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Monday, November 19, 2012

Running

Running.  It's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Like all carefree kids I ran to play the games of my youth, but running was also a game in and of itself.  I lived on a sage studded hillside near Snowmass, Colorado known as Brush Creek.  This meant that a mile long course of scrub oaks and shale bluffs lay between my house and the school bus stop.  What could be more fun than ripping down the hill each day, hurdling the sage brush, blasting through the snow, swinging around Aspen trees while pretending to be some super-rad-pro-racer guy!  I was racing fictitious competitors, and I was racing myself.  I never wore a watch, but I did show up bloody to my first period class once, only to be sent home with a mild concussion from a less than graceful tumble onto an unforgiving rock.   Mishaps like this failed to slow down my thirst for running.  I ran because I could.  I ran because it felt good.  Running fed my soul and made me feel free.  Most of all running put my mind in a beautiful space.  I ran because it brought me joy.

Since those youthful days running has continued to play a major role in my life.  Around my ninth birthday I discovered that not only did I like running, but I also had a talent for it.  I ran a local 5K and won my age group.  Unknowingly, running had shifted from pure joyous play to something different...competition.  I had always been competitive, but now I had found something that I could beat most kids my age at, and that fed my developing ego, giving running a new purpose in my life.  I liked winning, so I slowly turned my attention toward that end.  I became a state champion in high school and an all-American in college.  I dedicated much of what I did, and a large part of who I was to running.  If you asked me about myself, surely, one the first things out of my mouth would have been, "I am a runner".  I was still running because I loved to run, but now I was also running because it defined who I was.

Eventually injury struck and derailed my efforts to earn a marathon trials qualifying mark for the 2000 trials.  I had weathered many setbacks throughout my college career, but this blow proved more significant.  I had defined myself as a runner and now I couldn't run.  Who was I then?  Unable to really answer this question, I stepped away from competition and began coaching.  On one level this meant that I was giving back to the sport, but I was still intensely competitive and began to measure myself by the achievements of my athletes.  Eventually I stepped away from coaching and running altogether, entering a dark period of my life where I made some poor life decisions.  Running had always been a part of my life, and in its absence I struggled to understand who I was and how to find happiness.

However, running loomed in the background, always beckoning me to rediscover its magic.  In 2007, after a couple of years of no running whatsoever, I did just that.  I made the audacious decision to run the Leadville 100.  I gave myself a two year timeframe to complete the goal and I laced up my shoes and ran.  I had to walk the final part of that first run, a 5K loop, but running was again a part of my life and I felt reinvigorated.  Since my return to running, I have successfully completed every one of the ultras I have started, including four 100 mile races.  This season was particularly successful, with a sub sixteen hour run at the fabled Western States 100 and a runner-up finish at the Leadville 100 in a time good enough for the fourth fastest on the all time list.  Running, particularly running ultra-marathons, helped lead me away from my place of despair and propelled me to amazing heights.  When I was a kid I had run for the pure joy of running, and while that still exists today in my running, I worried that I had reverted to that same one dimensional person solely defined by my running exploits.  Who is Zeke Tiernan when you shed the running accolades?

With this in mind, I made the decision to bring my running back to its roots.  In 2013 I will not: run any races, wear a watch, keep any kind of running log, or plan any workouts.  However, I will: jump lots of sage brush, splash in many a stream, glissade as much as possible, and only run when I feel like it.  I want to run for running's sake.  I have paid lip service to this idea for years, but when I am truly honest, I run for the competition as much as anything else.  I want to be the little kid on the trails, not the serious athlete.  Running has the potential to make me a better person, not through winning the Leadville 100, like my ego craves, but through rediscovering running.  I want to run because I can.  I want to run because it feels good.  Running feeds my soul and makes me feel free.  Most of all running puts my mind in a beautiful space.   I am going to run because it brings me joy!

8 comments:

  1. I am just getting into running, however, I am taking the weekend warrior approach and buying all sorts of gear. I love the post. I have found just being outside is worth it to me.

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  2. Eloquent, powerful and insightful. thanks, steve

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  3. I fear for your competitors in 2014...
    Enjoy your freedom!

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  4. Zeke, too bad we won't see you again at Western. Or Leadville. Enjoy the year "off". I'm leaning towards Slamming next summer. Interested in pacing at Leadville?

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  5. Zeke, happy you decided to "bust out the pen". As much as I enjoy watching your legs do the talking it is also very beneficial to read your thoughts and insights. Thank you very much and please keep 'em coming. I got a feeling 2013 is going to be a breakthrough year for many of us but in different ways as we travel down similar paths at different stages. I wish you much success. scottyO-Aspen

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  6. Zeke,
    Thanks for sharing this. I too ran a mile each way to school, pretending to race Bill Rogers or Jim Ryan every day. I was the prodigal youth runner, but nothing close to your accomplishments, as I had quit by age 12. Like you, I toed the line for my first race at the 2008 Leadville 100, needing to rediscover my identity. I gave myself a month or so of "training" and barely finished. I remember giving my buddy Andy a pep talk near Hope Pass, as you battled him and the other leaders up the big hill. Weird how our lives followed a similar pattern. I wish you the best and hope your journeys refuel your spirit. This is a bold plan, but I bet it will have you stronger than ever upon your return.
    Jer

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  7. Zeke,

    I loved this post so I reposted it on my blog. Hope you don't mind.

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