Ambition

I completed my 12th ultramarathon race last weekend — the 32 mile TARC Fells Winter Ultra Trail Race just north of Boston, MA. It wasn’t my fastest race (not by far), but I had fun, finished it in good style, and was honored to share the experience with 5 of my student athletes from Sterling, each of whom pushed themselves to meet or exceed the goals they had set for themselves. They have so much to be proud of, and had a great close to the season.

Each year at about this time, I start seriously planning the coming year’s adventures — poring over maps, reading descriptions, checking airfares. The snow has started falling in earnest, and I’ve already been out skiing nearly a dozen times with the anticipation of dozens more.

But I can’t help but think, where will running take me in 2018? 

Sometimes looking forward, though, means looking both inward and back.

When I was first hired at Sterling College in 2006, I had the honor to work with Will Wootton, the College’s President from 2006-2012, and this week I had the great fortune to attend a reading of Will’s new book, Good Fortune Next Time, which weaves together heartfelt stories of horse-packing and wrangling with the administration of small New England colleges.

Just after I left the bookshop, I turned on the overhead light in my truck and paged through the index to see if I had made it into the book somewhere, and there I was, on the top of page 198.

I was floored. I beamed. I smiled broadly to myself.

Then my heart started to settle. Deep into the pit of my insecurities.

Was I really those things? Was I still that person? Did the words of this man, whose opinion I valued so much and whose perspective I so deeply appreciated, match with the person into whom I had grown in the years since he hired me as dean in 2007?

Ambitious. That word stands out more than any other on that page. It’s also the word with the most subjective meaning. Many people look at the kinds of things I do and can’t even begin to understand the drive to run hundreds of miles at a stretch or to connect running, teaching, advocacy, and love of the wildness of far-flung places to help build some sort of climate resilience.

Yet.

In its etymology, ambition refers to the ambit, the circuit one walks in order to achieve a goal (or solicit votes, support, or some distinction). Quite literally, then, endurance running is the very definition of ambition.

It’s often very easy for me to convince myself that the goals I set for myself are largely insignificant.

So, what will 2018 bring? Sharing that will have to wait. First off, I’m taking December off from training — the first extended break from active training since 2014. It feels important right now to step back and take in the larger picture and figure out how I can match my drive for doing with being the best person I can be.

Come January, I think I’ll be ready to see what ambit awaits.

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