So maybe I have a hyper-competitive side; it’s been present since my youth. In Little League baseball, I was the first kid in my city ever ejected from a game. I’m also still bitter about the time I lost a foot race against Howard Schaap.
So at 35 with diminishing athletic skills, I find it harder than ever to satiate that nature. But I have to try, right?
This past month I ran another obstacle course race (OCR). Six miles through mud, ice baths, barbed wire crawls, log hurdles, creek sprints, and fire jumps. The terrain: a ski slope. This was my fifth OCR; it was the hardest. My wife, now a veteran of these races herself, asked me why I run in them—we were at the starting gate. It is the kind of question that goes unanswered when you’re staring up a thousand foot incline, as we were. The motionless chair lift above mocked like gargoyles.
The answer—if there is one, I think it changes—is also the answer to why I write and have faith. But to say “I just do,” empties the habit. There’s a grueling beauty present in endurance, though it abides like pebbles in your shoe. I might be justified in abandoning any task the second it sees the slope upward. But I don’t. Not even after weeks of writing draft after draft of a story that still exposes itself as shitty as that first draft. I don’t abandon my faith because I live in a world that doesn’t have the sense to get itself “undamned.”
So when I talk about mud runs and writing and faith, I know I’m talking about why I need community. I desire to be surrounded by people of all abilities pursuing the same end. Some who know that feeling of finishing a story. Or can scale a muddy twelve foot wall in three bounding leaps (let’s see you do that, Howard!). Or know, what Christian Wiman describes, as the “moments when we reflect a mercy and mystery that are greater than we are.”
I believe and write and race because others reach a hand down over the ledge and pull me from the muck. They say a part of the creed for me that I cannot say, uncover a character’s motivations I could not identify.
When I talk about mud runs and writing and faith though, I’m also talking about how sometimes it’s only me against me. And how I just have to sink the balls of my feet into the mud and ascend.