“It was pretty grim,” says Geoff of the 50-mile slog we were attempting to complete. He’s done it before. Twice. He ought to know.
We were winding our way through the cloud-saturated trees for hours. Bright tufts of moss dripped off gnarled branches, leaving patches of iridescent green carpet as soft landing for our rain-soaked feet.
Other terms used during the event include, but were not limited to: grind, head down, keep going, miserable, hustle. It’s probably pretty accurate to describe the crux of any racing event as a miserable hustle.
I am not quite certain why the miserable hustle calls to me again and again. Perhaps suffering gives us purpose and then later acts as a badge of honor.
I explained to my companion that no matter what I do—climb mountains, chop firewood, run 50 damn miles with a 30-pound pack—it never seems to really count until I have some kind of story of enduring agony, preferably where limb or life or both were at risk.
What the hell is that about?
I thought I was pretty good at embracing the suck, but Geoff takes it to a level of expertise I’ve never witnessed. He doesn’t stop at aid stations and prefers to drink his calories (the same exact thing for twenty hours), although he reported needing a sock change once in the past. I basically race for the ham sandwiches and guiltless cookies. I thought suffering was just the price I paid.
Years ago, when the people who determine such things told me I had PTSD, some of that need to suffer took a new context. Survival and resilience were like a worn in pair of jeans. I knew how to move in them. I kept returning to them, as if I had to prove something to myself. No amount of suffer would break me.
From time to time, Mother Nature, a Big Rock, or a Broken Heart would put me back in my place. Eventually it was love that softened me and that miserable hustle became just a tiny part of a bigger truth—one of bearing witness, holding space, and a strange kind of introspection that only hours of trail trodding can promise.
“You might even have a good time,” I threatened Geoff as I list off the smorgasbord of pit-stop joys I had waiting for me: potato chips, caffeinated nut butter (the angel who invented this deserves a Nobel Prize), my friend Angie held a hot thermos of bone broth, dry socks, and a deep sense of appreciation. Around mile 31, Geoff reported “enjoying” himself. I wrote it in my race log and attributed it to the handful of corn chips he’d just shoved in his face.
These journeys have become pilgrimages of gratitude. What used to be a grimace is now a grin. What used to feel like solitary confinement is now a testament of friendship and camaraderie and the symbolism of how our lives touch each other. Geoff carried the hat of Emory Corwine, a young man who left too soon. I wore the t-shirt of a friend who has to live on chemotherapy Slurpies for a while and couldn’t run with us. Somewhere along this race we call life, it becomes less about Us and more about Them.
When Geoff and I stumbled across our finish line, it was not the blister war wounds that we touted or the groans of our creaky knees. We didn’t need misery to give us purpose or proof. We had laughed, shared histories and dreams, food and pee breaks, fears and joys, and dedicated miles and some pretty awful cadence singing to those who inspired us.
Maybe it was the fact that we were having fun that propelled us to a record finish, although I’d wager the cookies played an important role. We came in before dark, eyes bright and smiles wide. We didn’t go because we had something to prove. We went because we had something to give.
Extended photo caption: Ammi and Geoff completed the 50 miles in 14 hours and 35 minutes. Ammi was the first female finisher that year, breaking the old record by more than 2 hours.
Ammi Midstokke is a nutritionist and author living in North Idaho. This story is of the Emory Corwine Memorial Ruck—a man she and Geoff never met but who continues to touch the lives of strangers from the Great Beyond.