I was running a 50K race and had passed lots of people on a really steep uphill part of the trail. I was feeling really good and was focused on getting to what I knew was one of my running nemesis, a highly technical downhill stretch on single path with lots and lots of cuts, leaping over roots and even some boggy areas. I had practiced this section specifically a couple of times coming into the race knowing that my boat-like feet and quirky ankles really didn’t enjoy this section and since physically I knew I was going to be able, mentally I was still struggling a bit. Sure enough as I got about half a mile down the trail I could hear the runners coming up behind. A number of them were just whooping it up on the hill, as they ran past me when I moved off the trail they had great big smiles and looked like they couldn’t be happier. One twelve-year-old shouted as he passed me “You’ll never see me again” as he bounced down the hill with nary a care in the world (I didn’t see him until the finish line by the way). I would have hated to see my face because I was lacking that bounce, that live life with abandon surge down the hill. I was concentrating so hard on not twisting my ankles and not tripping that I forgot a really big characteristic of not just trail ultra marathons but life in general. That characteristic is simply this: you’ve got one shot at life, live it with abandon and with unbridled joy. As I watched nearly all the runners I had passed on the uphill go by me I resolved that no matter how hot it got and no matter what I was feeling like I was going to enjoy the rest of the run. I was going to live this race like I want to live my life, with abandon and with a joy that doesn’t allow me to dwell on all the bad things that could happen. Instead of being so focused on what bad could happen I decided right then and there to run the rest of this race not thinking about what disasters could trip me up but to focus on living life with abandon and thoroughly enjoying every aspect of the race. And I did and it was a miserably hot day where many of the competitors had to drop because of the heat. I had to pull off at an aid station and put ice on my head and chest to get my core temperature down but knew there was no thought of quitting with only a little more than seven miles to the finish line so did what I had to and enjoyed life. I was able to finish up that race encouraging lots of other runners, helping some get to a shade spot or the closest water sprinkler or just dipping my buff in a stream and letting them wring it out over their head to try to cool down. Living life with abandon doesn’t mean living recklessly but rather deciding that no matter what comes your way you are going to enjoy everything and you are going to make the best of what is going on around you.
1 Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Philippians 4:11 “…..I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” This is how you live life with abandon and set aside the things of the past that have weighted you down and kept you from not only finishing the races of life but also enjoying them. It is this little word content or contentment. With it comes great meaning and understanding. One of the definitions of this word is “ease of mind” and to me that is something I know has held me back from living life with abandon. Ease of mind seems to me a state of freedom from worry or restlessness. This is something I strongly desire to cultivate in my life, not because there is anything inherently wrong in worrying about things but because there isn’t anything inherently to be gained by worrying about things. Matthew 6:27 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Being concerned about twisting an ankle or tripping over a root or a rock isn’t going to add a single hour to my life. However, if I can go through these highly technical downhills with an abandon, a bounce to my step I may still trip over these hazards, I may even twist an ankle but I certainly am going to enjoy the run a lot more. The same is true with all of our lives. The more we can cast aside the worries and the weights holding us back the more the great future already planned for us can be enjoyed.
Living an ultra life means not dwelling on the twisted ankles and trips of the past but enjoying the present and enjoying being in the Presence of One who has already marked out for us the trails we are to take. So stop carrying worry around like the heavy stone it is and lay it on the side of the trail and get on with this ultra marathon of life.