Monday, July 1, 2013

Finding Joy in the Suffering: A Review of The Summit Seeker

Do you have an ultramarathon inside you?   As runners, we conquer distance after distance--5K's, 10K's, move on to half marathons, then marathons.  We chase PRs and hope our next, flatter road marathon is faster than our last.  However, there is a path less traveled, a whole WORLD outside of road running. 

If you are an endurance runner of any distance, I highly recommend you read The Summit Seeker by Vanessa Runs.  You WILL be inspired.

Reading the Introduction, I immediately knew I'd found a kindred soul.  Vanessa writes, "I'm someone who's life changed through ultra trail running.  These are the stories of how running restored me, how it shifted my perspective, and how it healed my wounds."  She hopes to inspire runners to "run more trails, or try an ultra.  Or to just let the quiet beauty of getting lost on the side of a mountain supersede the urgency of PRs and race stats." 

In the first part of the book, Vanessa shares her life with us in a raw, open way--her difficult childhood, failed relationships.   Personal turmoil leads to running, in which she finds her true self.  She quotes Haruki Murakami saying, "A person doesn't become a runner because someone recommends it.  People basically become runners because they're meant to."   I think that statement resonates with all runners. 

The stories chronicle Vanessa's immersion into the world of running from 5K's to ultramarathons.  I particularly enjoyed these insights:

The fitness and running world encourage us to improve our weaknesses.  There is some wisdom to this, but we should be putting the same amount of effort, or more, into developing our strengths.  I learned early on in my running career that I was not fast.  But I seemed to have a good endurance base.  So instead of developing speed, I ran longer. 

The ultra distance is an amazing thing.  I told my sister:  "No matter what has happened in your life before, or what will happen in your future, nobody can ever take that ultra away from you.  When you're an ultrarunner, you're a runner forever." 

And probably my favorite:

As a friend once told me, we need people to run 100 miles just as we need people who can sing above an orchestra, or who can paint a masterpiece.  It proves to us the wonder and versatility of humanity, and reminds us that as a species we are capable of extraordinary feats.   And we need an army of runners who can move swiftly with no purpose.  Who seek out trails that lead to nowhere.  Who scale mountains just to see the other side.  More importantly, we need things in our lives that we don't have to rationalize.  Things we can just love recklessly.  And we need to stop asking why. 

Vanessa makes a 100-miler seem attainable for all:  "One hundred miles is just ground and earth and mud and space.  It is all the things we already know, and it belongs to all of us.  We can walk it, we can run it, and with enough time we can cover it.  It's public domain."  

In running her second 100-miler, the Javelina Jundred, Vanessa has an epiphany about the inevitable suffering that comes along with any long distance:  "I decided that I would be grateful for my 100-mile suffering.  I am lucky because this is a suffering that I choose.  It is not suffering I cannot control.  It is something I picked and even paid for.  It was my choice, and for that reason far easier to bear....  My mantra for the rest of the race became 'I chose this.'  It reminded me to bear my suffering with joy.  And for the entire race, joy was what I found."

Inspired yet?  I know I am.  Pick up a copy on www.amazon.com today!

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