The Horizon was Upside Down

I’ve been reading a lot about ultrarunners.  They push their bodies into agony and train their minds to overcome their pain.

They volunteer to suffer.  Seek it out.  Embrace it.

Hillary Allen did that.  A world class ultrarunner racing on a mountaintop she lost her footing, crashed to the ground, fractured both wrists, several ribs and sliced her head open.

Doctors told her she might never run again.

But she did.

Reading about Hillary sent me to YouTube, and a video called Redemption.  I was about 30 seconds in, when my daughter Molly scrambled up on the couch, insisting I turn off the “boring” show so she could watch her new favourite cartoon, PJ Masks.

Molly cut her knee earlier this week.  She bled and cried, while mom and dad cringed at the chunk of gravel embedded under the skin.

The gravel is out, the knee is healing, and Molly is back to tearing around the neighbourhood park and scaling the ropes of the jungle gym.

I didn’t turn on PJ Masks.  I told Molly that Hillary had fallen and hurt herself badly.  But she’d healed and was running again.  We watched Redemption together.  Over and over.  Molly kept asking me to go back to the part where Hillary Allen talked about her fall and said, “the ground was pulled out from under me” and “the horizon was upside down.”  As she fell Hillary thought she would die.  As I write this Molly is sprinting back and forth in our living room, holding my headlamp, pretending to be Hillary running in the dark.

This week the horizon turned upside down for some very close friends.  They weren’t running.  No wrists were fractured.  But their son received a life altering diagnosis.  A diagnosis that will affect his life, every minute of every day.  That will affect the lives of his parents every minute of every day.

They don’t deserve it.  As a family they have already sacrificed and struggled, pulling together, working to overcome another diagnosis.  Also life changing.  Also something that is always with them.  It is so unfair.

“The ground was pulled out from under me.”  A regular reader of this blog had the world pulled out from under her a few years ago.  Members of her family were murdered.   She is a writer.  I suspect that sustains her in her darkest hours.

None of these stories are mine to tell.  Not Hillary’s, not my friends, not the regular reader’s.

Not Terry’s either.  I worked with Terry ten years ago.  She was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known.  She didn’t wear it on her sleeve.  Her profession, her career, her success required strength.  Steel.

But Terry melted around those who had nothing.  Addicts, sex-trade workers, the mentally ill. Those for whom every day was a struggle to survive.  Those who are so easy for us to drive by and ignore without giving a second thought.  I do it, all too often.

Terry used to remind me to treat everyone with respect and kindness.  Everyone.  Because you never know what they are going through.

Soon after she retired Terry was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  She fought hard.  Valiantly.  With dignity.  And passed away less than a year later.

There seems to be a consensus among ultrarunners, that the pain they experience is worth it.  Perhaps not in the moment.  But in the process, the preparation for the race.  And in the aftermath.  Real life lessons learned from voluntary suffering.

Suffering.  Utrarunners seek it out.

Suffering.  It seeks us out, throughout our lives.  Ground crumbles at our feet.  Horizons turn upside down.

I had no idea how to respond to our friends this week.  No words can heal what they’re going through.  I sent them my love.  I think about them.  They are strong and brave and they will need every ounce of that strength and bravery in the days, weeks and years ahead.

Their horizon is upside down.  I pray for healing in their lives.  For love and health and family to prevail.  For their horizon to right itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Essentials

I read. I write. I run. Ideally. But not as often as I’d like.

I’m a husband, I’m a father.  Every second, every hour, every day.

I work. And commute.

That’s my life, in three lines and thirty words.

Three lines, thirty words and twenty-four hours to fit them all in. Precious time. Never-ending but never enough. For the essentials, or the non-essentials. Like the ten cedar fence panels that need to be stained. Start to finish that would take me about thirty hours, spread out over many days. Thirty hours I don’t have. Or more accurately, thirty hours I don’t want to carve out of my schedule. Sacrificing essentials.

A fifty mile run is starting to feel essential.

Run, jog, climb, walk, shuffle. 12 hours. Or 14. Maybe longer. Through heat and humidity. Or rain and wind and mud. Discomfort. Pain. Chafing. Boredom. Cramps. Nausea.

A finish line.

Exhilaration.

The allure of the 50 Miler. An allure I can’t entirely account for. But I’m drawn to the 50. Maybe because I’m closing in on fifty myself, running 50 miles before turning fifty feels like a worthy goal. Maybe because it’s a challenge that seems hard, but doable. I might fail – in the training, or on race day. But I might succeed. I think I can succeed. I’d like to find out.

But I haven’t registered yet. I’m not even sure which race I’d attempt.

Maybe the same one my brother did several years ago. He suffered, finished and inspired. He ran all 50 miles with a Yoda doll on his back. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” My brother the Yoda runner made a lot of people smile that day. The trail run is called Sulphur Springs. It’s just outside Hamilton. My dad grew up there. My parents were newlyweds there. I was born there. Went to university there. Hamilton is special. The farther it recedes in the distance the more special it gets.

Sulphur Springs is in a little town called Ancaster. I did my first ever 10 kilometer run in Ancaster. Twenty-two years ago. Part of training for my first marathon. I remember finishing, and hurting, and wondering how could I possibly run four of those back to back. Plus another 2.1 kilometers just for some extra agony. But I did. Learned that it was possible. Running rewards training, and miles, and minutes and hours.

There are good reasons not to do it.

Thousands of reasons. Thousands of dollars. Flight, hotel, rental car.

Hundreds of reasons. Miles. Hundreds and hundreds of miles required. To train my body and my mind. But when a one hour run is a luxury, how do I justify a three hour run? Or four hours – two days in a row? Time away from the ones I love. Days, hours, minutes, seconds.

I think a lot about those seconds.

About selfishness.

About the distinction between being true to myself and being responsible.

About the essentials.

Should a daughter grow up seeing her father doing the things that he loves? Or does she grow up and remember that he was away for endless hours. Not with her. Choosing not to be with her. When I want more than anything to be with her.

I started writing this essay months ago, and set it aside until today. Coincidentally it’s Father’s Day 2019. An incredibly special, still surreal day for me, a man amazed that I am blessed to be a father.

I’m awake early. On purpose. Some quiet time before my daughter wakes up.  I can hear her singing in her crib. I’m too far away to make out the words, but it’s probably a song from Frozen, the Disney movie. The one all little girls seem to love. I can’t tell you how much I love having a little daughter who loves Princess Elsa and Princess Anna. It’s one of the best things ever. She sings, and dances, and role-plays, and assembles her dolls and celebrates Coronation Day. Pure joy, and innocence.

Elsa and Anna will probably have a Coronation Day this morning. On Father’s Day 2019. I’ll be one of the invited guests.

And sometime after Coronation Day, or maybe before, I’ll put on my shorts and lace up my shoes and head out. For a ten miler. Or maybe 15. Building blocks for a 50 Miler.

Coronation Day. Father’s Day. And maybe, one day next year, Race Day – 50 Miles.

The essentials.

 

The Essentials (3)