Words by; Robin Leilani Vieira
Most of us runners are considered “crazy people” by the rest of the population, regardless of the distance, terrain, or pace we run. Running IS hard- hard on the body and mind. So, why do we do it?
My running journey began not in the mountains or the trails, but with my sister, Kelsey, who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three. As a little girl, I found ways to run during soccer practice, training runs in the city of Seattle, uphill on my grandparents’ driveway, and through acres of vineyards surrounding the old family ranch house. Running was always a last resort option for me; a simple way to stay in shape. At times, it even felt good to run, as if I could run away from any craziness that my family was experiencing with my sister (which trust me, there was a lot of.) And yet, without meaning to, Kelsey quickly became the biggest teacher and giver of unconditional love in my life; she was teaching me the art of endurance. You must believe in where you are going. You must recognize that what you see at first hardly ever turns out to be what is actually there, and that gifts come in all shapes, sizes, distances, and speeds. Kelsey is one of the greatest gifts I have ever experienced, and I spent a handful of years running away from her challenges, because I didn’t understand them.
It wasn’t until I started looking twice, asking myself the hard questions, and looking at my life and my sister’s life through a new lens, that I started realizing what endurance really is.
The word itself gets a bad rep, I think. People hear “endurance” and immediately feel fear, anxiety, uncertainty, or some other negative emotion. The thought of having to endure, or withstand some uncomfortable experience is terrifying. When will it end? What if it doesn’t? What will happen to me? Here’s the thing. If you breakdown the word “endurance” into its Latin counterparts, you get: EN (to be in) – DURE (hard, difficult) – ANCE (against from, experiencing, doing). Which, putting this all together, I interpret it as the following: to be in a state of doing something quite difficult- to be going against what is easy. To experience something that is hard in life is inevitable. It is part of the human experience. You get knocked down, you get back up again, you learn, you grow, and you get stronger. That’s how we survive and develop as a species (in simplistic terms). So is running as an endurance sport preparation and training for those hardships in life we are bound to experience in some capacity? I think so.
Not only did this provide me with a new perspective, but it made me realize why I have always turned to running, movement, physical and mental exertion, and challenges as a place to exist. It is not about the final result or finish line, but the process of getting there; of being in the during; or, in the present moment. That is where we, as human beings, are the most in tune with ourselves, others, nature, and whatever else you want to identify as larger than yourself (God, the Universe, etc). This is the place we are most certain we can be, because there is no other place we are supposed to be in that very moment in time.
So, let’s take a step back from these ideas. You may be thinking, “But Robin, I run super-fast for a maximum of 6 miles with my run club, and I don’t get anywhere near those 30Ks.” My point is, you don’t need to. Life is about enduring, about being in it during the ride; through all the ups, downs, flat sections, quick miles, and slower paces. Whether that’s for 6 miles or 100.
Since realizing my love for enduring, rather than for running away from things as quickly as possible, I’ve dare strayed from my original plan in life, and spent a summer studying yoga in Bali, learning to mountain bike with my dad in New Zealand, and naively moving to Maui with my partner in crime and love, Ren. I’ve received a master’s degree in Sports Product Business and started a career in an industry I never knew existed growing up. All this was a product of enduring; of staying present and listening. And I hadn’t even started running in the mountains yet! (Case in Point– you don’t need to grow up in a pristine mountain town to become a dedicated mountain runner). The whole mountain running thing started before I knew that mountain running was actually a sport. I broke my wrist mountain biking and was forced to tuck away my lovely new mountain bike up in the shed for the season. I finally pulled out the old running shoes, laced them up, and left the house without the slightest ideas where I was going to run without facing the mountain bike trails. Up to the mountains I went, into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, where only horses and shoes are allowed, no bikes or motorized vehicles.
I wish I could launch into this transformative story about that first real run on the trail, but I honestly can’t remember much other than wishing the uphill would end. What I do remember though, is the 3 months that followed that. The miles and miles I logged solo, with my partner Ren, and with friends. That feeling as you watch the terrain change before your eyes from trees to high alpine. The shade of light that routinely hits the trees at dusk, and the eerie feeling you are being watched- all became part of my week. I would drive hours across Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Montana, and Utah, just to experience the beauty, elevation, and different rock that a new trail had to offer. Needless to say, I was addicted to chasing endurance, pursuing it.
Today, I’ve ran more trails that I can remember, yet I’ve only done one long-distance race, where I placed 3rd for women. I may do more races, who knows- going for a win or podium is nice, but not really the point for me. My goals moving forward are pretty simple really – to continue running and moving far on my feet; to inspire others to run outside and appreciate nature; to move my sister, Kelsey, to an open space where she has freedom to be herself; and to reduce my environmental impact throughout all facets of my life. The path ahead will twist and turn, but these goals relate directly to my why. What are your whys? Are you listening to them? If you’re not, go for a run- I guarantee they’ll start yelling at you to listen to them before you finish.
Comments or questions? I would love to connect with you and aid your journey with running, mindfulness, or finding your why.