By Zoë Rom
At a bar the other day, a friend introduced me as their "bad-ass runner friend".
"She runs marathons in the mountains!"
This caught me off guard. I've never thought of myself as particularly brave. Sure, consistently logging double-digit miles in the mountains sounds pretty badass, but that's not why I like it, nor is it who I am.
I live for the long runs and the hard runs because they push me to reveal some kernel of who I really am. While there's certainly an element of bravery and badassery, I run past the point of bravery - straight on to vulnerability.
Vulnerability in running is complete honesty and openness with yourself and the mountains. It means running straight uphill until you can't breathe. It's not pretty. It doesn't feel good.
There's a misperception out there that trail running requires some innate badassery or bravery that only a small and crazy subset of people possess. I'm here to tell you that this is not true.
I'm scared, all the damn time. What if I'm too slow? What if I get lost? What if I can't make it to the top? What if I do get to the top, and then get struck by lightning? What if I twist my ankle and plummet off a cliff to become mince meat for vultures, leaving only my GPS watch behind as evidence of my existence?
What if, I'm just not good enough?
Some of these fears are silly, I know. But some of them are very, very real. We, as runners (and humans), all struggle with fear. One challenge is just admitting it. Accepting that I'm scared as hell, but I'm going to do something about it. My way of fighting it is challenging it to a race up and over the mountain.
Instagram photos and Strava files fail to reveal the reality of what goes on up there as I duke it out on the trail. More often than not, I'm a sweaty, gasping, insecure mess. It's not cute - and you won't see it on anyone's social media feed, but it's me. Vulnerable, alone, and a little bit afraid. It is both terrifying and exhilarating to feel so small, so vulnerable and exposed on the trail. When it's just me, heaving myself up and over the mountain, I feel anything but badass.
I wish I could communicate this feeling when people ask me, "you did what this weekend?!?". I wish I could tell them how many alarms I have to set to force myself to get up and run, how I have to lay my shoes by my bed so that they're the first thing I see when I wake up. How many friends and running partners it takes to keep me accountable, motivated, and slightly less afraid.
I worry that people don't want to hear it. I worry that they just want their high five, and for me to agree, "yeah, that was badass!"
But I hope that there are people out there that feel the same way I do. Scared, but we're going to get up and do it anyway. We're going to find the deserted mountain trail, pull on our shoes, dig deep, and find out what we're really, truly capable of.
That's why I run marathons in the mountains. Not because I'm brave, but because I'm scared. And I want to do something about it.
Photo: Matthew Geffert