I’m a little behind the eight ball today – a sure sign of enjoying the long weekend. I slept in (past 9am) for the first time in who knows how long. When in training, I find extra sleep to be a true luxury.
On Saturday, with the long weekend ahead, I drove up to Tennessee to spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains. Surrounded by endless miles of singletrack and nice weather, my running shoes were itching to be used, and my body was developing a nervous tick only remedied by covering some training time.
I decided to do something a bit different – a run/hike along the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Clingman’s Dome and back – 16 miles roundtrip of some rolling but mostly technical terrain. Somewhat of a lofty goal with a 4.5 hr (self-imposed) time limit and almost 2000 ft of climbing elevation (Clingman’s Dome is the highest point on the entire AT). But I think we all need a little adventure every now and then, so I grabbed my hydration pack and some snacks and off I went.
The opportunity to conquer a new milestone, to accomplish something we weren’t sure we could handle, is always a source of supreme motivation and joy. It acts as fire beneath our feet (or maybe that was just my hotspots and blisters). I think every once in awhile, the best thing we can do for ourselves is something off the beaten path. Immerse ourselves in the extraordinary. It gives us a chance to align our focus, to reignite a passion for life. After all, isn’t this why we run? We run because in some existential way it allows us to experience life. Which is to say, running is an avenue for our spirit to become fully alive, or it is a way for us to improve our physical health.
Testing myself over that terrain was completely joyful. And I won’t lie, a bit hurtful – my knees are swollen and screaming today. But what I reaped from the experience goes far beyond mileage in my training log. I took a lot out of my legs, but taking in the panoramic view at 6,643 ft (and knowing I got myself to this height) is a spectacular site worth a little suffering. And let me never forget to be humble in my pursuits. During my adventure I passed a 4 pack of runners doing an ultra training run – covering the entire length of the AT in the Smokies in one day - a mere 73 miles.
Each of us, in our own ways, need to find ways to stretch ourselves every once in awhile. We should find ways to liven up the doldrums of our training, to breathe new life into our pursuits for health and happiness. For some it may be a special 5k run/walk with friends – a fun affair that sets the adrenaline going and leads to a sense of satisfaction in finishing. For others it may be a long traverse through the woods.
What’s your epic adventure? How do you experience the extraordinary?