Shifting Seasons and Letting Go
I made the decision to wrap up my racing season after running 50 miles at Virgil Crest in early September. I felt complete having successfully mastered that course and having placed third in my GP. Even though I continued to get stronger, I had gradually started to feel a little worn from a season filled with “firsts,” so I made the decision to withdraw from an October 100-miler that would have been another first. I just wanted to run agenda-less through the technicolor leaves beginning to blanket the woods. I wanted to sleep all the hours and drink all the coffee. Running with wild abandon through endless piles of leaves and fall technicolor with no agenda would epitomize my month of October.
With the shifting of seasons, sweltering heat and humidity had gradually given way to a cool reprieve, changing colors, and falling leaves. But after a month of technicolor forest frolicking, I was struggling to see the trails. The leaf piles had grown so thick that I was tempted just to jump into them. In some areas I would wander off trail, as everything around me looked the same, save for the red trail markers glowing in a sea of orange and yellow (I see you, white birch). Steep sections I frequented all summer became conveyor belts, as leaf blankets were so thick, my feet no longer made contact with the ground. Sliding down steep sections is not my preferred method to descend a hill. And while running uphill was slightly less precarious, I became keenly aware of where I placed each foot strike, as I could no longer see what was underneath. Roots and rocks were now completely hidden, as were acorns presumably stashed by a ground squirrel. Those little suckers are like ball bearings that will get you rolling, quite literally, in no time. Another type of movement I prefer to avoid.
But by early November, after a few patient weeks and reroutes, most leaves had surrendered and with few remaining leaves to drop, those on the ground gradually became fractured. Even the steepest of sections became runnable once more. Over a period of weeks, a forest kaleidoscope gave way to treetops now naked and allowing full sun to shine through, and over a period of more weeks, the first dusting of snow came. And then it really snowed.
Late season trails are not the same ones I run in the summer.
As I write these words on the Winter Solstice, my trails are covered by a blanket of snow, and I am eager to return to them on my next run, as I sit here reflecting on the seasons in my own life that changed this fall. Old memories in black and white were made technicolor as I overcame a grief that would visit upon me once more, and I now find the world around me filled with color and hope.
In addition to an epic season, a mild case of covid in late September and my parents’ estate-sale-of-epic-proportions in November helped set the stage for this season filled with agenda-less running, with personal reflection, and of letting go. Covid gave me back some humility I had misplaced and taught me just how little we really need to be happy. It turns out, we really don’t need much.
I let go of plans to run my first 100-miler. I let go of the social media stuff. And ultimately, I let go of more than half of what I owned.
I donated, recycled, or tossed more than half of my clothes, running gear, items I’ve kept since high school, and journals that I had kept since college, this past month. So much of my own history, on paper but now irrelevant, finally let go. With my parents’ estate-sale-of-epic-proportions scattering their belongings throughout the Las Vegas valley, my own trinkets, clothing, accessories, gadgets, and all the endless items that I once clung to for their memories, suddenly lost their hold on me. My late mother was enamored by her things, so in our minds, she became her things. As a result, selling her things brought about another round of grieving. I recall a quote by Joshua Fields Millburn that I heard recently that continues to resonate with me. In fact, I feel it in my bones.
“Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are inside us.”
These can be personal memories or even memories of races or runs. But these memories are not in our things. They are not in the swag we brought home that day. They are in us.
With each run that followed, I felt lighter. I ran through the woods, and I ran through the kaleidoscope of colors with abandon. I continued to turn these details over in my mind with every run, and on each run found myself starting to let go of something else I had held onto. Plans were made to empty one plastic bin after another, and slowly over a month, I found myself surrounded by a multitude of empty bins.
So, I donated some of those too.
“Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are inside us.”
Three carloads later…
Nothing mattered in those moments of running through the woods, other than my footsteps, offering unspoken greetings to the songbirds that busied themselves in these woods while I played, and to the red-tailed hawk who sat watch one morning as I passed. The space around me looked brighter and the space within me felt lighter.
Life can be so much simpler than we allow it to be.
We are not our things.
We really don’t need much to be happy.
The mornings are much colder now. I frequently feel the sting of sleet on my nose, and I find amusement in how each tiny frozen ball bearing landing on my nose promptly bounces off. It presumably lands somewhere on the ground, next to billions of its neighbors, which have fallen directly alongside or bounced off another feature, perhaps a tree or an unsuspecting squirrel.
Running, at its foundation, is one of the simplest activities we do. It can be so pure. Yet we insist on cluttering our running in the same way we clutter our lives, our homes, our minds. How many pairs of shoes do we really need to rotate? How many shorts and shirts and socks and jackets do we really need? How many hydration vests, trucker hats, and stickers to show the world who we are and what we do…how much do we really need to be truly happy?
If we strip away our advertisements, are we lesser runners?
I am still filled with gratitude that mine was a mild case of covid. And to return to the trails with lungs, legs, and a body that worked was everything to me. It was just me and the trees, as I labored up the steep climbs and danced down the descents. A little slower with burning lungs at first, but up and down I went.
Who cares what I was wearing??
I look to the coming months in anticipation of racing ultramarathons old and new, of trail time measured in hours, of sunshine and humidity, of reconnecting with friends. Yet, as I look to the future, I cannot contest the changes brought about within me as I found the strength to let my parents go a second time…by letting go of their things. And then by letting go of mine.