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August 14, 2017

The Flyway - Eat. Slay. Love.

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People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling – a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the Universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.” ~ Brene Brown


BY: SARAH BARD

Eat, Slay, Love is my commitment to an exploration of self - a rediscovery of who I am, what is important to me, and how I live a life that supports a healthy balance of happiness, striving, meaningful relationships, adventure. It is about responsibility to myself.

Hiking-in-Greece.jpgHiking in Greece - Views from the Kalymnos Trail (A rugged 100km trail around Kalymnos, Greece)

This story has proved a hard one for me to tell. Partly because it’s very personal. Partly because it includes and affects people I love dearly, and who have a much different perspective of what occurred over the past year. Partly because it feels a bit cliche. Partly because I am in the middle of the story - or maybe even the beginning - and therefore only able to tell it as an experience without knowing how it turns out. Partly because the biggest challenge I’ve faced over the past year was not being able to communicate what I was experiencing and needing. It is not the full story, but a glimpse into a heartbreaking and difficult time of my life, and how I am choosing to react.

Last year, something happened to me that I never would have expected. I somewhat suddenly recognized that I was no longer myself. I felt empty - a shell. I was unmotivated, inexplicably disinterested, distracted, and going through the motions each day. Things that had previously defined me, my interests, and my happiness started to feel like checklist items - including my relationship with running. Throughout my life, even on days where I didn’t feel like running, once out on my feet I’d feel motivated, satisfied with getting outside and moving. But instead, I dreaded running, with each step feeling like a mountain of boredom, strain, and slog. I accomplished things only for hope that with the execution I would begin to feel purposeful again. But I didn’t.

One would think that I would have felt my loss of self as a progression. While it surely was, instead it was more that one day I just recognized that I was desperately lost, unfeeling, and confused. The way I felt was so foreign I wasn’t able to communicate my emotion. I struggled to describe how I felt and understand what I needed. I didn't know what I was experiencing, why, or how I would go about feeling like myself again.

On the outside, everything was more stable than it had ever been. But as the life that I had worked toward for 32 years fell neatly into place, I found myself experiencing an indescribable panic, an unexplainable need for an unidentified thing. It didn’t make sense. In response, I found myself acting irrationally. I did horrible things to people I loved. I destroyed relationships. I was cruel. I cried, a lot. I relied heavily on friends for guidance (and didn't follow it). I started to refer to this as a third-of-life crisis. 

Last November, I left my home and moved to Montana. I moved into a beautiful house, shared with 4 (then) strangers, at the base of the Rattlesnake wilderness in Missoula. A person who usually prefers solitude and space, the home in Missoula - filled with interested and interesting people, wonderful food, and outdoor activity - became for me a haven of happiness and comfort. Here, I made new friends, expanded my support network, and slowly and carefully found my self and my strength again.

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Throughout the past year I have explored the depths of friendship, and the love that people can have for one another in times of difficulty. In old friends, instead of judgement I found compassion and an eagerness to understand and help. In new friends, I found kindness and acceptance. At a time when I felt most lost and isolated, my community rose to meet me. They listened and allowed me the time to find my way, offering support without impatience.

It was in Birdstrike, that I reunited with running’s ability to bring people together, to make friends of strangers. In Birdstrike, I once again experienced how running can make one feel both weak and strong, completely depleted and simultaneously powerful. It was in Birdstrike that I remembered my love of suffering and my ability to overcome, my desire to help, and how to rely on the strength of others. The Speed Project was a race, but Birdstrike was an experience. Both a nightmare and a dream, Birdstrike brought me closer to myself - as running always has.

Long-roads-in-Cederberg-South-Africa.jpgLong Roads in Cederberg Mountains, South Africa

As I started to feel stable once again, I made a plan to finish up working and to take 3 months training, racing, and exploring in South Africa and Greece. In South Africa, I rented a small apartment in Cape Town, spent several weeks training in the hills of Mpumalanga and the Cederberg mountains, and drove through the country from Cape Town to Durban. In spending time alone, without a job in a country where I knew very few people, my sole responsibility was my mental health. I was made to listen and reflect - to care for myself in all ways, simple and complex. I read books and essays, reconnected with old friends, made new ones, listened to advice and perspective, and rediscovered my greatest love and passion: running. 

Running in the hills of Mpumalanga, with 24 untethered hours each day and no pressing commitments, I once again saw the beauty of the world, and the fortune and fullness that accompanies a climb up a hill on one’s legs to watch a bright red African sunset. Time slowed, with activities as simple as making dinner becoming intentional and reflective acts. I made friends of strangers, in friendly passing hellos on morning shakeouts. I dined alone, an act of patience and quiet solitude, and made friends with waitstaff curious to understand my dining choice. I observed the lives and priorities of others. I listened, to them and myself. I learned. 

Eat, Slay, Love is about prioritizing and reflecting on the simple, but important aspects of my life. It is the opposite of going through the motions. It is about not looking toward the next meal, but focusing on the one in front of me. It is not about training for a race, but training to explore my limits and feel powerful, to experience the challenge and beauty of the world. It is not about socializing, but cherishing and prioritizing friends and relationships. 

Running-Mammoth-Lakes.jpgRunning Mammoth Lakes - Views from the Sierra High Route outside Mammoth Lakes, California (Photo Credit: Aaron Newell)

I returned from South Africa renewed and full, ready to explore my future, my priorities and needs. I sold my (dying) Subaru and bought a van. With the van, I can explore the challenges of living a nomadic life while still feeling ‘at home’. I can explore and exist with more self-reliance and flexibility. In the short month since moving into the van, I have visited the Sierras for the first time, ‘run’ through high mountains, and spent quality time with friends across the country. I have seen baby bears, relaxed in hot springs on a cool night watching shooting stars overhead. I have woken in the mountains and napped in the valleys. I have gotten lost. I have been frustrated, hot, dirty, and tired. I have been humbled. I have asked for help and offered genuine thanks. 

Eat, Slay, Love is about embracing fear and discomfort in hopes of discovering self-truth. It’s about being scared a little bit each day. It is about learning. It is about admitting that I don’t know what’s truly the right path, but being confident in following my heart. It is about quieting societal expectations and turning up the volume on my own expectations. It is about saying yes to the road unknown, to seeking the unexplored, to learning, to challenges, to strangers, to friends.

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Comments

Liz Kelly | August 15, 2017 at 2:21am

YAY

Sarah, Great piece! I love hearing and reading about your continued running adventures. It still seems like not that long ago that we shared the starting line on an almost weekly basis. So many of us still run, compete and contribute to this sport. As always, best wishes! -Liz Kelly, one of your Smith Sisters :).

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