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  • Writer's pictureSean

Start. Stop. Start. Stop

April 20, 2024 - We put a pen to paper on this day. It's been two years since I last wrote on this blog. That is something. Why not? I am primarily lazy, with a mix of fear and the list of excuses I manage to make that I carry around daily—resistance, as Steven Pressfield likes to call it. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Story of my blog.

But. I'm here today. Writing once again. Trying out a new workflow to see if I can recapture the essence of why I did this in the first place. Those two years of not writing were effectively two years of listening to myself, making excuses and then trying to decide what I would do. Can you believe that? Two years of doing nothing! It should frustrate you to read that, yet we all seem to have those pockets in our lives. The things we tell ourselves we want to do but then find all the reasons why we don't.

So bear with me. My goal is simple (at least, this is what I've convinced myself to hit the keyboard finally).

I'm here to learn. I'm here to explore and figure out who I am, and along the way, perhaps I can impart a little wisdom from what I've learned. Namely in the form of the books I've read and ideas I've built up over the past forty years. 

As I noted above, I'm attempting to work with a new workflow that brings me closer to what I read and, hopefully, to what I write. How does that work? I finished this book this morning, so it's fresh in my mind. In the past, it could be up to two months before I revisit a book and then hope to decipher my notes into something reasonable. It makes the timing a challenge. I'm also taking notes differently. I've highlighted and annotated the book as I read, and now I'm downloading all that info into my notability app. From there, it's coming into this blog post. So it's all happening simultaneously to hopefully be more efficient at truly remembering the ideas that stuck with me. 

Moving on.

For those unfamiliar with Dean Karnazes, he is considered The Ultramarathon Man and for good reason. He helped to define and bring the sport to the mainstream with his first book, The Ultramarathon Man and has gone on to compete in most of the biggest endurance races while also being one of the sport's most prominent ambassadors. You could say that the sport has hit the mainstream now. 

This book looks back at Dean's life while capturing his work leading up to competing in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in his mid-fifties, having completed it numerous times before but now facing his age and what that means for him and the sport. Part treatise on running, part autobiography, this book captures the pain and humour of the sport and Dean's life while also grappling with what it means to run, why we do it, and what happens when we get older and perhaps can't compete at the same level. I've been on a slow trajectory towards running myself, so sprinkling in books on running has helped to fuel that new (I almost called it passion, but I'm not willing to go there yet).

"To me, running is a grand adventure, an intrepid outward exploration of the landscape and a revealing inward journey of the self. These are the things that keep me going, the lust for exploration and the quest to better comprehend who I am and what I'm made of."

I admire this a lot. I tend to think about reading the same way, minus its physical nature; reading takes me on similar paths. Exploring various topics and ultimately trying to understand the world and myself better. This blog is an outlet for that experiment. Dean finds those types of answers out on the trails and roads when there is no one else there but yourself. What do you tell yourself when you are 80 miles into a 100-mile run and don't think you have anything left to give?

Dean often reflects on the inner dialogue during a race and the ups and downs that occur throughout. Runners can go through some of the most extreme emotions during the race, but one thing I was not expecting was the feeling that can come after:

"I was particularly susceptible to post race bouts of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Nothing I did was enough. Ever. A disparaging inner voice interminably whispered in my ear that I was a pathetic failure, a fraud. My performances were lamentable."

It's not what you expect from someone who can run for 100 miles at a time. An invincibility seems to make these individuals seem superhuman, and yet, there it is, just like when we deal with imposter syndrome or feel like we aren't good enough to do what we want. It doesn't matter who you are in a lot of cases. Two years is a long time not to write a post. There is a strong sense of Imposter Syndrome, mixed with 'why bother' and 'who cares' all layered on top. It's easy to run away from those feelings and stay away. Dean reflected on this idea regarding running as a form of escape.

"Running is a form of escapism; few runners would. Deny that. The metaphor of running away from one's problems is hardly allegory, and it was certainly the case for me. Though why is that such a bad thing? Having a release valve allows the buildup of toxic fumes to be vented periodically. … Running could be at once irresponsible and responsible in this regard, a way to escape the madness of modernity and reemerge refreshed and washed clean."

