“Where beauty is — I think is beauty — beauty isn’t all about just nice, loveliness like. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. And I think when we cross a new threshold that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

— John O’Donohue (an Irish Poet, Philosopher, and Catholic scholar):


As I look toward the Ring experience, O’Donohue’s notion of beauty resonated with me because I felt like I crossed over a threshold worthily. My first Ring experience resulted in a disqualification because I ran down a road rather than staying on the trail. I had unfinished business, on this course. It’s been three years, so I decided to toe the line again.

Over this time, I have committed to living my life more consciously. That process has resulted in making substantial changes, so that my life aligns with what I value. I have also worked to cultivate healthier habits. A wise yoga teacher says that “this process is two steps forward and one step back,” but my internal optimist recognizes that I’m still moving forward.

Before the start, I had my usual nervous response of checking stuff. I missed the start announcement. When I started the race, I found myself running a faster runner. After a few minutes of chatting and laughing, I eased back on my pace. It was great because I ran with different people who I often don’t get to chat with in races. They had interesting tales to tell.

This year, the course did not seem as demanding and grueling to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve run longer distances? Or perhaps it was because I’ve done harder races now? Or perhaps I was just being more mindful?

What do I mean by mindfulness? Rather than dwelling on questions like: Could finish this distance? Am I good enough as a runner? I kept going back to the facts: I was in one of my favorite places (i.e. the woods), where I was enjoying time with people. I also relished the joy that being out in nature brings me. Things like hearing bird calls, feeling the wind blowing on my skin as I rush down the hills, and sensing the muscle burn when I climb uphill (I know that sounds sick, but I speak the truth).

While there were moments of doubt and internal questioning: Why I was running this race? These moments seemed more spaced out than my prior experience. If they came up, I merely dispelled them because I wanted to enjoy this experience and embrace the beauty of the moment. The experience was one as John describes as substantial becoming. How?

1) Fullness

Even though, I was nervous at the start. I came into the race with a different mindset. It created a sense of fullness on the course because I had a sense of adequacy in my skills and confidence that I could finish this race. Rather than spending the day battling my ego, I found myself embracing the experience, receiving help along the way because I hurt my hand badly when I fell at mile 8, and settling into a consistent pace. The mindset of adequacy helped enable me overcome the doubts as they came up. I accepted the fearful stories that my mind invoked as paper tigers rather than my current reality. When fear came up about my potentially limited resources, meeting countless animals that could kill me in seconds, and my own potential to injure myself, I recognized it more quickly than I would have in the past and adjusted. Sometimes, the fear was a friendly reminder that I needed to make a physical change (i.e. eat or drink). However, my fear was legitimate at one point. It came up when I was debating if I was lost. I ran downhill for a couple of miles without markers, catching cobwebs, and running on an ungroomed trail. That was a moment, where I was thankful for fear. The sense of confidence in my ability and desire to finish this race enabled me to embrace the experience rather than spending time fighting my ego. I merely accepted this experience as one that would fulfill me regardless of the outcome. Therefore, this race was so much more enjoyable.

2) Grace and Elegance

Honestly, I would not define myself as a graceful runner. I have moments were I can move on the trail in a way that appears graceful because of years of practice. However, friends of mine will tell you those graceful moments are often followed by a huge thud because I have a natural tendency to fall. Perhaps I am a graceful faller? When I look to define my performance on the trail, I’d like to claim that I’m more elegant. What do I mean by elegance? I mean that I have worked towards having more effective, simple, and efficient ways of running and feeding myself. Things are less complicated because I have learned small habits along the way. I also know what makes me content on the trail. I have come to accept that some things that my friends, self-proclaimed running gurus, or the various running publications suggest as the new magic elixir (i.e. performance enhancing, comforting, and soothing) merely evoke misery for me. For instance, eating any apple products while running is like taking a laxative. A race free of unnecessary runners trots is worth noting. Any products that invoke that type of response have been given away or trashed quickly! By the way, this race was free of runners’ trots.

