Sunday, February 28, 2010

Long Run Revelations, Part II - Want A Fulfilled Life? Embrace Death.

(Photo courtesy of poet Ollie Lind)

Have you ever noticed that half of the stories in endurance magazines sound like Mad Libs for people in recovery? Sometimes I swear they just plug in the facts:
"[Name] got into running after recovering from [near-fatal disease or accident] just [random number] years ago. "I was in bed, feeling sorry for myself, [another random number] pounds overweight, and my [body part] looked like [bad food or construction analogy]. I decided the best way to beat [near-fatal disease or accident] was to celebrate the health I had one day at a time. I trained for months and completed [major race]. I'm not embarrassed about my [body part] since it gives me a chance to educate others about [near-fatal disease or accident]. I've now hooked up with [charity of near-fatal disease or accident] to run more, and hope to inspire others with [near-fatal disease or accident] and be living proof it is possible to overcome."
Unfortunately it's easy to gloss over the message in these formulaic summaries. In truth, there is something very powerful at the heart of these tales. This is Part II of my long run revelations:

"To lead a fulfilled life, embrace death."

I've had the good fortune of losing some friends and family in the last six months. I know that sounds backwards, since the pain and loss that immediately accompanies such devastation is soul-crushing. But by embracing loss and authentically internalizing the myriad of feelings that surround it, life feels more precious. Life IS more precious. If we are living, we are survivors. We should all embrace life as fully as our formulaic heroes.

It's such a shame that most of us can easily avoid our own finality in day-to-day routine, distracting media, and pharmacologically-enhanced lives. Comfort is good, and probably necessary for some level of sanity, but it's important to regularly remind yourself not to take it all for granted. I often feel this is the reason many of us enter endurance events and push our personal limits - we surround ourselves in pain and adventure so thick that we can't escape asking ourselves the very basic questions of what makes us happy, what makes us tick, and what gives life meaning. Through the pain, we grow, and for days afterward, we cherish every breath, every sunset, and every laugh.

At the 2009 Western States, I got so deep it got scary. But the serenity that followed lasted for weeks, even months, and was nothing short of life-changing. If 27+ hours on the trail is all it takes to reach that level of enlightenment and peace, it may very well have been the easiest thing I have ever done.

Embrace your finality. Treasure the moments you have. See life in its fullest hue. It's the best way to honor those who left before you, and makes for MUCH better stories.

- SD

[You can also read Long Run Revelations, Part I - There Is No Such Thing As Work/Life Balance, Only Life Balance]


  1. very true is so short and so random. take nothing for granted.
    It's sad that often it does take losing a family member or close friend to make you realize the fragility of life and how you really don't know how what the next day will hold-- so let the people whom you love, know that you love them.. forgive and ask for forgiveness.
    don't hesitate and LIVE LIFE to the fullest because it's a one shot deal you only have ONE opportunity.
    take care and have a great week!


  2. this is one of your best. ever. and i've read all your posts over the last 3 years.

    i've seen/heard/made the same argument before, but never so cogently or so poignantly.

  3. Scott,
    Nice blog entry. I always find myself thinking of my family when I'm in the middle of a 50 or 100 miler.

    From a Carlos Castaneda book:
    "death is always at an arm's length away from us. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of you eye, and you should be aware that it is always there." - Carlos Castaneda
    then he goes on to say that a true warrior is always aware of his/her own mortality; which keeps you alert and forces you to never take any moment for granted.

  4. Carpe diem, my friend. Here's a quote from Dead Poet's Society:

    "They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary. "


  5. You're not the sort of person who one might ordinarily regard as deep given your line of work, but there you go, being deep and spiritual. Thanks for sharing and continuing to inspire!


  6. I love "Dead Poets Society"! I was just amazed the other day that someone had not seen it because it's such a great flick. I need to add it to my favorites list.
    The other day I was talking to a friend about how our culture likes to keep our focus on beautiful things and people and avoid the realities of death. You're right Scott we need to embrace our mortality everyday so that we can appreciate the time and relationships that have been afforded us.

