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“I quit.”

What am I doing here? What’s the point in this?

Yea, but you have to keep going…you have someone’s spot, and they would keep going…

That sounds real noble…but this is stupid…

Bro, you only have 50 miles to go once you reach the turn-around…and you get to spend time with your buddy Bailey…you haven’t seen him in forever, and you guys can always turn misery into fun!

I can make an effort to see Bailey anytime. Why now? In a rainstorm…

C’mon man, look around…its awesome!

No it’s not…it’s raining, pouring actually, and you have been on this course 50+ times, and it has looked better than this…

Survey the body…you are not debilitated, you can still walk…

For what purpose? What am I trying to prove? Who am I trying to prove it to? I’m tired…I’m mentally zonked…where is this dang aid station…

Be present, John…stay contained, stay within yourself, you can do this…you have nothing else to do…what does it matter if you walk the next 50 miles, that buckle will be worth it…

Naaa, it really won’t…it’s just a hunk of metal, what does it mean to even get it…who even cares, outside of your own narcissistic self, and the shallow fantasy life you project…

Now wait a minute, that’s a little harsh, there is plenty of meaning and purpose you have when you run…you bring glory to God, and He gives you the opportunity to tame His creation with each step you take…

Yea, but the way to bring glory to Him is not by doing this for a selfish pursuit of a talisman that you feel will magically bring you the adoration and congratulations on Facebook…that just feeds the narcissist…there is no true joy or sense of purpose, or sense of belonging, or sense of connectedness that you have when its all about the buckle…

Dang…good point…are you sure?…Here is the aid station…

“I quit.”

I will be honest…this type of internal dialogue happens frequently in my ultra career…heck, in life…and it is always fascinating to me to reflect on how I come to the conclusion to either endure, or to quit. Sometimes, I become overwhelmed with a sense of presence, of peace, and I can resolve to continue to move forward, with the understanding that it doesn’t always get worse. In these moments I can recognize that my self-worth is not being derived from my activity, or my performance, but on the person that I am being in that particular moment…the person that God desires me to be. This allows me to continue to persevere, enlisting the creator of the universe to help me traverse His creation. 

Other times, I succumb to the perceived pressure that I put on myself, filled with the cares of the world, and the perceptions of others…with the desire to look tough, or awesome, or stoic, to perform to levels that I internalize due to the pressures of my surroundings, the pressures of the “super-ego,” that tell me I’m a loser if I can’t…that try to convince me that my self-worth hinges on my ability to “buckle up.”

This can create an immense amount of inner turmoil, with the result of looking for a way out, and thinking of the most admirable ways to quit…oh, I just had a race last week…oh, my leg is geeked up from training…oh, I’m still sore from my workout on Thursday…oh, this race was never of top priority to me…oh, I just geeked my knee up on that uneven rock back there, and it really hurts now, and I don’t want to jeopardize my next race…

I have used all of these as reasons to quit races, to give me an ego-protective out, designed in my mind to specifically preserve my self-worth that, in that moment, is contingent on my ability to perform in the given race. 

We have all seen the guy who blew up and bonked so bad that he was dry heaving on the side of the trail and bailing at the next aid station, only to find them at the finish line hee-hawing it up, drinking cold beer as if they had won the race. Heck, I have been that guy. 

In this race, I just refused to protect myself, and allow for a fictitious, half-truth way out. Yes, it was raining and chilly, but I was warm and dry in my TNF Gore-tex rain gear (shameless plug). Yes, my legs were tired, but I could still walk. Yes, my brain was zonked, but I could have distracted it with the time with my friend Bailey. Yes, there were parts of the course that I had been on numerous times, but it still was really cool to see the gorge, and the views from the Bluff Trail. Yes, it was a 50-mile “wog” (walk-jog) back to the start, but it was only 50 miles…not 150. 

It crossed my mind…I would get to the aid station, and proclaim that I wasn’t recovered from my last race, that my legs were just so tired, blablablablabla…but the best practice, the most honest assessment that I could give of my current situation, was that there was no joy. I didn’t need to make up an excuse for myself. Maybe this time, I could just be happy being truthful with myself, and with everybody else. I love to run, and explore and feel the earth from my feet. I love to experience the presence of the Creator of the universe, and just be dominated with the humility that I get when I feel His presence with me on the trail. But that was not this experience, and there was no way to try and manufacture it. This day, I could find no joy, for whatever reason…and instead of trying to drape myself in the self-preservation and self-protection of excuses, maybe I could just be honest. So that’s what I did.

“I quit.”

I still struggle with self-worth and self-esteem. In my experience as a therapist and as a real person, I think there are a lot of us out there that do. It’s tough to be comfortable in my own skin, and just accept myself as I am. Heck, that’s super scary…I know my thoughts…I know my motivations, and most of the time, they are tainted with baseness, stained by the human experience. 

I want others to like me, to think I am an all-right guy. I want people to think I am a capable runner, and not a wimp. If I’m honest, I seek out extreme situations and races in order to do this. But I think there has to be a balance. This side of glory, there is no escape of the hollow self-centeredness that I operate with, but that doesn’t mean that I have to allow it to ruin everything that I do, or shape all the decisions that I make.

Maybe I can just learn to accept this part of myself, learn to recognize what it feels like in the moment to be overcome with these selfish, self-preserving thoughts…by naming them, and then working to change them, by refusing to give in, and being more of my genuine, authentic self. I don’t want to be just my race results, or my buckles, or a stat on ultrasignup. These things are merely descriptors, almost like different chapters in my story. But they are not THE story…they do not, and should not, define me…and I always have to remind myself of this…I have to be present enough with myself, real enough with myself to confront this head on. The Chattanooga 100 gave me the opportunity to just be honest and present with myself in the moment, and to be ok just being me.

One thought on ““I quit.”

  1. John,

    Thank you for sharing this. It is something I need to remember every time I run, or bike, or Don’t run or don’t bike, or any other “performance”. I struggle with that, with thinking I have to perform and be “good enough”.
    At the Lookout Mtn 50 last month, I dropped out at the Lula Lake aid station (28.5). It was my first RTC DNF. I had DNFed a Mtn bike race when I snapped a chain but never dropped out voluntarily. It was very disappointing. I just didn’t have it that day. I had gotten a flu shot earlier in the week and it made me feel sick all week. Who knows if i would have finished had I not gotten the shot but maybe God wanted to remind me that it’s not about how many finishes/accomplishments I have but how I live my life in the routine and how I treat those I come in contact with on a daily basis.
    Thanks for inspiring me and thanks for opening up about who you really are, a great dude, with an awareness of what is happening in your life and a desire to share what you know with others so they will learn and live a life full of joy!

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