I’ve recently felt very lost and aimless and realised it’s because I haven’t been on a running adventure for almost five months. I’ve tried very hard so replace running with cycling but I have to be honest. It’s just not the same. I started wondering why I love running so much more than cycling, and actually it doesn’t make any sense. On my bike I feel confident and I’m actually not a bad cyclist, whereas running is a whole different story. I’m pretty clumsy, not that fast and have a massive fear of heights, which is not a good combination at all if you’re a trail runner. With this in mind I did a bit of thinking and realised running is so much more than a sport or way to get fit, it’s more than a mere activity. It’s what sets my soul on fire.
I think the thing I love most about running is that it cuts everybody down to the same size and what you do for a living, where you come from, how much money you have or what type of running shoes you wear doesn’t matter. The best example of this is at the KAEM (250km self-supported race through the Kalahari) where everybody share the same very basic sleeping quarters with absolutely no luxuries. The first time I did it in 2014 I realised I was sharing a camp site with medical doctors, CEO’s, businessmen, house wives, bankers and average joes. Sitting there on the sand we were all equal. Money, possessions or social standing did not make the sand more comfortable or the sun less hot. Who you are or where you come from does not influence the hardships or elation you go through during an ultra-distance event.
I think sport in any form offers you the opportunity to escape temporarily from your work, personal problems or stress, but nothing is as basic as running. You can put on your running shoes at the drop of the hat and head in any direction heading towards escape. It’s uncomplicated and simple. These moments give me the strength to face day to day challenges because I can always look forward to the next time I get to leave everything behind and head to the trails or hit the tar. Not many people can say they have stood in the middle of the desert alone and unafraid in the dead of night or on a snow covered mountain at 3000m above sea level with only your thoughts as company. Being in remote and unreachable places on my own allows me to be honest with myself about how I feel and face what is happening in my life without the buzz of everyday life dumbing me down. Nobody is watching or expecting anything from you while you’re running and I don’t think there is a way to get closer to real freedom. Even though I’m currently heavy and unfit it still feels like the most natural thing for me to do and I miss spending hours going in direction unknown towards an exciting destination.
The people I have met on the trails are all people I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life. It’s not the same on all trails but there are certain magical events where bonds are forged that will last a life time. My favourite events are all events where I walked away with friends that I still stay in contact with even though we are continents apart and will maybe never see each other again. On multi day events where you cry, throw up and don’t get to shower you really get to know somebody for who they really are. I don’t think there is another sport where you get tested or have your soul exposed the same way as with distance running. The type of people that think running silly long distances over mountains and through deserts are probably considered strange if not crazy by most people, but strange and crazy are my kind of people. The difficulty of the sport strips away any pretence and when you’re reduced to a sweaty, cursing pile of sadness you can’t pretend to be somebody else and people that stick around and become sweaty cursing piles of sadness with you are the ones you should keep. To put this into beautiful perspective I have to mention my dear friend Bakiye Duran from Turkey that I met in the Kalahari in 2014. We don’t speak each other’s language and we have never even had a conversation but if you can be friends with somebody without understanding a word they say and keep in contact across continents, it speaks volumes for what brings you together in the first place. Running. That honest friendship is the type of friendships that last!
Exploring impossible and improbable places
Trail running has taken me to places where not many people have or will ever go. On foot you can go where bicycles or motorbikes can’t. You can go through caves and up mountains, through river gorges and across deserts. Once you’ve laid eyes on the magnificent secrets hidden along the trails you can’t just go back to being normal. All of a sudden staring at the wall our out the window is no longer enough. I can’t imagine how somebody can be content with just going to the mall every weekend or watch endless movies while there is so much to explore out there.
Trail running give normal people the opportunity to do incredible things, and once you’ve done those incredible things there is no going back. The trails don’t require you to have a lot of money or to be incredibly skilled. You don’t even have to be that fit, fast, cool or important. You just need to be there, on the trails and right then you become part of a community of people that share so much more than just a sport. I have gained so much perspective these past 5 months where it’s been absent from my life. I miss adventure the same way I miss my family when I’m away or my friends when I haven’t seen them for a long time. Running is my best friend, church, anti-depressant, therapist, escape and so much more. It’s for this reason that I have decided to start the slow crawl back to fitness. I am sure if adventure disappears from my life I will turn into a person I’m not going to like much, so the importance of this journey back to my old self is incredibly important. If I plan it right, it may even produce a few adventures of its own.
See you on the trails!