As life speeds into a new decade, I can’t help but reflect on the past 10 years. The year 2020 has a nice ring to it, and Y2K is a distant memory. I have so much to look forward to, as 2020 will be the year my oldest son graduates high school, my youngest son will get his driver’s license and I will celebrate 29 years with the love of my life. Aging has done some funny things to me, beyond my expanding forehead and adding gray hairs. I find myself examining how I got here, getting lost in my thoughts. My family often refers to me as Walter Mitty, with my constant daydreaming. You see, it’s happening right now! Let’s get back to the point, which was paying tribute to the last 10 years. A decade that began with the darkest period of my life.
“I’m still me.” Tears streamed down my cheeks as I choked out the words to my wife, Krista. It was January of 2010, and something was very wrong. Anxiety and a sense of hopelessness overwhelmed me, along with crippling panic attacks. The wave of sadness was especially confusing, as it came on just when life was getting really good. I was married to the woman of my dreams, I had two healthy, happy sons and my career was taking off. I was the easy-going guy who always looked at the bright side—the eternal optimist. Then, overnight, my world was rocked with chaos and I didn’t have the slightest idea why.
I think running came into my life exactly when I needed it. As I struggled through the beginning of 2010, it just so happened I was also training for my first ultramarathon. Seven months earlier, I had finished my first marathon and was surprised by how much I had enjoyed the experience. What was supposed to be a one-and-done, had instead triggered something inside of me, a desire to see how far I could go. I set my sights on the Vermont 50-mile race, and had it on my calendar for that September. By March of that year, I was having serious doubts. How could I run 50 miles when just getting through the day was such a struggle? My heart raced, and I constantly felt dizzy. Time dragged on, not to mention the fact that I was barely sleeping. I secretly wished that I had an actual physical injury, something that could be cured with surgery and physical therapy.
Since I didn’t yet understand why this was happening to me, I turned my focus on trying to understand how anxiety worked. And so, I read everything I could get my hands on. I needed to face the fears that were sucking the joy out of my life. I vividly remember an evening in March, declaring to Krista that I had cured my condition. I had spent most of the day reading about panic attacks, and it was all making sense. I was confident that I was not going to be afraid anymore, and I could finally get back to being my “old” self. The next day, I left the house for work, but didn’t make it to the office. Pulled over on the side of the road, I sobbed so intensely that my throat felt like it was closing. As I drove back home, I was haunted by the thought that I was broken beyond repair.
The next six months were a roller coaster ride. I found a wonderful therapist and with her help, I was able to understand and work through the issues that had triggered my anxiety and depression. I also discovered the powerful tool of relaxation through breathing techniques. And I was running. A lot. By the summer, I was logging over 50 miles per week. My runs became a type of meditation and my breathing steadied. I soaked up the elements with the wind in my face, rain on my skin or heat of the sun on my body. I hurdled sticks and rocks on the trails, and welcomed in all of the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors.
On a picture-perfect fall day, I toed the starting line of my first Vermont 50. My adrenaline pumped and my legs felt light, as I covered the first few miles of the race. Around mile five, I entered a meadow with incredible views as the sun beamed, showing off the yellow, orange and red fall foliage. I was bursting with emotion and my vision blurred with tears. A few miles later, I met my crew – my wife Krista and my sons, Justin and Jase. Their cheers and hugs lifted my spirits and reminded me of how much I had needed them over the past nine months, and how they had always been there for me.
The last three miles of the race cover the trails of Mt. Ascutney, winding through Johnson’s aid station, Mile Long field and majestic single-track trails. At mile 49, I popped out of the woods and experienced what is still the happiest moment of my entire running career. There, waiting for me with huge smiles on their faces, were my two sons. As long as I live, I will never forget sharing that last mile with them, crossing the finish line and embracing my wife.
So, as 2020 begins, I look back with gratitude to the year 2010—a decade that began with darkness and confusion, and ended with hope. My overwhelming wish 10 years ago, was that I could go back in time and find the version of myself pre-2010—the less complicated version.
That never happened. Instead, what I discovered was that I could not go back to the way I was, and that was okay. It was the year I discovered ultrarunning, and I haven’t kicked that nasty habit yet, having completed eight 100-mile races, with no thoughts of stopping anytime soon. Here’s to the next decade. May it bring you less chafing, fewer blisters and more exciting adventures. Where will your feet take you in 2020?