When registering for my first ultramarathon this past winter, there was no way of predicting the season that lay before me. I had imagined how the training would affect my body, but had no concept of how it would impact my mind or perspective; had no idea how it would shape my relationships; and no anticipation of the beautiful places in the world it would take me.
Looking back through the year’s photos, I came across one that captured a moment shortly after crossing the finish line of 2017’s very first race. At first glance, it is a photo of three friends, two of whom are locked in embrace with expressions of joy on their faces. In other words: a standard happy finisher’s snapshot.
A photo may be worth a thousand words, but what it can’t articulate is the story harboured beneath its image.
In this case, it is the story of a series of impulse registrations and the subsequent realization of a desperate need for training. It is the story of a Thursday morning running ritual that, even throughout the sleet, ice, and snow of a cold Canadian winter, kept its participants warm (partly from exertion, partly from genuine human connection). It is the story that led to the exploration of unforgettable trails across the continent, from Ontario to Utah to Colorado.
It is the story of budding camaraderie.
As the training routes ramped up in kilometers, the depth of our conversations followed. By race date, my training partner was no longer someone I was getting to know, but an irreplaceable friend whose time and opinion I valued greatly.
Runners were born, although some would argue it was to supplement the exchange between two conversationalists. Whether it was to participate in another race or to have an excuse to continue the Thursday morning tradition, another registration shortly followed.
Meaningful friendship was the ultimate result; building strength and endurance as runners became the byproduct.
From spring to summer, my sights began to shift from the immediate to the long-term goal. I was committed to run my first ultramarathon, and wrapping my head around 50 instead of 25 kilometers was a feat in itself.
The race commitment also meant switching gears from local to international, moderate to long-distance, and rolling hills to mountain ranges. The goals became bigger, the distances became longer, and mornings stretched into full days on the trails to accomplish what we had in mind.
The Great Range Traverse. The tallest peak in New York. Sufferfests in the name of training. Pushing challenge; chasing discomfort; seeking strength.
Above all, however, we were making memories.
Moments of hardship were shared. Retrospective laughs resounded. Tales of adventure and friendship were created.
In the weeks leading up to the race, the golden question has been asked countless times: Are you ready?
I answer simply and with all honesty: I don’t know.
One can always do more, train harder, become stronger. Whether or not I have done enough, Virginia’s Appalachia will determine.
However, while performance on race day is the outcome, training has truly been the journey.
As a result of training, I have gained a friend I can’t imagine my life without; tackled mountains with a woman who has always been an inspiration; and learned invaluable lessons of challenge and persistence, all within a 10-month period. Are such things measurable?
On our second and final training weekend in New York’s Adirondacks, my race partner and I ran to the top of Mount Marcy, the state’s highest peak. Upon reaching the summit, I looked at the plaque, taken aback at the words in front of me:
1837 – MARCY – 1937
Also known by the Indian name
TAHAWUS, meaning CLOUD-SPLITTER
Was I imagining things? Cloudsplitter: the name of the very race we were training for.
At this point I wonder if my performance this weekend even matters; in so many ways, I’ve already won.