While studying at Oxford in the early 80’s I wanted to absorb a “full” experience during this English sojourn. So in addition to saturating into the academic life among the colleges, I sought out new athletic opportunities as well. After being “consoled out” of my college’s intramural rugby team by the coach (he feared for the life of a scrawny, 122 lb, American oblivious to the reality of rugby as a sport), I took to a lightweight crew and stumbled into an active Fell running community. The crew experience was great and provided much insight into the truly team nature of this sport (both on and off the water) and the rather elaborate traditions, but the Fell running proved to be much more of an experience for me.
My memories of the Fells were sparked when I saw the recently released African Attachment/Salomon video with Rickey Gates and a number of Fell running greats on Fell running in the Lake District:
The robust group of runners that I had the pleasure to run with for a couple of seasons made a significant impact not only on my running but also (and in a much greater way) on my perspective as it relates to truly experiencing a place.
The mantra of the group was: “Embrace your conditions!”. Independent of how raw and unwelcoming the conditions were (and “raw” and “unwelcoming” are mild versions of what one might regularly encounter in the Fells) we celebrated the visceral and intimate experience that would naturally materialize when one did not let the conditions become a barrier. It was new territory for me as previously I would typically limit a run or not run at all unless the conditions were at least palatable. But with the encouragement and peer pressure from the group I came to actually prefer the difficult conditions that were not infrequent in the Oxford area, the Cotswolds, the Peak District, and the Lake District where we ran.
This mindset and mantra has ever since informed how I try to approach life’s experiences- whatever the endeavor be it athletic, professional, or what have you. Rather than attempting to alter or otherwise modify the conditions that face one, this approach embraces what exists and challenges one to figure out how to make a way through, cover the ground, and finish- whether a run, a race, a project, or a relationship. This is not easy to do as we often fall into the mindset of “what could or should be” rather than making keen observations of “what is” and figuring out a way to go forward. Also, the forces at work can seem insurmountable- and many times they are. But this should not deter one from maintaining the mindset and moving forward, constantly re-evaluating what is the best path given the current circumstance. For me, it took many years before this approach became the default, but once in place what had previously appeared as insurmountable barriers became opportunities for optimization, challenges rather than burdens, and, in the end very valuable experiences.
So the next time you face a training run with a mix of rain and snow, deep muddy conditions, a driving wind, and low visibility think about “embracing your conditions”- you just might have a valuable experience upon which to draw in your next race when the inevitable unexpected happens.