could to relax into the situation and not grow frustrated. I realized that perhaps this vision problem was going to be the challenge of the day, the unexpected occurrence which I would have to adapt to and overcome. The experiences of my last race at Transvulcania finally taught me that ultra-running is more about adapting to what you cannot foresee than it is about achieving a fleeting moment of perfection. A good plan and having goals in place for the day are important targets for which to aim, but in the end the brilliance of this game is that you cannot know what may happen until you have stared down the winding trail and felt the curveball being thrown your way. Rather than let a lack of perfection bother me, I now chose to revel in the uncertainty.

Saw this on the wall of a stone hut in Nepal. Seems appropriate!

So as I fought off the frustration in the early morning and accepted that my vision might not be perfect for a little while, I understood that choosing my attitude to the problem was going to be the key to overcoming this challenge. Just like in real life. And yet in real life I remind myself of this little fact all the time, but somehow struggle to match my attitude to my desires. Yet here I was in this invented and self-inflicted challenge which has no tangible purpose, and had no choice but to choose my attitude for my own benefit, or else just accept defeat, which I wasn’t going to do. It struck me in that moment how bizarre it was that I need these ludicrous challenges to teach me these lessons in an experiential manner. So it seems that ultra-running does serve a specific purpose after all, beyond just being a metaphor for life. I resolved to try harder to apply what I learn while running to my everyday problems.

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