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone. The traffic on this blog entry is already through the roof! I think what you've added really enriches it.

    It sounds like many of us have gotten to this revelation on our own one way or another. It's a hard one to teach, though. I'm open to any suggestions if you have them.

    I recently was asked to speak to a bunch of high school students, and wanted to try an experiment to get this point across. I readied 20 envelopes that each had a date in them, and was going to tell them that a psychic helped me figure out the exact day each of them would die. First question - do you want to open the envelope? Why or why not? Second question - how would you change your life if the date was 10 years away? 5 years? Less than 1 year? So you only start living then? The envelopes would contain a month and day (April 11), but no year. I figured that would get them thinking. It certainly would have been a wake up call to me at that age.

    Unfortunately my host teacher said I can't do this, or risk lots of parents calling in, people getting fired, and having the students worry about the day in their envelope for the rest of their lives. "That's the point", I said. But it sounds like it was a bit too harsh. Alas, I had to stick with "keep your grades up". ;-)


  8. A big shout out and THX to whomever just added this to the StumbleUpon Psychology page. I don't really know what it is, but clearly a few thousand people read it!

    Now if I can just figure out how to get them all to sign up for a trail run... ;-)


  9. Nice set of posts, the first captured what I think is true about balance and your second one captured what I feel when I run longer and longer. I love the time on the trails for working through life's issues. Thank you.

  10. Thanks, great post. I love to run because it gives me the chance to think and appreciate my health, my family, and my precious life. And, in some cases, work through a life issues/crises.

    Thanks again

  11. This is very timely for me as I am training for my first ultra and after feeling like I was completely hung-over the day after a long training run (no drinking involved), I was asking myself why I do this to myself. I am glad to know others think about these things.

    Great post, thanks!

  12. Thank you for that post! I love it! Life makes us what we are in the end. Live life to the fullest.

  13. To me, running is about competition. I want to win, to beat you, to be on the podium. To be the best. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a sport.

    I could sit around and think of a bunch of great motivational stories about how wonderful and life-changing it is, but I'd just be blowing smoke.

  14. I think what is most interesting is not that you do ultras, but that you continue to do ultras. Your constant reminder has built quite an annual schedule!

  15. ..or you can just drink heavily ;P

  16. Scott,
    Can't find a contact form nor email for you. We want to feature you on BBC Blogworld. (

    Mail me on if you can.


  17. Scott,

    I really enjoyed your post as I have been thinking about the sister I lost to Cystic Fibrosis 15 years ago tomorrow. She is one of the driving forces of my life and one of the main reasons I run. There really is quite a connection there -- thank you for writing about it so eloquently.


  18. well nailed, trail-bro. and for eliciting some great comments. amen.

  19. btw, the envelope story cracks me up! but, I could see some people getting spooked every time their date came up-- birthday...deathday...

    Ohio Endurance Trainer-- Scott and I and most of the people I'm racing with (against?) are also into the competitive aspect of running, but I doubt all the gobs of time I spend would be worth it if winning were the only draw. (Aside from the fact most ultras don't use podiums.)

    It usually takes me a 100-miler and the sun going down to get really deep.

  20. Um, excuse me Ohio Endurance Trainer, but what would you know about the podium other than watching bike races on TV? Good luck with your first 50k later this month. If you can finish it, (I'm not saying you can't - just looking at your posted workouts and noticing that it doesn't seem like you're putting in enough miles) you might "get" what everyone else is here is talking about.

  21. 忍著

  22. Nice post...the way of the samurai was about embracing death, each and every day...death, or the thought of death, is what gives life meaning.

  23. I enjoyed reading this post (and the comments afterward). My life is going through a rough patch and I find myself wanting to push myself more and more. I just started training for my first 50K.

    I think I am going to go hug my kids now.

    p.s. thanks for the blog tips you posted a while back. They really got me thinking about my blog, traffic etc.


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