“I think it feels like resigning if we come up with excuses to quit before we even try,” I said to my Wilder retreat small group. “That feels like resignation. You don’t even give yourself a chance with discomfort.”
It wasn’t a novel revelation. But I had spent a few days before this Wilder retreat coming up with excuses, so it was clear to me. I had already edited the weekend with what I thought would happen. That’s resignation. Sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes it’s the brave choice. In this case, though, it was not okay, by my personal standard. If I don’t even give myself a chance to be at this retreat in full, I stand to lose a lot.
Lauren sent a comforting email to our August Wilder retreat crew in late July.
“Whatever fitness you have right now is enough. Whatever amount of writing you’ve been doing is enough. If you are injured, we will be creative. If you are blocked, we will open up. This is your retreat, our retreat, and nothing is perfect and everything is as it should be. All you have to do is show up as you are.”
I wanted to reach through the screen and hug her. IT IS ENOUGH. Just show up as I am. I can do that.
— — — — —
One week before I left for the Wilder Running and Writing Retreat, I twisted my ankle while putting laundry away. LAUNDRY. I was standing at the bed, grabbing things from the basket and turning my torso to put them into the dresser. My feet were planted firmly. I had one last thing to put away. In doing so, my ankle decided it wasn’t into this twisting motion and something snapped.
“OW!” I said aloud, to no one in the room. “Damn, that hurt.”
What could have been a brief moment of pain turned into not being able to walk down the stairs without limping, not being able to run at the Lane 9 Project event that night, and dejectedly walking the dog for the next few days with lingering pain. There was a lot of sitting on the couch with a numb foot, as I let an ice-pack work some magic. (Or so I hoped.)
My chances of running through the Wilder retreat itinerary already felt diminished, since I have a tiny human growing inside me. I knew I wasn’t in shape for the full range of options—which included up to 14 miles of trail running on Sunday—but went into it hoping I could do something. This dumb ankle thing felt like a nail in the coffin. “No Wilder running for you!” body says.
— — — — —
Is it enough to show up with a bum ankle? I wondered.
I wasn’t about to throw the towel in with the whole Wilder retreat experience, because that email said that wherever we were, it was okay. It was enough. I took eight days off of running, or even attempting it, and prayed to the running goddesses. (There are many! Take your pick.) All I wanted was a few miles on Oregon’s trails, a few days of feeling kind of normal amongst a group of runners. A few days of Wilder retreat life not riddled with a laundry injury or a pregnancy excuse.
I did a little test run in Portland on Friday morning. Conditions were too perfect to resist—sunny, 55 degrees (a number I haven’t seen in months), and clear blue skies. I was awake early, because time zones. My hosts gave me a house key and building code, which was very easy for me to remember—#WILD. A sign to give it a try. Go out on a morning adventure and go wild, see what happens. Don’t bury this lovely Portland morning with excuses.
I ran for three stretches of 5 minutes, with no pain. Whoop! Then I looked up our Wilder retreat itinerary for the day in my Gmail app. “45 minute shakeout run at 5pm,” it said. Well damn. I already screwed this day up. Fool my ankle once, I’m lucky. Try to run on it twice in one day, and I’m probably an idiot.
— — — — —
We all arrived Friday afternoon for check in and the opening ceremony. Lauren sat us on benches around a fire pit in the back of our home for the weekend, the Caldera Arts Center, and asked us to close our eyes. We had our notebooks and pens in hand. Our hearts readied. Our minds settled. She asked us to write what we wanted to get out of this experience, in a few sentences. Then she gave us a ribbon and a Sharpie, and said, “Write one word. One word that embodies how you want to live, write, and run on retreat. When you’re done, tie it on one of these branches. Let the wind carry it through the air this weekend.”
“Unedited,” I wrote.
Photo credit: Jess Barnard
From there, we lined up for our first Wilder retreat run: the Friday night shakeout. Once again, Lauren reminded us that it’s okay to not go, to walk, or to do parts or all of the five mile loop around the lake. We had about 45 minutes to play with. In my mind, I should have stayed back. My heart couldn’t start the retreat off with an excuse, though, however logical that excuse seemed in my coaching mind.
Unedited, I thought. Don’t let your coaching, or logical, brain get in the way of this. Don’t let it edit what you want to do. Don’t resign yet.
I started off with the easiest warmup pace I could muster, as slow as my legs could move and still be running. Right away someone mentioned she was training for Marine Corps Marathon (my people!), so she only planned to run out for 15 minutes and then back. “I’m sticking with you!” I said.
I ran, without a hint of pain, for 15 minutes. I got to enjoy a single track trail along Suttle Lake, for 15 minutes. We talked about the marathon, her daughters, and running, naturally. We turned around, took some photos of each other, and then she kept running and I did a run-walk back. My heart was soaring.
I started and finished on my own accord, and would do the same for every run throughout the rest of the weekend. I ran hard during our Saturday morning interval workout, and didn’t let any “What ifs” cloud my judgment. My heart rate was high but my body felt amazing. I went hard for every interval. During every two minute fartlek, I thanked my body, my tiny human, and my feet for giving me that day, and that effort. I ran five miles along the McKenzie River Trail on Sunday morning; it felt like a breeze. My heart rate stayed low while endorphins flew high. Flashes of California trails, races with Mike, and backpacking days through Big Sur stared up at me from the dirt path. They rushed through me like adrenaline. My breath was calm. My feet knew exactly what to do. My body was along for the ride. Then I ran another 45 minutes on our silent Monday morning, along the Metolius river. All I heard was the river moving beside me. I walked the short climbs, stopped to pee behind a tree, and came to a halt when the hurried water next to me was suddenly calm, clear, deep, and relaxed. I stared in awe. The river made no apologies or excuses for rushing over boulders, bringing down tree branches, or slowing to a flow that was nearly impossible to see. It seemed still, but it’s always moving.
Photo credit: Jess Barnard
— — — — —
There was no resignation in my Wilder retreat experience.
There was no editing before experiencing. Not in writing, even when it felt forced or dull. Not in connecting with others, even as we fatigued from the run and the thoughts and the smokey mountain air. Not in running, even when I thought it wasn’t going to be possible for me at all. I didn’t listen to the excuses. I ran away without them.
It was less than I could have done one year ago, but far more than I expected of myself in this phase. It was enough.