This year with trail running and racing, I decided to go “all-in”. It is time for me, not because I have the ability or the means or anyone’s approval, but because I am ready.
For me this process started long ago.
There was a time in my life when I was a fun-junkie. When youth stacks you up against a rock, or a wave, or a mountain, you most definitely are all-in. To an extent. For that moment perhaps, when all your purpose and planning is measured against one solitary fundamental: how fun is this going to be?
Accordingly, my first real profession as a wildland firefighter was birthed out of the need for cash to maintain my winter lifestyle. You can’t hit up the slopes 100+ days a year on zero funds, and I was tired of working my winters as a underpaid snowboarding coach for overprivileged brats. So instead I lived renting shabby rooms with a myriad of personality-disordered youths revolting against college and whatever lifestyle their parents expected of them, and I worked endless summer hours in a blue-collar pseudo-job with a bunch of other deviants. All so I could afford some winter months off on the mountain.
At the epicenter of this lifestyle was a community of people who understood and respected living for the sake of experience. Some got good at it, making their passion into a profession, and moved through life easily. They went about like they had no cares in the world outside their sport, their appearance, their cool friends, and their leisure. And the rest hit the 9-5 like “the world ain’t fair so what else am I going to do?” But for whatever reason, I’ve never taken one of these sides easily. I’ve never been good enough at anything to get paid for doing what I love, and I’ve never worked a 9-5.
But I got wise. Perhaps too soon, I realized I was wasting the brains God gave me to work myself into the ground for meager wages in less-than-cush environmental conditions. I figured I could make twice as much money doing half the physical labor if I got educated. So I did.
But what about that essential element of the short years between leaving the parent’s nest and settling into your own: having fun enjoying your youth? What about asinine dreams and overinflated aspirations? What about the days when you can live on nothing and experience everything? What about that? Why do we lose that?
What about the days when you can live on nothing and experience everything?
Today, I get much more criticism than I ever did as stupid kid living the dream in a mountain town without walls. The same people who encourage me to put myself “out there,” now criticize me for hiring a coach or traveling internationally to a race I have very little potential to win. Why?
You only live once. You only have the ability to run for tens to hundreds of miles once, if ever. So why on earth would you give that up for cable access and a gym membership? Why? We never did when we were in our twenties. We knew how far our crap-mobile would get on $20 and that’s where we went. We lived on oatmeal, ramen, and mac-n-cheese so we could spend all day outside doing what we loved. We climbed rocks without ropes, we hit jumps without helmets. We were stupid. We slept on the ground and we ate what we had when we could. We went without. We didn’t care. We understood that our gear was shoddy, pieced together, and falling apart, and we didn’t let it get us down. We lived to live, like life may end, so we lived it in the now. We looked like goons, acted like gapers, and laughed our asses off doing it anyway. We tried and sometimes we failed. Then we tried again. Why can’t we still support each other and pump each other up like we did, without the constant need to out-do, over-do, compare-contrast, cut-down, and over-run?
We lived to live, like life may end, so we lived it in the now.
Because we’re not in our twenties anymore?
When I started running regularly I was nearly 30, and it was mostly to cleanse myself of the hours of sit-time I was spending in university, in toxic old buildings under fluorescent lights, putting in my time until I could afford one thing: more freedom. As often said: freedom is not free. Work buys freedom in our country. Some people die to protect our freedom. And some of us take that gift, and use it to buy our ability to sit around in comfortable chairs and complain about what we don’t have, what other people do have, and why we deserve more. Because we are self-righteous and self-entitled, and fundamentally tired of working for something we don’t fully understand as an enormous blessing: the freedom to live.
But this season, I’m going all-in with running. Not because it’s my job, or because I’m the best, but because I want to live my life while I have one. I am being criticized for this, but I don’t care. I am blessed to be alive, and I know it more than anyone. Despite mortgage and school-loans and bills and lack-of-elite-status, I’m going to run what I want, because there is absolutely no guarantee I will ever get the chance to again. And yes I’m going into debt, that’s part of going all-in. And yes, I’m going alone, but that’s part of going all-in. And yes, I’m making sacrifices, because that’s part of going all-in. And yes, I may fail, and that too is all part of going all-in.
I’m going to run what I want, because there is absolutely no guarantee I will ever get the chance to again
Lets face it: there is only a small faction of people who get paid to run trails or be race directors, and their lifestyles are over-publicized so we will continue to have a romantic infatuation with this sport. I have no fancy shops or local fans or big-money sponsors giving me travel budgets or escorting me around remote islands, or putting me up in plush pads with massage and meals before the next photo shoot or press conference. I have no throngs of fans worshiping my every move, or nodding understandingly while I condescendingly laugh about how demanding my race schedule is and how inconvenient it is to be flown all over the world to race. To some, my lack of all of this is perfectly good proof that I am wasting my time. And: I don’t care! Because that’s all part of going all-in.
Let’s be real: some of us may not be alive at the end of this season or even this week. So why would I wait for someone to tell me I’m good enough to experience life? Why would I wait for someone to pay for my ticket to run somewhere new? There is no certificate from God that says I will be free of cancer at the end of the year, or that I will be able to walk down the street tomorrow without being killed by a car. No matter how diligently I go about punching my ticket or paying my bills, that certificate does not exist.
I know this now.
Live life now like it may end, because eventually it will, and you have no idea how soon.
Author’s note: I wrote this piece before I heard about the recent tragic loss of Jens Anderson of Bozeman, Montana. A son, brother, husband, photographer, skier, trail runner: a great man. Although I did not know him personally, the trail running world is small and interconnected. I hesitated to publish this out of shock and respect. But because this writing was born out of my own struggles to say goodbye to loved ones, I think it is evermore timely. My heart goes out to Peder Anderson, fellow contributor to Montana Trail Crew, and his family and friends. Rest in peace Jens.
This is dedicated to Michael Patrick Kelly II and Adrienne Corti. I’m still brought to my knees sometimes thinking of what the world is missing without you. But I’m going to keep trying to stay on my feet because that’s what you would do for me. I miss you so much.