My Final Ultramarathon: They probably should have warned me that this class might ruin my running career.

Derek and I are signed up to run the 55k (35-ish miles) Beaverhead Endurance Run in Idaho, July 13th. It is at high elevation (~5500-10,000 ft), much of it along the Continental Divide Trail, and reported to be one of the toughest races of the Pacific Northwest.

What possess me to sign us up for these things?

Well, it’s been my “thing” since I finally “found myself” circa 2007. I just loved pushing my physical limits, starting with a marathon, going quickly into triathlon,

 
Mission Bay Women’s Sprint Triathlon, 2008

Mission Bay Women’s Sprint Triathlon, 2008

 

and right to the Ironman,

 
Ironman St. George, 2010…super excited, kinda scared :-)

Ironman St. George, 2010…super excited, kinda scared :-)

 

then a 120 mile 6 day stage race in the Rockies (here’s where trail running hooked me),

 
Transrockies 2011 - Having fun in the water with my teammate, Tracie - Team Double Happiness!

Transrockies 2011 - Having fun in the water with my teammate, Tracie - Team Double Happiness!

 

followed by a 50 mile trail run up and down a mountain on the PCT,

 
At mile 44-ish, the last aid station of the PCT 50 trail run, 2012

At mile 44-ish, the last aid station of the PCT 50 trail run, 2012

 

then hiking Whitney in a day,

 
Almost there! The air was thin, and it was breezy :-)

Almost there! The air was thin, and it was breezy :-)

 

oh and mixing it up a bit with a couple of bodybuilding shows (a different kind of endurance, maybe even more painful when you include the diet).

 
NPC 2014 competition

NPC 2014 competition

Support posse group photo - NPC 2016 competition

Support posse group photo - NPC 2016 competition

 Last fall, I completed a ten-week naturalist education class to become a Canyoneer with the San Diego Natural History Museum. We lead hikes all over San Diego County, from the mountains, to the coast, in the canyons, to the desert. It was a very fun and interesting class full of information about local plants, animals, insects, habitats and Native American culture. I’ve always been drawn to nature, loved the outdoors, and loved hiking, so the class seemed like a perfect fit for me.

They probably should have warned me that this class might ruin my running career. 

 
Hiking with the Canyoneers in the desert

Hiking with the Canyoneers in the desert

 

Good thing running isn’t actually my career. I’m not that fast of a runner, but I do like to enter long distance races (if you can’t go fast, go far!). The only thing I really race is the official cut-off time. As I’ve always said, I enter to complete, not compete.

 

Well, if I was a “slow runner” before…imagine me now, stopping every few minutes to look at a flower, or a bird, tracks, or even poop on the trail. I still like the challenge of going long distance, but the reality is I don’t really have the drive anymore to “just run”. With trail running, you spend A LOT of time looking at your feet, and where to put your feet. If you spend too much time gawking at the scenery, you might break your face when you trip and it hits the trail. Just saying.

 

So yeah, you’re looking at your feet, pushing hard enough that at most times you have tunnel vision, huffing and puffing…not conducive for experiencing the details of your surroundings.

 
oooh….flower!

oooh….flower!

 

I was looking at persuing training through ANFT to become a forest therapy guide, and taking the Canyoneer class helped me solidify that decision…

As if my Canyoneer class didn’t do enough of a number on me, allow me to tell you about my recent Forest Therapy Guide training immersion. That’s right, I am on the way to becoming your friendly, local Certified Forest Therapy Guide. I thought naturalist walks made me slow down...much of forest therapy walks are spent standing or sitting still. After a week of sitting and feeling the forest and surrounding nature, then talking about it, and now spending the next five or so months carrying out my remaining assignments and projects, well you can see how this makes an interesting tug-of-war with my current ultramarathon run training.

 
On a walk during guide training

On a walk during guide training

 

I thought a lot about this quote I learned in my forest therapy guide training:

 

“I don’t think people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell

 

I think that through intense physical effort, I really felt alive. I kind of liked the pain of running (and hiking) for hours, pushing my body further and further, feeling the air get thinner when I went up a mountain, my muscles screaming while lifting weights. Pushing my body through cold, heat, snow, water, hills, fear, exhaustion…I felt alive. And I loved it. Signing up for long distance races gave me reason to go out and feel that multiple times a week, often for hours at a time.

 

Fast forward to today, with my naturalist training bringing my awareness to all of the big and little species of beings in the natural world around me, along with my forest therapy guide training bringing my awareness to myself, how my own body feels the natural world through all of its senses (beyond the basic 5!), and I feel quite alive, just standing on a trail.

 
Utah.JPG
 

Now, I look at the months of training I spend focused on my feet, the tunnel vision, getting from point A to point B, hours and hours, miles and miles and everything I’m missing along the way! Now that I am so aware of everything around me, to see, touch, smell, hear, share, love, imagine….I can’t make myself unaware, and I can’t ignore it.

 

I decided that this upcoming race will likely be my last official long-distance run. I don’t want to commit myself to anymore 4-month, or longer, training plans where I constantly feel pressure to ignore most of the things I want to check out. I want to be able to linger, experience the things that are often looked over, many of those things being profound discoveries! I’ve found a different way to feel alive, and I’m really excited about it.

 

When I graduated from my Canyoneer class last fall, I said to one of my instructors that I felt a significant change, whereas before you could say that I was separate from nature. There was nature, and there was me. The class helped me to feel like I was within nature. The path that I am currently on with my forest therapy guide training, shows me that I am nature. What a beautiful evolution.

 
Bishop pass 2.jpg
 

This is not to say I won’t push my physical limits anymore. I’ll always be an active girl, and I will still hit the gym, boot camps, run some trails, cycle, and hike up mountains.

I’ve been wanting to put these thoughts on paper for a while now, and if you have read this up to now, wow, thanks for witnessing my story. I think it is such a beautiful thing to see ourselves evolve, move in different directions, and hunt for new, meaningful experiences. I hope that in your life you are listening to your heart and your body, loving and taking care of yourself, moving toward the things you want, keeping good company, and spending time in nature.

-M

Michelle AbbeyComment