I suppose the benefit of running is that the escapism into it still leads to some benefits, namely health and the release valve mentally, as Dean notes. However, not writing tends to lead us into other distractions unless we are doing something productive like working out. Social media and our technology are big ones. 'Well, I'm not going to write on this thing so I may as well use it for other things.' Pulling ourselves away, though, and focusing on what is important is so important in today's day and age. There are infinite distractions. There is only a finite amount of time to do the things that bring us alive.

Dean, although called to running, realized as time went on that it wasn't the Running that he loved as much as the pursuit itself—all the other things that come with running and the training to reach new heights and accomplishments.

"Running had taught me that the pursuit of a passion mattered more than the passion itself. If you loved basket weaving, be the best darn basket weaver you could. Pour your heart and soul into your craft and it will bring you immense fulfillment. Running was my thing."

I think about reading and working out in the same regard. Pursuing something is where we spend most of our time anyway. What is running in a race without the hundreds of hours we put in and the struggle to get there? It can be challenging to recognize that, though. It can be difficult to realize that we often enjoy the pain and suffering, but when we quit, we ignore those aspects. Writing is complex, yet I'm sitting here with a book open and a beer beside me (Cabin Brewing's latest in their Super Saturation Hazy IPA series, Giga Saturation; it's fantastic, by the way). What isn't there to love? Why wouldn't I want to spend more time doing this? 

"Our actions in life ultimately shape who we are, though perhaps our inactions exert more of an everlasting influence. Many people are not happy with what they do, yet possibly worse, many people simply tolerate what they do and never take the initiative to do anything about it. Either out of fear, complacency, or sheer exhaustion, they go through the motions day after day of living a life that is less than what they'd hoped. Inaction becomes permanent, and suddenly it's too late. Perhaps the only tragedy approaching that of a young life cut short is a long life unlived."

Damn. There it is. Tolerating inactivity seemed to have been my jam for the last couple of years. Dean sees it. He sees it in himself, yet if he laces up those shoes, he will push that all aside and get out there and do what he loves. He has built the habit and recognizes the internal challenges, yet chooses to run anyway. What are you metaphorically running away from right now? For me, it was writing. It's more things, but I'm here trying to get that first step underneath me again. 

As the book winds down, Dean leaves us with some final wisdom that he has taken from ultramarathon running.

"I think we run 100 miles through the wilderness because we are changed by the experience. What takes a monk a month of meditation we can achieve in twenty-four hours of running. With each footstep comes a slow diminishment of self, the prickly edges of ego whittled down until something approaching the divine emerges. Even during a race with no shortage of human folly, great moments of clarity are achieved. Running an ultramarathon builds character, but it also exposes it. We learn about ourselves, we gain deeper insights into the nature of our character, and we are transformed by these things. To know thyself, one must push thyself."

The slow diminishment of self and the whittling down of ego. Meditation can get us there, but Dean is correct; it takes much longer, even years. Perhaps the destructive nature of running 100 miles brings us closer to the edge we need to see ourselves at. We all believe we are standing at the edge because we are busy, but as David Goggins says, we are probably only at 40%. 

I'll leave you with the final piece from Dean's book I captured. It's his look at running overall and the lessons he has learned over the years distilled down into a few sentences. Replace running with anything. Replace running with writing. 

"Running is not about racing or winning, it is about the human challenge and the exploration of self. Running is a conversation, an education, a revolution, an awakening. We discover who we are through the movement of our bodies, and there are lessons to be learned in running alone much as there are in running large races. But in the end, the experience is about you and the trail. We are not the sum of our achievements, but an ongoing story that continues to be told with each day, with each step."

What is your story today? My story is that I decided to flip open my iPad and write a few words. To chase after this voice inside me that says why don't you keep writing on your blog? Why don't you try writing a few words? I don't know where it comes from, but it keeps asking, so here I am. It's not 100 miles, but perhaps there is a parallel in the discomfort felt. And like running, we can show up each day and train/write. We are an ongoing story, so if you are reading this, you, too, have a choice to pick up whatever you are sitting on. The trail isn't going to run itself.

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