“Life’s not a marathon, it’s an ultra marathon.” - some anonymous wizard
The past Sunday and into the early hours of Monday morning, I, along with a stellar group of friends, ran (and hiked) the length of the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica mountains. Over the 69 miles that lay between start and finish, we saw the sun rise, the wind blow, the bees buzz, the snakes slither, the trees tussle, the clouds part, the marine layer disappear and reappear, the sun set, and the stars shine. We felt our mouths dry, our stomachs clench, our feet blister, our knees whine, and our bodies do everything they could to carry us through to the end, which luckily they did and we were all unscathed albeit exhausted - and it was riveting.
I’ve had my eye on the Backbone for about two years now, since I was told such a long stretch of trail existed right in my back yard. For one reason or another - rowing, moving, shin splints, intimidation - I hadn’t made the chance to take on such a distance, but the prospect lingered in my mind like dust on a pair of Altras. My first and last ultra up until last weekend was the Ray Miller 50k, which I ran for myself as a post rowing challenge and to commemorate my late teammate, Natalie Puente, who had died that weekend the year prior. To honor Natalie, I wore a purple and turqoise ribbon on my pack, the ribbon representing suicide awareness & prevention, and my goal of the run was to keep moving - a physical manifestation of what I wished she could’ve done with her life. Upon finishing the run and returning home to my then apartment, I was greeted by my mum who had flown out to tell me in person that we had lost my best friend to suicide the night prior. Everything went dark for me.
An ultra marathon is any distance longer than a traditional marathon (26.2 miles or 42 kilometers). Anyone who has completed or even attempted an ultra event knows that the likelihood that it will be all running is slim because these events can be arduous, steep, tiring, and then on top of that they’re long, taking multiple hours at minimum. The feelings one experiences during such an activity is amazing, freeing almost. Your psyche and body feel the rush of runners’ high, the lag of fatigue, the ache of hunger or thirst, the doubt of finishing, then a second wind and this repeats over and over until the end in some version or another. As the geography around you shifts and you weave around different mountain passes and up to peaks from valleys, your breath is taken away by the scenery of the Earth and the spirit of the like minds who accompany you. This past weekend my immediate crew consisted of nine people - one of which I had never met, two of which I had met once about two years ago, three more of which I met within the last month, and three who have stood by me for years. With a rotating door of companions, reliable food and water stops, and a heartwarming feeling knowing so many people stood willing to help me given the chance, this ultra was the best it could have been. Dare I say, the first 27 miles were ‘blissful’. I began the day thinking this attempt was my personal resilience run (and, yes, it counted), my ribbon again proudly pinned on the left shoulder strap, but as the hours ticked by I felt more joy and awe than pain and suffering (there was plenty of that by mile 45, don’t worry). I was ready and open to experiencing all the feelings again, as it has been and still is at times a slow crawl back from a dismal depression onset by the news that my boy had left this world. What I didn’t know at the time was that that didn’t mean I was alone here.
So, friends, on whatever you choose to embark - whether it be a 20 hour run in the mountains, a move to a new place, or making the choice to wake up everyday and try again - may you be greeted with the love, support, and enthusiasm of the great friends, strangers, passerbyers, and fellow beings that showed up that day and chose to share a moment with you. May you find the meaning you are looking for and the love that you deserve. May you remember the ones who couldn’t be here today, and embrace the ones who are. May you impart good vibes on those with whom you connect. And may you remember, it’s all in good fun.