It’s completely dark out, with only a fading quarter moon to accompany my headlight as I run uphill. The temperature is cold, but very reasonable for a Wyoming December morning. I try to keep my cadence rhythmic as my shoes bite into the hard snow crunch crunch crunch and the incline steepens. This feels like it could be the most grueling, long, and challenging climb of my life, and it’s not even mile one yet. Ouch. Every muscle in my legs ache and scream and my heart is beating out of my chest even with this snail pace. I’m struggling.
I often run in the morning before the sun comes up during the work week, but rarely do I begin long runs on the weekends at 5:30AM. However, in the unfamiliar December build-up towards Orcas Island 100, my weekend afternoon twenty-fiver milers have been taking up much of the day and I’d been missing out on too much family time. My goal on this particular Sunday morning is to knock out twenty-five miles before 10:00AM so I could still be home for a family waffle breakfast; a rather ambitious pace for dark, snow running and the second twenty-five mile run of the weekend after the prior days excursion.
Finally I make it to mile one, and my legs still feel like they are exploding. I pick my head up and look around at the dark and barren pre-dawn landscape; little is visible other than a sea of sagebrush, rocks, and a couple of pine trees. I think to myself man the struggle is real this morning. Even in my groggy state, immediately I recognize that slipping into negative self-talk is not about to do me any good. I begin to go through all the positive mantras that I have stored somewhere in the back of my brain, but none of them are sticking this morning. You’ve got this; you’re just warming up the diesel engine; those waffles are going to be so damn good; do it for your family. They all feel decidedly vanilla, or overused, and I’m still half asleep and just barely crunching along.
Is the struggle real? I wondered to myself. Of course not, what a ridiculous thought. I lift my head up again to take a look at my surroundings, and I’m greeted by twenty-some eyes glowing in my headlamp. This family of deer are up and awake, probably because of me, while my family is still sound asleep in bed. In an hour, or so, they’d be up and awake, prepping some breakfast while I enjoy a splendid winter mountain sunrise. This is not what struggle looks like. Without any intention, my mouth opens and I slur out of my cold, tired lips “Yeehaw giddy up!” I smile, chuckle to myself, and feel a sense of joy ooze over me like molasses as I liven up my step. That’s it! That’s the mantra for today. My oldest daughter, five-year old Ella, is easily excited (to put it mildly), and any time she has been feeling jazzed this week she’s been dropping a “Yeehaw giddy up!” That kind of stoke and zeal for life is just what I needed on this first climb. For without a doubt, an appreciation for every moment can take you a long ways, both literally and figuratively speaking.
Just a little bit faster now crunch crunch crunch trying to get three steps every second crunch crunch crunch. Just a little bit louder now too “Yeehaw giddy up!” I’m almost to mile two now and I’ve knocked out 1,200 feet of climbing and starting to find my groove. To the southeast over Table Mountain the sky starts to bleed bright red right over the horizon. The temperature, which wasn’t all that cold to start, begins to get even warmer as I ascend through the early morning temperature inversion. As I crest the first climb I proudly let out one more “Yeehaw giddy up!” and pick up the pace, as I can already taste maple-y waffles and feel the warmth of a family breakfast in a few more hours. No more struggling here this morning, as if I ever was at all.