It was two days ago. I’d pulled an all-nighter on a work project the day before. I was beyond exhausted, just about beat, and I knew it. In the weeks prior, I’d paced the carpet down to a nub and bit my nails to the quick. I pulled out every last lick of hair and chanted the great lamentations in the hopes my creative muse might show me some mercy. I hurled myself to the floor in fits. Then, against every pitiful instinct in me, I met my friend LA for an afternoon run at the tip of Boulder.
I pulled into the dusty lot, relieved at the sight of her smiling face. It felt like the first I’d seen in weeks. Preparing to launch into the details of my fruitless morning, I began with, I’m running on empty today. I got nothing. I felt a catch in my throat and heat building from behind my eyes. I swallowed hard and rambled nervously about nothing just to keep from dissolving into self-pity and an exhausted ugly cry.
LA let me go on for ten minutes or more. As we stretched our limbs and our muscles warmed, I ran on about the rigors of attempted creativity, the precious nerves it burns, and the isolation it often entails. I explained to her that this is what happens when we’ve got nothing left and we’re nowhere near the finish. I’m really not sure how to move past this block, I said. I just know I have to. She nodded as we headed east. The first mile behind us, I fell quiet and settled into the crunch of gravel underfoot.
We slowed heading south and slowed some more before I noticed I wasn’t panting like I usually was by that point. LA winced, rubbed her knee and stopped. I’m really sorry about this, she said, but I’m scared I might have an injury.
LA is a serious runner. The day before we met for our run, she’d completed a twenty-five mile training loop in preparation for an upcoming fifty mile race that’s going to be held at an altitude of more than fourteen thousand feet.
As she stretched and massaged her leg, she told me how hard it had been to carry on in the rain and cold of the previous day and that she’d gotten so drenched, she had to double back home after thirteen miles to change into dry clothes and hit the road again. She told me how depleted she’d been after hitting a wall at the eighteenth mile and wondered how she’d go on. That’s when, I shit you not, she said, a running mate appeared. She’d literally run into a friendly jogger who also happened to be a running coach from out of town looking for route suggestions. They wound up running together and she got the surprise support she desperately needed in the moment.
For the next three miles we cycled in and out of running, all the while sharing our stories of fatigue and depletion. We related our experiences of isolation and the irony of sometimes despising what we loved doing most. We acknowledged the deliciousness of victory after a long fight and the daily challenge of closing gaps between excuses and the execution of hard work.
Do you know what it’s like to let yourself be emptied and to not run from the sight of what’s left? It’s not an easy thing, which is why I ask. Harder still is to bring that emptiness to another person and trust her enough—or maybe it’s that you trust yourself or life enough—to let her in on it. I don’t know which was more difficult for me: the heady, uphill run or admitting how utterly gutted I’d been feeling before.
As we neared the parking lot my sense of connection had begun to return where, barely an hour before, I thought it was all I could do to tie my running shoes. Something unexpected happened that day. We each risked letting the other see what we looked like in vulnerable places—and we reached the finish better than when we started. For me, it was a welcomed renewal of mind, body, and spirit. I showed up with absolutely nothing to lose and it was just what I needed to fill me up again.