“What are you trying to get out of it?” a friend asked me, straight faced, slightly disgusted, with zero empathy. In most polite conversations, running should be done for “fun” and no more, otherwise you are “crazy.” But I am not trying to get anything out of running, so I’m not sure why running gives me so much. Maybe I am crazy.
by Kristina Pattison
Life suddenly took an unexpected turn in May after I returned from Transvulcania. My dad called from Nevada; my step mom was in hospice with pancreatic cancer she’d been fighting since August, and he wasn’t sure how much longer she would live. I got back on an airplane the next night. We spent time with her during her final days, and helped her to the porch where she watched her last sunset. Several days later, she passed.
On the drive home, Drew and I reflected on the briefness of life, and we immediately committed to buying our first puppy, Blaze.
Puppies DO make everything better, but I was a mess mentally and spiritually. Drew left for a busy season fighting wildland fires, and I’d returned to life and work, but my training was sporadic at best. Physically, I had developed a nasty infection in a couple deep blisters before Transvulcania, which I’d ignored for weeks. By the time I saw my doctor, he had to drain the wound and put me on two antibiotics. My foot was too swollen to comfortably wear shoes or run for nearly ten weeks.
By late July, I’d withdrawn from three of my planned races including Tromsø Skyrace in Norway. After emailing my disappointing news to the Skyrunning Federation and the race director Kilian Jornet, my main sponsor expressed some concerns about me not living up to my potential this year. I felt awful for letting them down, and I needed to get my season back on track somehow, quickly.
But within a couple weeks, I got a phone call that my dad was in the emergency room in extreme pain and they found a mass on his spine. I felt my heart clench—that feeling you get when you forget to breathe for a second. Time stalls as reason catches up to emotion there is no thinking, just feeling. I put my pup in the truck and we drove south for three days.
For two weeks, a team of docs at the hospital worked to get my dad’s pain under control and determine his diagnosis. We waited. I cleaned his house, I ran, I cooked, I stayed busy. But when I couldn’t bear my pup being in a kennel anymore, I went to pick Blaze up in Utah for the weekend, and my truck started to overheat.
Meanwhile, my pup had some festering blisters on his elbows from the hot concrete kennel floor, and I’d missed a week of work and hadn’t paid my bills. So we made the hard choice to continue driving home. When we got to Montana, my dad confirmed it was stage 4 cancer.
A few days later, I headed to Big Sky for the Rut 28k with Blaze for a reprieve from life. But after a shakeout run, his elbow swelled to about the size of a tennis ball, and later that night his entire arm and paw were swollen and he was feverish. The wound turned out to be a bite he’d likely gotten playing with some dogs earlier in the week, and I felt like the worse mom ever. Worst daughter ever. Worst friend ever. Worst runner ever.
Blaze whimpered and tossed and turned all night. His amazing vet, Marlie Johnson had met us at 11PM to give him a look and some meds, but by morning we were both exhausted and I knew I couldn’t run the 28k. Saturday night, Blaze again wouldn’t leave the truck or move. I checked on him throughout the night and wrapped him in my sweater. By morning I decided I was being selfish, and I drove into town at 5am Sunday before the Rut 50km to tell my friends good luck and that I had to get him home.
But on the drive I got several messages from concerned friends and my dad, who was home from the hospital and feeling better. When we got to town, Blaze perked up and ran around the truck with his tail wagging when he saw my friend Jenna. She laughed and reassured me he’d be fine. Instantaneously, I felt permission to run. I got on my kit and tried to make it to the 50km start line but missed the first heat. I started in the second wave, five minutes later. During the first half of the race, I didn’t know where I was in the field and was mostly just enjoying running, seeing friends on the course, giggling at my ridiculous lack of preparation, smiling knowing my pup was feeling better, celebrating my foot didn’t hurt, and thanking God my dad was home from the hospital.
Before this race, my coach David Roche wasn’t keen on me racing the 50km. During all of this adversity, I’d lost fitness and developed a bad attitude. He wanted me to overcome the mental burnout and told me the only way I was allowed to run the race was if I could not care at all about the results.
Because of that, the end result—the podium and a PR—didn’t feel as good as having a group of good friends looking out for me and Blaze, who supported me no matter what my finishing time. The improvement in time could be from increases in fitness since working with Coach Roche, but I believe it was actually due to a positive mental shift David helped facilitate. I didn’t feel any pressure for points or results and instead felt fully engaged in the privilege of getting to run. I still have loads of room for improvement physically and mentally, but the opportunity to run, cheer, suffer, and relax with my friends and community gives me more than I could imagine.
Which is perhaps what we are all looking for every day. To belong or feel valued or cared for. Sometimes I believe that when we show promise in some sport or activity, we feel valued and then latch onto that feeling and try to force it too much. We try too hard to find comfort in WHAT we are doing versus HOW we are doing. We race too much, we run too much, we are too hard on ourselves, because when we run well we get praise and think: this is IT! this is ME! this is what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing! And we get desperate for that feeling over and over again. But feeling good from finishing or having good results isn’t the same as being where you belong. That feeling can cause us to lose sight of the more important things: family, friends, community, etc. Bottom line is, if you’re trying to get too much out of running, you’re likely going to miss out on everything running has to give.
Thanks to Missoula, Anders & Meg Brooker at Runners Edge, Tony Banovich at Run Wild Missoula, Marlie Johnson of Grant Creek Veterinary Clinic, David Roche of Some Work All Play, Dakota Umbel, Jenna Lyons, Brandon Sheehan, and Mike Foote & Mike Wolfe and all the volunteers of the Rut Mountain Runs for always making the Rut weekend amazing and memorable!