By Aisha Weinhold
I haven’t been running far distances for a long time.
The majority of my running kicks had come in a binge-style. If you followed my Strava (an online activity tracking program), you would be able to see all of my major life crises (although no binge lasted more than 10 days, max): thinking of dropping out of college for the third time, logging 60 mile weeks; bad break up, 40-50 mile weeks. But, these past few months have been the happiest of my life, and I have been logging miles like nobody’s business, and not in a masochistic kind of way, but purely for the love of running, and the love of life.
I know what this sounds like: girl is sad, girl runs far, girl loves life. Wrong! Well, sort of … here is my story.
Running long distances has always held this wild allure for me. I love being in the mountains — the deeper in, the more connection and elation I tend to feel. I ski, I bike, I climb, I do all sorts of things, but something about long-distance trail running has kept me fascinated far beyond the binge.
I remember watching videos and reading interviews about long-distance runner Anna Frost, who has always been a heroine of mine. I wasn’t yet a long-distance runner, but I found inspiration from her during my binge days. I found myself imagining or paralleling my life through her journey – I could see myself in every major injury and reinvention she experienced through running.
I, too, had injured myself, but I had a broken soul. I had exposed myself to numerous moments of self-hatred, disrespect, and serious emotional and physical abuse. I had truly lost my joy. When I was younger, I loved running. I was a skinny little thing who found immense pleasure in running away from home. I played every team sport that supported this habit, but was just as happy to fulfill that love alone.
Looking back, I think I decided to love running the day my Mom told me that she considered herself a runner. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew that that was what I wanted to be, too.
So, I became a professional runner, metaphorically. I went between three schools in a year, dropped out of college, and re-applied again, ended and found new jobs, met new friends, and participated in ruined relationships. I climbed, fell, laughed, cried, felt insanely poetic, realized that drunken slander isn’t art, and drove thousands of miles and dozens of hours with nothing inside of me besides coffee and indecision. Not the kind of “professional runner” that I had dreamed I would be.
But, of course, like many other dreams, you lose them. Or, rather, you become distracted. Priorities mature with time, as does judgment.
And then, this past year, I started running again, this time with my legs and my heart, but still bingeing. I found boundless peace in the high desert of Arizona on trails that wind through Piñon and Juniper trees, and are usually too hot to safely incubate a sane thought anyway. I was thrilled! I was also running away from the worst relationship of my life, and consequently my worst performance in school. Ah … first-world problems.
Then I stopped running, and let my life crumble around me. I enjoyed the rubble, there was little to clean up, few responsibilities. All I had to do was try and be happy, follow that daily dream and if I binged, it was all right. But, I did remember the peace that running brought.
I would still get out into the mountains; long tours on heavy skis. I couldn’t wait for the spring. Spring came and then summer, and this is where it gets good. I moved home, lived with Mom and Dad. I had lost some things that I never thought I would lose, and gained an infinite amount of wisdom and self-love. I also started running again. And, I fell in love.
The first date with the person who would become the love of my life was a run — a quickie up Mushroom Rock in my hometown. Because of running, I met two of my favorite female friends. I also reconnected with one of the most influential adults from my adolescence over a conversation about technique and zero-drop technology. I felt healthy, confident and free again. I found a whole community that supported this habit that I had so dutifully created, left behind and created again. It was OK for me to run.
I ran my first marathon with my new husband, Steve, last summer (the 4 Pass Loop). This is what running with him has taught me: relationships are special and must be treated as such, no one is required to be in your life; it is his or her choice to remain and just as easily he or she can choose to leave, no one is obligated to accept your presence. That being said, I feel so honored to have been chosen by Steve, and likewise to have been so intentional with my choice. He has shown me the dark-side of competition, the true nature of running, and how to love and support a partner.
I ran my first ultra distance that summer, too. I ran with Steve, but the lessons that I learned along the way were my own. I learned that blisters happen, girls have got to stick together, always bring toilet paper, you won’t want to run the entire time, you won’t run the entire time, trust in the process, its OK to be emotional, running like a girl is a good thing, and fifty miles isn’t that far.
Because of ultra-running, I have learned to love, trust, find companionship in unexpected places, experience unfiltered joy, and I have reconnected with a dream and passion that has been writhing inside of me for years. Something inside of me has shifted. Now, instead of running away, I am running forward, and I look forward to my next outing into the mountains and to my next run.
At one time, Aisha Weinhold — in the pursuit of being a sponsored athlete — became a professional at running away from challenges. She is now not only a committed long distance runner for all the right reasons, but also the founder of No Man’s Land Film Festival (link: http://nomanslandfilmfestival.com), an all-female adventure film festival based in the Rocky Mountains.