I can’t hear Luke behind me. Only the howling wind screams into my ears. I put my hand on my beanie to keep it in place as I turn back to check on him. Luke is 20 feet behind me. Bent at the hips, shoulders far over his knees in a feeble attempt at avoiding the extreme wind, he slowly climbs towards me, pushing off one leg at a time. Hands cupped over my mouth, I shout to him as loud as I can.
A half an hour prior we were standing on a large rocky point as the massive waves smashed on the rocks in front of us soaking us with water and filling the air with the thick smell of the ocean. The storm had reached us and was now promising to make our ascent back to the main road one hell of a journey. As we left the point and headed back up the soft sandy trail, we returned to a conversation we frequented while on our runs. We spoke of the run we’d had so far, of the beauty that surrounded us, even with this harsh rainstorm looming over us. The mountains rose high in front of us, elegantly awaiting our arrival. Despite the shivers that ran down my spine and deep into my hands and feet, I remember thinking how perfect everything was. How the world felt like it was sculpted and placed around us for us to be running at that exact moment in time.
There’s no reply. Immediately my worst-case-scenario oriented mind went to elaborate plots of me having to weave dragging devices out of the minimal amounts of clothing I was wearing and drag Luke’s heavy muscle-laden body down the mountain in the nude, or having to throw him over my shoulder and fireman carry him back to the truck. “Luke!” I shout again. He looks up at me. The face of exhaustion, fear, and anger I expect to see is instead dominated by a large tooth-filled grin. At that very moment, the rain turns to hail and begins to pelt our bodies with impressive force. The bare skin of our bodies is speckled with little red welts as the ice chunks smash into our freezing skin. We continue up and down the ridge to the main trail and back to the truck embracing the discomfort and pain of an amazing thirteen mile run. The smiles never left our faces.
I’ve been running ultramarathons since I was 19. I am now 24. In the earlier days of my running, I became acutely aware of the concept that through suffering we develop character. That comfort is the breeding ground for mediocrity. It was these theories that slowly propelled me towards the dirtbag lifestyle. To chase these amazing, attainable, and great adventures while giving up the commodities and comforts of daily life. I began to pursue discomforts in my everyday life and becoming even more prepared for emergency situations. I began to love the feeling as the coldest water available would rain upon me in the shower, as I’d ride my bicycle to work weaving through traffic trying to PR from my time the day before. I’d give up on sleep to get an additional six miles in for my daily run. I’d decide to run at night with no headlamp to teach my feet to read the terrain and react in a natural and instinctive way. I’d get up and run with the rising sun to be able to see the animals out on the trails. I began seeing food as fuel rather than gluttonous enjoyment and began to lose weight and become stronger and faster. For a period of about two months, I had quit my job and was simply running in the mountains everyday and could only afford to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday for every meal. I called this my “can you count my ribs?” stage.
It is now January 9, 2015. I am happily married, have a beautiful four month old baby girl, work full time with lots of overtime, and just bought my first permanent residence. My midsection has more insulation than it ever has had before, and my body has become weak and flabby (granted these are my comparisons to my older, more disciplined standards). I’ve worked nights for the past seven months and sleep most of my day away. Lately, I’ve been waking up earlier to work on the house. I currently have no races on the calendar, very little free time, and therefore my training is simply nonexistent. But running, for me, is more than training. It’s a passion. It’s what clears my head, calms my fears, and gives me a sense of purpose in a crazy world. Not getting to run everyday is legitimately detrimental to my daily moods.
As I stood in my shower before coming to work tonight, I remembered the thrill and exhilaration of turning the knob as cold as it will go and feeling the drastic temperature change from hot and steamy to butt-puckering frigid. So I turned the knob to cold. As soon as the temperature dropped, my body tensed, I reactively took a deep breath, and let out a pathetic scream you would imagine would seep from a baby platypus stubbing his beak on a rock. I jumped out of the way of the water as my man-goodies crawled up into my body for warmth. Immediately the water was turned back to hot. I was disgusted with my weak reaction. I was appalled with how pathetic I’ve become in these last few months. I no longer craved the discomfort. I had no desire to chase the pain like I once did.
I’ve had people tell me all sorts of things like “Just wait until that kid shows up and you’re belly will grow as big as she is.” or “You’re running career is over now.” My brother even bet my buddy Greg $1.00 a pound bet that I’ll be out of shape and fat by my daughters first birthday. At first this sort of thing bummed me out. It crushed any glimmer of motivation in me. I would think that everyone was right and I was doomed for a life of fat fatherhood. But sitting here, reminiscing on my adventures with Luke, embracing the unforseen pain, I have realized the opportunity in front of me.
God hasn’t doomed me to become a fat Sasquatch of a father, but has given me the ability to raise my daughter to recognize the benefits of being comfortable being uncomfortable. To show her that less can be better. That the world is her playground and I get to be the one to show her how to play in it. To feel that same freedom while running the mountain ridge in high winds with hail pelting our faces and recognize the true beauty of this world grinning from ear to ear. This is my promise to show my baby girl the true joys behind trials and challenges. It really is an amazing gift; To show her the meaning behind living a dirtbag lifestyle.