There is something I have been meaning to tell you for quite some time. I have kept it under wraps for a few months. I suppose it was only a matter of time before you were going to find out anyway, so it is probably better for me to reveal it upfront.
Don’t worry, it’s nothing too heavy or too serious. It is just that I am sick and tired of being told that I am mad, or depressed, or in the middle of my very own midlife crisis, and as a result I tend not to talk about it.
So here it is: I am an ultra runner.
There you go. It’s out there. Are you still here? Are you going to lecture me or cut me off? Let me know.
Last time I told a friend, he never talked to me again. He said something like ‘most runners have mental issues, and are using running to manage their condition’. What a shitty comment! Because if running helps someone who is depressed, then surely it’s a good thing, right? That said, I don’t think that I am depressed anyway (surely I would know if I were?). So why did he have this urge to judge me? I simply don’t get it. I am just me.
Running feels completely natural to me. And before you ask, I am not a champion or anything. In fact, I don’t care about times and races. Of course, I have done (and still do) the occasional 10k, half, marathon or ultra. But I never win (if you absolutely need numbers -and I know that some of you do-I usually am in the top 10-15%). But the thing is, I just want to finish and enjoy the journey. To me, running is the purest way of going from A to B. I don’t care about the rest, I think that it just makes things unnecessarily complicated. And most of the time I run on my own anyway.
How did it all happen? I don’t know. It was always there, I suppose, and I didn’t want to see it. When I was around 9, my family used to spend a lot of time in remote piece of forest we owned. As I was finding it incredibly boring, I used to go back home running and walking along the narrow road. Initially with my mum, then on my own. It was about 20km from where we lived. We were going there several times a week.
As a student, I once did a marathon in Vexin – a beautiful region South of Paris. At the end of the competition, the bus that should have taken us back to our starting point had broken down. Instead of patiently waiting, I ran back. It should have rung a bell. It didn’t. I didn’t think much of it, really, because it felt completely normal. In fact, I completely forgot about it, started a job and a family, and became fat (sorry, I am telling it as it is: as explained in my last post, it is my French side).
Of course I tried to go and run again a few times over the last 20 years or so, but I didn’t really like the way others were running, and it made me feel uncomfortable because I felt that I had to comply with some unwritten rules. The thing is, in Paris or in London, if you run, you need to wear flashy colours and expensive pieces of equipment. You need an iPod with adequate playlists, and of course a garmin. You need to shout it from the rooftops from Day 1, and devise a robust training plan. Oh, and if you want to be taken seriously you also need to discuss your injuries, or where you hurt. That’s what makes a serious runner. What is even better is to post your PBs everywhere, and possibly subscribe to a site that will keep a public record of them.
Here is the thing: that’s not how I run. As in: not at all. Running with such constraints scares the hell out of me. Don’t be offended if it’s your way to run, it’s just not mine. Because to me, it’s all about the connection to nature, and nothing else matters. I want to be part of the bigger picture. I want to experience this feeling of being where I belong, of being in sync with the earth and the air. No need for expensive equipment to do so: I just put my good old trainers on and run. I don’t listen to any music, because I want to listen to the sound of the wind in the branches, and be aware of the beauty of my surroundings. Last month, I even saw a couple of birds arguing on a treetop; they were very angry and hitting each other with their beaks. Witnessing such an altercation made me incredibly happy, because I had managed to be silent enough not to stop them. I was really part of the forest.
As an added bonus, I have never had any serious pain or injuries. I believe that this is because I have huge respect for my surroundings, and try to run as discreetly as possible. Of course my legs hurt after a day of running. Sometimes I have terrible blisters. Sometimes I fall. But I carry on. After a few steps I don’t feel the pain anyway. In short, I run to enjoy the whole experience. Nothing more. Nothing less.
As I eventually managed to get back in shape (better late than never!), the itch to run came back with a vengeance. I started running again about seven months ago, and realised that, once I had started, I couldn’t be stopped. The connection to nature was still there, and was still keeping me going. After all these years, I didn’t think much of running long distances, like 50 or 60k. Quite the opposite, in fact. The longer I ran, the better I felt. Especially in a forest, a park or along a river. I could still go the distance. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had changed -except my age of course.
I was struggling to explain my way of running but eventually could put a name on it: ‘ultra’ . It made me feel much better: I was not the only one (and actually most ultra runners are way more talented than me!). So what now ? Well, I want to run the world. Next stops: New York and Bali. And I’d love to run in Arizona over the winter. Watch this space. And fear not: this is not a running blog, this is about my journey to realise my potential, an running is just a part of it.
In short, I have stopped ignoring who I was. And it feels great. What about you: have you had similar experiences? How did you realise your potential?