3) Depth

One of the biggest challenges for me was running alone in the wee hours of the later evening and morning about nine hours total. Initially, there was a sense of suffering that came over me as I found myself alone. At one point, I needed to take a pee, which would be easy in the right mindset. However, it was during the period of time when you are so exhausted that even running is difficult. In attempts to remain my own dignity, I tried pee appropriately along the side of the trail. Everything seemed okay until I looked behind me after the pee and realized that I was standing the edge of a sustainable drop off. That scared me, but my survival instincts set-in. I found myself totally going for a stop, drop, and roll across the trail to avoid falling back. As I caught composure post-roll, I realized that embracing depth in that way might not been my ideal way, but that’s about as much depth as a trail runner experiences. It also reminded me to look back before you squat because it would be horrible to say you didn’t finish because you picked an inappropriate pee spot.

My headlamp died a few minutes after the pee incident. In the past, I would have looked for the third incident. As I stood there in the darkness accepting where I was at this moment: Yes, I was suffering. Yes, I was suffering from sleep deprivation. Yes, I was not really even able to walk in a straight line. Yes, I was lonely. Yet, here was a sense of calm that came over me in the darkness as I changed my headlamp. Rather than dwell in self-pity, I moved to a more mindful approach of acceptance recognizing that my suffering and loneliness was not limited to my own experience, but it is also a collective human experience.

Where link to depth? In our lives, we feel like there are difficult moments where we are suffering and in the dark. Yet, the only way out is grounding into these experiences and accepting them for what they are, while we simultaneously embrace hope for change. At these points, we feel like we have limited resources to navigate the next part of our journey, but we still motivate ourselves to move forward by putting one foot in front of the other. A simple action in these moments is worth more than allowing ourselves to wallow in our self- pity, thus creating additional suffering. Over time the small footsteps allow us to cover a substantial distance, then we will find ourselves reconnected to our tribe (i.e. likeminded people). As I moved through the night after my revelation, I found myself much more at ease. I also found it easier for me to recognize see the various lights out in the distance. The moon came a central guiding point for me. The depth of the experience of connecting with difficult human emotions enabled me to move from a place to fear (particularly since I’m afraid of the dark) to a place of acceptance, which was a warm and welcoming experience for me.

4) Homecoming

Homecoming was amplified for me when I came to the final aid station. It was crewed by one of my favorite female trail runners. As I ran up a candlelit road, it was lovely to be in the company of people again. I enjoyed one of my favorite trail beverages: a Cherry Coke. Kind words were spoken back and forth as we caught up on each other’s summers, then I was sent off to finish. As I ran down the road toward the finish, I knew that I was going to make it. Even though, there was a climb uphill and a rock filled downhill. When I summited the top of the hill, the sun started rising. It seemed appropriate homecoming celebration. As I started the downward descent towards the Signal Knob parking lot, I was less fearful of the rocks this time. I found myself running a bit. Then, I’d stop to take in the beautiful sunrise. I was truly thankful to be feeling more grounded than three years ago. To me, there is nothing better than watching the sunrise because it’s a reminder of how the cycle of life is truly remarkable.

Meaning that, there are times when we find ourselves in dark and bleak moments questioning if we should continue down our current path. As we continue and work through those dark and bleak moments by maintaining our own sense of hope and faith in the final outcome, we start to see the light again. I find that the greatest moments of darkness occur just before the sunrises. It’s like that in life too. Often, the most difficult times are followed by some of the most joyful times. I find that when you go through difficult and challenging times; they make you more grateful and motivate you to celebrate the joyfulness that arises when you come back to yourself in these good times. I believe that to truly live our lives; we need continue to accept both the difficult and joyful times because they teach us about ourselves. The difficult times show us our strength and resilience in the face of adversity. The joyful times provide us with hope and faith in ourselves.

As I stood there in the parking lot greeted by many familiar faces, I was in shock. When I had finished this race three years ago, it seemed like dumb luck. This time, I had finished knowing that I was worthy and able to do it. I also felt I had truly embraced the experience in the challenging and beautiful moments equally. That’s a substantial homecoming.



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