When you surround yourself with people that constantly push, test and redefine what the words “limits” and “potential” mean you eventually find yourself in a place where the abnormal becomes normal, where extreme becomes commonplace, and where the word impossible just means, “It hasn’t been done yet.”
Over the past 4-5 years of exploration through the mountains and trails, I’ve had the honor of getting to know and become friends with some incredible people (and husband to one of them) who are capable of feats, in and out of athletics, that most of society can’t even acknowledge to be a possibility. The greatest attribute these people possess isn’t even what they are able to do; it’s how supportive they are of others who are interested in dipping their toes into similar waters, or dirty trails as the case may be. Somehow, through their encouragement, lots of trial and error, and my deep-seated laziness, I’ve discovered that I am a member of this group, and it can be a pretty weird feeling.
This was no more evident than last week as I made final preparations for my first ever trip to the Grand Canyon in an attempt to run 42 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim and back. This run is known as Rim to Rim to Rim, or R2R2R, and has become a staple for ultrarunners and distance hikers. It has been something I’ve wanted to experience for a couple of years now. In the months and weeks leading up to the trip I never gave a second thought to what I was going to do. The numbers: 42 miles, 11k feet of descent (with the same ascent), 10-13 hours on my feet. The route: running from the South Rim of one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, to the river that has carved its way through it, to the top of it’s North Rim, and then retrace those steps. This never caused me to pause. Running R2R2R was just something that people who I know do. And since I love long adventure runs through beautiful places, and had never been to “the big ditch,” I decided that I was going to run the Grand Canyon.
Then I saw the article on ESPN.com about R2R2R that Dax contributed to and for some reason I had a revelation. “Holy shit I’m going to run the Grand Canyon!” The place clearly has that name for a reason. It’s HUGE! Its enormity and history are beyond my comprehension. How can someone like myself have the audacity to think I can just go ahead and use my two skinny legs to carry me back and forth through its depths. After a minor panic attack and some reassurance from my amazing wife/coach I realized something. “I’m going to run the Grand Canyon.”
I’m often reminded of a conversation I had with Ben Horne about a year before he passed away. During a long training run we were talking about the various endeavors we pursue like trail running or his unparalleled mountaineering exploits. I brought up how often we hear words like “crazy” from people outside our community to describe what we do. Needless to say we were both uncomfortable with being labeled as crazy for doing something we love so much. But then I made the mistake of using one of my many overused adjectives to describe one of his recent accomplishments. Something along the lines of “amazing,” “awesome,” or “incredible,” I can’t be sure. Ben almost stopped running and the look on his face was something I’ll never forget. He got very serious and responded with a message that has stuck with me to this day. With a touch of frustration in his voice he told me that there is nothing amazing or incredible about what he does. He was given a body that allowed him explore beautiful places via challenging circumstances and he used that body to its fullest. With every challenge the goal was to stretch his potential and learn something new about himself. I took something valuable from this short exchange during our run. The only thing more offensive than being called crazy for doing something you love is to be called amazing because others are, for whatever reason, unwilling to put themselves out there to find out what they can truly accomplish.
I think of Ben and this lesson often when planning and taking on these various adventures and his words were with me throughout the Grand Canyon. Why shouldn’t I be out here? I owe it to myself to push my limits and find out what I can do with this body I’ve been given. This was even further emphasized when I came across the large number of people in the canyon of all different ability levels taking part in their own R2R2R journey and the others who were exploring their own quests with various routes. I even had the pleasure of meeting Ultrapedestrian Ras and Kathy Vaughn who were in the middle of pushing to establish a Female FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the 800-mile Arizona Trail. All of these people shared something in common and what I believe was at the core of Ben’s comments that day. There is nothing “crazy” or “amazing” about having a passion and following it through to its fullest. It’s what we are meant to do!
I guess what I am coming to terms with is my own redefinition of “impossible” as I expand what I believe my limits are. With every big adventure I take on and successfully complete I’m finding that it’s becoming harder and harder to be amazed by things anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I am constantly inspired by the people and places I get to experience through these adventures. But instead of looking at an audacious goal and thinking “How on earth can that be humanly possible?” I’m left wondering “What do I need to do to make this possible?” Instead of being amazed at people for what they have accomplished because I think it’s too difficult, I’m inspired by them for having the courage and discipline to take on the challenge in the first place.
I’m very fortunate to live the life I do and be surrounded by people that keep motivating me to become a better and more complete version of myself. Whether your current limits are walking a block or running a marathon, taking on your first 5K or setting an FKT on the Appalachian Trail, I beg you to never settle and let yourself think the next step is impossible. You owe it to yourself to live your life to its fullest. Find your passion, no matter what it is, and follow it to its utmost extreme. There is nothing crazy or abnormal about doing things that others can’t imagine, the only thing that is crazy is letting those people’s thoughts, words, or actions convince you that you can’t achieve your goals.
Lastly, when you see someone out there taking on something YOU can’t imagine, just remember what they are doing isn’t impossible. You just haven’t tried it yet.
You can see more pictures from the adventure here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/offroadpursuits/sets/72157644232575507/