Craft By Zen

3 min read

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The Inner Game of Desert Running

On the fourth day of my trail running adventure last week, I was a torn mess. My left calf was aching, my joints were abused, my willpower depleted. And yet, I continued, with the sun beating down at 104 degree Fahrenheit weather. I rab on the golf concourse in the middle of Death Valley, possible the lowest point of the world. The concourse was covered with salt, reflecting the sun’s radiant light and adding an extra source of irritation.

At this particular point of my journey, I was slowly losing the inner game. My conscious self got defensive, shouting “you’ll pass out before you get to the finish line.” I felt faint for being outside for a half an hour, and water was a short lived refresher. It’s the last quarter-mile stretch, and all I wanted was an ice tea by a cool, ocean breeze.

This happened the first day too. It was at Joshua Tree, and I had a low reserve of willpower from a lack of sleep the night before. I wanted to stop running; my mind was the greatest obstacle. I tried the strategies I picked up from marathon training to stop thinking by placing focus on breathe. In the back of my head, Simon was telling me “the obstacle is the way.” My travel campanion was running beside me shouting words of encouragement. I try to listen and not let my mind get the better of me.

Death Valley in the summer is miserable as people say. It’s dry, you can faint by heat stroke, and you can’t imagine how there’s life in the desert. But glancing around, there were bushes, ants and other inserts around. I’m unsure if life was giving me a sign, but I was going to make it. At least, that’s the mantra I decided to use.

At the finish line, I panted heavily. “I made it,” I thought, but it was a large mental struggle. I found it hard to explain this to my travel friend as we packed up out gear to leave. My head throbbed from the lack of proper sleep. I wanted to leave the desert, go to a cooler place. I wanted to let my aching left calf rest.

That’s the inner game. An internal struggle to bypass the thoughts of quitting, of giving into the temptation that what you’re doing is not worth it, of letting your body do the last 10%. I look back at the situation now and realize those efforts were crucial. We may not understand why, but we need to rely on our gut feeling and stop listening to our head.