We all know how much dedication and hard work running a marathon or ultramarathon require. This year, I am training for two ultra marathons, Salmon Falls 50K and AR50 mile, which is my first 50-mile race. I also have to log in 50+ miles every week to run these races strong and not get injured. Every single week, I start adding my check mark next to the miles I ran all the way to Sunday when I write in the total mileage with a big smile and satisfaction of a work well-done. Then Monday comes along and both my paper schedule and my Strava running app stare back at me with a big 0 MILES. No big deal, right? I just need to start over and enjoy the cycle of life and the joy of logging in the miles week after week till race day and then find another big boulder to roll uphill just like Sisyphus.
In his book The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus sees the futility of Sisyphus carrying the boulder up the hill over and over again as a triumph, for Sisyphus knows himself to be the master of his days. Are we thus runners the modern Sisyphus logging in our miles through our smiles? Are we looking at our running as a huge reward and not a punishment as in the case of Sisyphus? Is there joy, satisfaction, and a sense of hard labor achieved at the end of climbing a hill, where we are rewarded with breathtaking views?
Lesson from the first hill
Before climbing this hill, our friend Rob asked us if we wanted to take the steeper route, or the flatter one. I deferred making a decision to Nicola, who said that she always makes herself do the hard things that she is not so fond of, or as good at in order to get stronger and better at things. Life’s wisdom while running, I thought to myself grateful for the moment of joy carrying ourselves up the hill. Unlike Sisyphus, our actions had meaning, purpose, and satisfaction, knowing that we didn’t have to keep running up and down the hill. We could just relish the breathtaking views on top of the hill and continue running until we achieved our mileage and called it a day.
Lesson from the second, longer, and much steeper hill
During our 22-mile run, my friends and I climbed K2 hill in Auburn twice, which is a long steep hill comprised of five sections, as my awesome ultra runner friend Keather Kehoe, who ran 45 miles that weekend, explained to me. It felt long and hard the first time we did it, but the second time, it felt much easier, which reminded me that our attitude towards the difficult things we do is everything. This bad-ass hill taught me this: it is easier to accomplish hard goals when you surround yourself with like-minded people, you surrender to the task at hand with joy, and when you feel confident that you have what it takes to conquer challenges.
Despite his scorn of the Gods, Sisyphus had a tremendous passion for life and an intense hatred of death. While carrying his boulder up the hill, Sisyphus knows himself to be the master of his days, which is how I feel as a runner, too. After I get my run done, whether it was a short or long one, I triumph and revere in all moments of joy and desperation when tiredness sets in. I also smile remembering the man with the rock, as my friend Rob calls him. We saw him recently at the end of our run. He was walking across Sunrise foot bridge with a big, heavy rock that he hurled around from one hand to another. He made me think of how we all have to restart our days carrying our rock with the same joy and gratitude that he displayed.
Just like Camus’ essay concludes: “The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” so does my journey as a runner continue with elation, resilience, perseverance, and hope for a bright future, in which I can carry my boulder up and down hills and mountains with the purpose of getting stronger, happier, and healthier.
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