“Quitting is not an option.” – Marshall Ulrich
I flew to Florida to see my dad over Memorial Day weekend. It was a last minute decision, but with May 22nd marking the 9th anniversary of my mom’s passing, it was almost as if I could hear her say to me that Friday in her just do it spirit, “Go see your dad.” And just like that, I booked a ticket and told my dad I would see him tomorrow. The last time I had been to Florida was the first weekend in March, twenty-four hours after pulling out of my much-anticipated trip to Morocco. Arriving in Florida in March, I was clear something was wrong – all at once, the dizziness and chills I had felt that week, before we were hyper-vigilant with self-diagnosing ourselves, had taken over my being. A trip to the doctor that afternoon gave me an influenza A diagnosis, which marked the start of two months of health hiccups.
The airport on the start of Memorial Day weekend was deserted and eerie, and the flight was barren with everyone having their own row, but then I was where my dad and dear friends were, and I was exactly where I needed to be. I’ve learned over the years that at its core, travel is about transporting you to where you need to go and who you wish to see, and so there are no real hurdles, just arriving.
A few hours after landing and hanging out with my dad, I was back to running with my buddy in extreme south Florida heat and rain. With so many months apart, nostalgia encapsulated us. It is amazing how the pandemic reminded us of how much we take for granted – something as simple as going for a run with a dear friend. Amidst relentless rain and stifling humidity, we reminisced about our favorite ultra runs and reached consensus: Keys 100, an expedition from Key Largo to Key West which we always opted to run unsupported and relied on Circle K’s and credit cards to replenish our supplies. There was Brazil 135, a 135-mile journey from San Joao to Paraisopolis over endless mountain passes, and during which we slept for 20 minutes here and there in pousadas, and sometimes on the trail’s dirt floor. The journey was incredibly difficult due to the unremitting steep climbs, not to mention the heat and humidity and the dogs barking at us and chaperoning us everywhere.
Then there was the Great New York 100, an adventure race of sorts which passes through NYC, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, and finally back to NYC, during which we got lost, and in the middle of the night, with the rain teeming down, we napped on a bench adjacent to the Belt Parkway in Bay Ridge, and miles later, at daybreak, freezing and soaked, we dodged in and out of stores in Brooklyn trying to buy something warm to wear, before we settled for black garbage bags and made the final journey across the Brooklyn Bridge and to the finish line at Times Square.
So many of our memories were of pain and suffering – the misery of pushing through the 29-mile loop of Pumpkin Holler Hundred, with the dogs barking at and chasing us; for me, there was the 4 am incident when alone on a deserted road, I intercepted a farmer who got out of his truck and just stood there in the middle of the road, where I had to pass. With nowhere to go, I was positive I was being kidnapped, but he just stared me down and let me pass by to my relief. There was the Grand Tetons 100, a run from Montana to Idaho, with its 19-degree temps and late-night episode with the man in the pickup truck who parked on the opposite side of the road, his headlights blinding us so that we couldn’t see, and then when we passed, made a U-turn and proceeded to follow us.
Navigating the trail for Tahoe 200 was a battle in daylight and nighttime, but the intensity of hallucinations that set in after 30 + hours with no sleep was like nothing I had ever experienced. Then there was my first 100-mile race at Javelina Jundred back in 2011, which I ventured to with my dad as my moral support; it was a blend of scorching Arizona desert heat, and as the day faded and nighttime took over, we were deluged with a monsoon. Out in the desert, I was drenched and cold and kept getting lost as all the glow stick course markings on the trail had blown away in the fierce winds. Somehow, I kept going and eventually crossed the finish line.
The common thread of all of the races and all of the pushing through was the keeping going. Things got tough, and we kept going. We got lost, and we kept going. We were in pain, and we kept going. We wanted to sleep, and we kept going. And somehow, that forward motion, that pushing through – not because we wanted to, but because it was what we had to do out in the middle of nowhere – was how we moved through the journey, shifted our mindsets of “I cannot do this” to “I am doing this” and arrived at a finish line. Not that the finish line meant it was over. If you have ever run a very long race – or done anything physically challenging for that matter – the pain and suffering lingers amid the glory and freedom that permeates your brain after you finish. While your mind snaps back relatively quickly – even finds joy in the events – your body holds the pain for a bit longer, and the only thing that truly takes it away is to put on your running shoes and get back out there. Keeping going is what keeps you moving forward. It is how you find the release and also how you arrive at the next here and now.
In the midst of the pandemic and social unrest, we are all faced with a decision: to let the fear and unknown paralyze us or opt to keep growing and going. Keeping going right now requires us to reinvent how we used to do things and discover new ways to do everyday things we took for granted, such as interacting with the people we do life with. Keeping going often requires an attitude adjustment, in addition to a commitment to believing in our collective future. When you determine to keep going, you are saying no to the voices that are telling you to stop, to quit, that it is too hard. Whether it is fear, sickness, careers, or relationships you are navigating, the only real way to learn what comes next, is to find the strength and courage to move forward. Keeping going makes you vulnerable in many ways and forces you to dig into every reserve that you have. It hollows you out and reminds you that even if you give your all, it may not be enough.
Right now, as we move through various phases of the global pandemic and social unrest, we are all tasked with finding our own ways to survive, grow, and keep going. Various generations and socio-economic groups are all trying to forge their own paths. Despite our separateness, we are all connected as we travel this new path into the future. One thing is clear: dramatic global shifts require us to adapt. Adapting may lead to a life that’s better, smarter, more thoughtful, and bursting with a heightened sense of self and social awareness. Perhaps we will be more invested in our families and friends and the connections all around us. Perhaps we have all come to realize and accept that life at best is haphazard, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring, and that taking things for granted means we are not really seeing them. Maybe we will remember that it is the everyday small moments that bring clarity and joy and that sometimes the greatest journey takes place right where you are, no travel required.
As my buddy and I finished up our first long run together in some time in Florida, the rain grew relentless, with lighting strikes streaking the sky. When we parted, I had a few miles to go to make it back to my dad’s house. I experienced a feeling that I have so often felt out in the wide open, when the going gets tough: how easy it would be to stop, to tuck myself away, and wait it out for a clearing. But if I have learned anything from life – and perhaps most perceptibly from races – it is that there may not be a clearing and it may not get easier. In fact, this may be the calm before the storm. So I kept going, moving forward, pushing through, puddles all around me, and what came to me when I finally arrived at my dad’s house, sopping and yet in good humor, was that hard times are challenging, but if you are willing to do the work, they are not impossible.