Reuniting With the Flame

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The morning of Badwater was strange for me.

I drove the 17 miles from Furnace Creek to Badwater pre dawn to catch the 6am race crowd. Windows down, bandanna slid cross my forehead, 311 blasting..Ha. I thought This is the most chilled I’ve ever been while driving to a race.

There I was, on my way to a massive start line, without any intentions of running. In some ways, truth be told, it sucked a little bit. Just a little bit...a bittersweet kind of way. While the average person wouldn’t trade places with those about to suffer for a day or so through 135 miles, I would have gladly done so in a heartbeat.

I knew the emotions those runners were experiencing:

I could almost feel their anxiety and excitement in my own two shoes.

I could sense their nerves bundling up in their throats.

And the pride–the achievement of being there–it was written all over their faces. No denying it.

They deserved to be on that line. They earned it.

Me? I just wanted to be on that line.

I chatted with the chicks racing the 6am wave, got some interviews, snapped some pics, and so on. I really enjoyed talking with other like minded females…women that understand that craving for pain that is so foreign to the majority of the world, but that resides right inside of my soul.

But that line, the one between us-in that moment- it defined us. It defined me. I wasn’t the chick chasing down her dreams with all of the guts she could muster up.

Even though I craved to move more than Secretariat behind a cage, I was just the chick on the other side.

Watching.

I was okay with that. I knew it wasn’t my time to run. I just wanted it like a four-year-old in KMart, and I had a hard time concentrating on anything else.

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The national anthem began to play, and the race was almost set to begin. The runners shuffled back and forth; nervous, but ready.
3..

2..

1..

Bam. No turning back.

As I watched the athletes move by in a fast flurry of white, I felt a tear spring up into my eye. They worked so hard to be here. I thought. The moment was beautiful.

Seriously?! Ashley?! Hold yourself together.

I guess I’m just a sappy mom, because I just couldn’t. A few tears flowed down my face before I gained control of them.

I imagined the journey ahead of the runners, the pain they were going to experience, the highs and the lows.. All of it. I remembered in that instance why I loved ultras so much.

It has nothing to do with physical accomplishment, or insane athletic ability. It’s the power of the mind. It’s the journey you take for no reason at all that reminds you of everything you love about life. It’s just something you do because you can, regardless of the fact that nobody can fully understand it.

I wiped my pathetic blue eyes and smiled…man that daggum familiar burn is back.

I tried to run away from that part of me this year-the part that needs the thrill of competition, and that is driven past physical boundaries. I denied that piece of me that could drink up adrenaline and survive. I don’t know if it was out of fear of returning to a bad mental place, running too much, or just plain being scared.. But after watching that prerace scene, and witnessing all of the energy that defines Badwater: I knew the urge to run and race far was back full force. The craving to push myself to an impossible finish line was burning its way through my veins again.

I got in my car and dropped my head back on the headrest. Gah. That was too cool. It all just felt so incredible. To feel that urge, to be there at Badwater… surrounded by one massive celebration of everything that encompasses ultrarunning: discipline, drive, dedication, fierceness, and 135 miles to show it all to the world.. I loved it.

Stay focused on the task at hand, Ash, you’re not in the Georgia forest. You’re here to write. Now go find some new inspiration…

Nope. This wasn’t my run. I was definitely there to write and to experience it from another side. But I took hold of the moment, cherished it inside of me, and took off to explore the world around me- the world of Badwater.

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Photo by Caleb Wilson
__________

Ever experience emotions like this relating to ultras? Certainly I’m not the only one… 

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16 thoughts on “Reuniting With the Flame

  1. I appreciate how you take us on a trip into your brain. Every time I read your stories I feel like I am right there with you. Kudos to you for sharing this moment with us so beautifully. Cheers! ~T

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  2. “It has nothing to do with physical accomplishment, or insane athletic ability. It’s the power of the mind. It’s the journey you take for no reason at all that reminds you of everything you love about life. It’s just something you do because you can, regardless of the fact that nobody can fully understand it.”–Extremely well said. It’s an experiential, spiritual, mental and animalistic, like the prey drive in a cheetah. You just have to. If you get the feeling you know it and there’s no real way to explain it to the uninitiated, unbelieving, largely uninterested masses. No way other than how well you just did.

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  3. Hi Ashley :-) First of all, I’m a huge fan. Second, thank you for brilliantly illustrating your trip and the race. You’re really amazing in every way. My only wish is that I could have been out there next to you for every moment just to watch you work your magic. You’re such an inspiration to us all. It would be an honor just to be in your proximity. Thanks for all the beautiful stories you give us :-)

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  4. Oh yeah- I read the horrific and untrue comments about you on the hungry runner girl interview. Those jealous blow-hards! They don’t know you like I do (I’ve followed your site since the beginning). Don’t let them bring you down. You are amazing!! :-) :-)

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  5. Ashley- you seriously ROCK! I am in awe of your athletic abilities and your drive! I strive to be as hard core as you :) AND- I love your haircut. haha. Also- I have two kids also- and I’m curious how you find the time for all the training and races etc. Do you work? I don’t- but even working out 5-6x a week is difficult to fit in with the kiddos! I do it- but its a stretch. Do you ever use the treadmill? (blah!, I know) Thanks for the info- and ignore ANYONE that says anything negative about you and your running. I think its amazing!!!!!!

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  6. I’m so glad the flame is lit for you again. Not so you can go race 100s again but because you were missing it. You have a ton of drive but I think that flame will put the fun back into it for you. And if nothing else, running should be fun. It’s our playtime.

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