| Suffer-fest | Noun: An activity whereby all participants ache, agonize, ail, be at a disadvantage, be racked, deteriorate, endure, grieve, languish, and writhe. But by co-misery, yet cohesiveness will have experienced a grand time.
Why do we suffer? It is a question we all ask ourselves at some point in our respective endeavors. Whether through elective activities like ultrarunning or a job we despair, we each face our own sufferfest. As a runner, I am acutely aware of this term and the numerous peaks and valleys running has led me through over the last five years.
Some of my suffering you’d expect; injuries, exhaustion, a semi-constant questioning of why I put myself through months of grueling training and early morning wake-ups all for an elected activity. But over the years this kind of "suffering" has led me to some of my most personal and fulfilling moments. I vividly remember the moment I finished Angeles Crest 100 -- the journey to get there, and the utter elation of crossing that finish line -- still gives me goosebumps to this day. My worldview took a tectonic shift knowing I had just accomplished a goal that I had spent years striving and shaping my body to achieve, not to mention not finishing my first attempt at Pine to Palm the year before. The moment I finished, however, it all came together and made perfect sense. I understood my world and saw so clearly what made me happy.
Very simply put, I put my body, mind and time into such a demanding activity because it makes me shit-eating-grin happy. It is a piece of happiness that is indescribable, a pleasure that can't be replicated by a smartphone notification, a promotion at a job, or a meal at a nice restaurant. It is a deep down, earned, and unknown happiness and the search for this feeling is why I suffer. Most of the time I can't believe I found it -- this secret happiness -- but when I am there, the world makes sense and I can achieve anything I set out to do.
But this happiness can be fleeting, and it comes and goes. Sometimes I flow into it on a training run, while other times I suffer away for months battling injury and a growing desire to slow down and calm down. I have experienced the highest form of this pleasure three distinct times, each during and following the 100-mile races I have finished. The elation is not something that is guaranteed or given but earned over months of sweaty training sessions (sometimes for an hour other times for half a day), all building to a single effort of 100 miles.
Over the past few months of my willing sufferfest, I have experienced some of my best highs and lowest lows. My constant, however, is my daily run. It is there for me to suffer through, enjoy and I know it will be there no matter what is going on in life. To help me figure things out, or cause me pain and make me question why I do it. Running has been called a microcosm of life, but for me, they are not separate, they are one in the same and inexplicably intertwined.
Even now, after months of great training, I was able to come out to Colorado three weeks early to acclimate for Leadville 100. Seemingly out of nowhere in my last long run, I started experiencing pain in my left quadriceps. Chalking it up to a sign it was time to taper, I ramped things down, but on an easy run yesterday the pain flared back up. As I suffered through my hour run, I bounced between fear for my race, agony over this perplexing last-minute injury that could wreck my goals, and total frustration that I could get injured two-weeks away from running Leadville when I feel like I am in the best shape of my running career! How unfair? How ironic? How utterly bullshit. How absolutely like life. I called my coach, talked things out and hashed together a plan. Whether my quad heals in time for the race is irrelevant. Life is a sufferfest; things don't go as we plan, we ride the wave and can either go with the flow or suffer through against the current.
I chose to go with the flow and enjoy the sufferfest for all its glory. I shut down my running, am spending most of my waking time resting, stretching, heating and trying all the self-care remedies I can think of to get my quad ready for August 19th (not an easy thing to do when staring at the beautiful mountains here in Leadville!). Whether it heals up and I can go out and perform at Leadville, or I experience debilitating pain that forces me to stop on race day, it will be a sufferfest. I embrace it, am eager for it, and know it is another necessary step in this epic journey.