Do blogs & articles still even exist? The last two years, I’ve essentially copied & pasted my social media “recap” posts after some big races and fun adventures, but at the end of this year especially, I still try to put it all together. My thoughts seem disjointed and often frail when I’m down in the weeds too long. It’s good to look at the big picture, take a deep breath, and see the birds eye view once in a while.

2019 on the surface was epic and fun and Instagram might lead you to believe we’re all living our best lives with the best pictures and the best friends and the best kids and the best sunrises and so on. My 2019 has been incredibly similar to any good distance running training plan, race, and/or adventure … the highs were certainly high, the grind of everyday life was certainly real, and the pain certainly crept in.

I’ve been trying to write this post and gather my thoughts for a while now and it’s not getting any easier to “summarize”.

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When I look back and see the pictures of my first marathon win, it’s easy to forget my confidence was shaken just 10 days prior when my hamstring seized up on the last repetition of my last major speed session. I was faced with adjusting goals to just get to the starting line and being extremely honest with myself if I want to run with joy more than personal glory. I was again reminded … “just run with JOY!” as my watch malfunctioned starting the race.

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When I see pictures of the homestretch with my kids running a course record at the Hixon 50k (in La Crosse), it’s easy to forget three days prior visiting a loved one in the hospital and being shaken with a few sleepless nights. It’s easy to forget that five weeks prior when I was dead serious (at the time) stating I’d never run an ultra again at Goosebumps (in La Crosse). Puking my guts out frustrated with the humidity and my own pacing and nutrition failures, I trudged for hours dreading the fact I’d started this hellish sport (in La Crosse).

jfk finish

When I see the video of myself giving “two thumbs up” at the end of JFK50, it’s easy to forget being dizzy and taking an 8 minute break at mile 38 to pound all the food, Redbull, and soda I could. It’s easy to forget those last 9 miles and how painful I made it on myself to just get one last place and sneak in the top-10. I raged on, stormed home, and gained 6 minutes in the last 9 miles, but still never saw the singlet I was chasing and settled for the 2nd fastest 11th place finish in 57 years.

Heck, even my low-key getaway trip to Colorado (first 14er run!) had it’s fair share of car trouble.

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The good with the bad. Some say they go together and I somewhat agree, but what comes first? The distance runner, without flinching, knows there will be pain and suffering before victories. Some pain is calculated and known beforehand, and some is not. It’s a given. In fact, the pain makes the highs higher. By God’s grace, to push through, stay the course, be in the fight, and have things not go as well is what makes the victories that much sweeter.  I read back what I just wrote above and almost chuckle at how trivial some of my examples are. We willingly put ourselves through this sport and most of the pain is self-induced.

But not all pain is from a silly sport. Not all suffering ends when we reach that finish line later in the day. Another year of life has brought more of everything. More stress, more responsibility, more deaths in the family, more questions than answers, more car trouble, more tears, but also more laughter with my kids, more sunrises I’ve run into, more books I’ve read, more highest highs, more adventure, more unspeakable joy with those I love, more fart jokes, and certainly more love.

I’ve taken extended time off after November’s race and just now have laced my running shoes back up. I always take a break from running in the fall or spring for about two weeks, but this season it’s lingered into the 4-5 week range. I always want to be hungry and “chomping at the bit” before I settle into regimented training and I’m finally feeling ready. Life’s pain is more complex than a silly track workout or ultramarathon. There have been days where getting out of bed ready to speak to people has been a big victory. Life can be glorious, joyful, free, and hard all at the same time – just like any distance run. Don’t believe what you see on Instagram or Facebook – it’s not real … it’s most often simply the highlight reel.

What’s my plan for 2020? I keep thinking about that, but I just don’t know right now. Getting fresh air and having time with my own thoughts are my only training goals right now.

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The top of Mt. Elbert – highest peak in Colorado