Feet crunching on dirt
Breath coming in gasps
Thoughts floating on the breeze
Mountains piercing the sky
Laughter bubbling in the air
At this time last week, I was along the Alta Via 1 in Northern Italy: a meandering, craggy trail that unforgivingly meanders through (and up and over) the Dolomites.
Over the course of six days, Runcation Travel led a group of 12 runners from all over the world (US, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands) over nearly 70 miles and 17,000 ft of elevation gain.
But I suppose this post isn’t about the numbers.
Nor is it about the fact that the Dolomites are unlike any mountains I’ve seen: they jut out of the earth, rocky and majestic, rosy-hued and somehow soft. You would not think you were in Colorado, or Montana, or California, or Peru.
Nor is it even about the fact that, despite some hitches in training due to a pesky calf strain in mid-March, I actually felt fit enough to join the “faster” group (the 12 of us split into two groups throughout the week) – and not feel like I had to race to keep up (well, except for a couple times I hit a wall and had to have a snack – we all had our ups and downs!).
At the beginning of the trip, our guide and my friend Liz asked us what we wanted to get out of the trip. Everyone around the table mentioned being in the moment, having fun, not worry about how fast we were or how much training we did/did not do. It was a nice way for a group of runners to think about running: it’s about the journey, not about the time it takes to get there.
And I’m happy that yes, I did absolutely enjoy the journey. There were parts I felt free and effortless. There were parts I was bent over wishing I’d been able to do a couple 3-4-hour runs or more hill workouts. But then I’d look up, take in the scenery around me, the smiling and tired faces, and remind myself: this was going to be hard no matter what.
I will admit something, though: I think I would have felt a bit sorry for myself had I not been able to be with the faster group. As I think about it, it’s logically nonsensical: it’s not like the second group was slow by any means, we were all out on the same trail facing the same challenges. But the thought occurred to me partway through the trip, and it was an interesting thing to notice. Would I have been able to enjoy the journey as much, if I hadn’t been in shape enough to be in the first group? And isn’t it then not about the journey (at least, not 100%) if I’m concerned about where I am?
I think the answer is complicated. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to disconnect from my desire to do something well, if I’m going to do it at all. I wouldn’t want to, not completely: that attitude has brought me a lot of success in my life and it’s a pretty engrained part of my character.
So I think for me, how I look at it, is that there will be a level of preparation that allows me to then enjoy the journey.
And I can enjoy the preparation: I can enjoy the training and the work that goes into feeling prepared.
That’s all part of the journey.
I can then be grateful for the preparation as I face the challenge of what the training was “for” – obviously, in this case, a week-long adventure. But the same holds true for a presentation, a piece of writing, a meeting I’m running. Trusting the preparation allows me to truly be in the moment, because I’m not spinning my wheels or without the tools I need to make the journey possible.
The danger is two-fold: one, never letting myself out of preparation phase (I may never feel 100% ready but need to, at some point, jump in and go for it instead of perpetually planning); and two, beating myself up for “not preparing enough” if things don’t go perfectly as planned. These dangers are what bring me out of the moment, out of the enjoyment of the process and tied to an outcome.
So this is my challenge: balancing the preparation with the journey. Creating the conditions for success but then detaching from an outcome. Be that a trip through the mountains or a few words on the page.
If these photos aren’t enough, or you’re missing cities, there are more here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/5TgTk5M1VkjSt3Pk9