Our vulnerabilities are what make us unique and interesting. And in our day to day lives, we tend to feel embarrassed by these vulnerabilities. We are taught to never appear weak and thus hide things that embarrass us. But expressing our vulnerabilities to friends and strangers actually makes us stronger. And more importantly it makes the people you are talking to stronger as well.
Over the past two years, I have been searching for My Why—why do I run ultras, why do I keep attempting to complete my first 100 miler, why do I prefer to run rather than talking on the phone? I’m not running away from my problems or society. In fact I’m running to find a way to express myself and my vulnerabilities. I thought I had my why earlier this year. But it was a negative why. It was to prove to the people in my life that are filled with negative energy that I can do this. But for the most part, those people aren’t in my life anymore, so how can my why be about proving to people that aren’t part of my life that I can do something?
It wasn’t till this weekend at Red Rock 50/marathon/half marathon that I realized that the why is a positive influence–I was actually a bit troubled with my why being a negative influence. Yes, I run long/crazy things because there is part of me that thinks back to the not-so athletic me growing up and how I would love to have the bullies see that I am doing these incredible things. But if am doing this for me not for others. And even though that seems selfish to me, I know that my running also touches other people: my non-running friends tell me that they see my Facebook posts and are inspired; and my running friends know that I am here for them no matter what. But I’m not doing it for them, at least not directly–as it is a nice side effect to know I can help/inspire others.
Getting back to Red Rock…Saturday evening was a very eye-opening night for me. I finally found my why. It started with the beer mile. This was my second beer mile and my second DFL (dead fucking last). But so what? Like last time (Born To Run weekend) it was a blast (and miserable). But unlike last time, I wasn’t embarrassed to be such a slow drinker. I kind of looked forward to it. And being able to run with Tyler the last 1/8th of a mile (Tyler and Chris joined me at Born To Run as co-DFL’s—that is the first time I met the brothers) was a perfect ending to the race. And even though I didn’t know half of the people watching, I didn’t care showing them how bad I was at the Beer Mile.
But it wasn’t just being a slow drinker that opened my eyes. This is the 6th event of Luis’ that I have attended—and yes, his races are events. At each event I have allowed my self to be more and more vulnerable and less and less calculated–I already have a hard enough time being an introvert in a sales job. I remember my first Luis event, Red Rock 40 in 2010–I didn’t camp out, and I didn’t hang out the night before the race at the bon fire. Contrast that to me making an ass of myself at the beer mile and passing a bottle of fireball around the room while hanging out with countless friends–many that I had not known even 6 months ago. But actually talking to people I don’t know, not during a run, allowed me to have a lot better time. I got to meet more future friends. And this sub-set of the ultra community is a great place to meet new friends–as our new friend, Hillary from Florida, said a few times: this feels like a new family to me.
The Dirtbag Runners have proven to be true friends (and some of the most amazing people)
Then, there was Luis introducing the group to my dear friend Alison. Because of the welcoming feel of this group, she was able to open up to a room full of friends and strangers about her battle with Breast Cancer over the past year. I was tearing up listening to her, even though I knew her story already—and it was because I was so amazed by her courage to tell the room a short version of her journey. But why did she feel so comfortable? I think it is because we have all suffered together in many ways–typically this suffering is a physical nature that we bring on to ourselves by choice. She suffered for 16+ hours on the 50 mile course in 2012 at Red Rock. But it was her experience in doing so that made her feel like this was a safe community to share her personal journey.
And it is Alison’s courage and actions that have inspired me to open up more to both friends and strangers about my own struggles, whether it be depression, divorce or family interactions. Later on Saturday night, I was invited to dinner at my friend Amy’s cabin. There, I really opened up about my mental health issues. And had a great discussion on the topic of mental health and vulnerabilities that led me to want to write this blog post.
Alison Bringing me to tears.
Thinking back over the past two years since my marriage fell apart, it is amazing the difference between not talking about it and feeling alone (I know the divorce rate in this country is hovering around 60%, but in my world I thought I was the only one and that something was wrong with me) and then talking to peers and finding out that they have been divorced too (and as awful as divorce can be on the soul, it was oddly comforting to know that I was far from alone).
It is because a friend was able to share her vulnerability with us, that made me feel more empowered by my vulnerabilities. And I hope me opening up to people, whether friends or strangers, about some of the issues in my life, especially the mental health issues, that I am/was embarrassed of will lead to empowering them.
Coming down some beautiful single track around mile 18 or 19 (Photo credit: Pete Chavez)
I run long, stupid distances and other dumb challenges (the beer mile and the doughnut challenge) because I am empowered by being vulnerable and being able to share the experience with my ultra-running community. I am stronger because of the things that I thought made me weaker.
A perfect day at Red Rock in my Luna Sandals and Dirtbag Runners hat and a new amulet