(Originally posted on The $76K Project on 12/18/19)
(Note from 2022: Obviously a lot happened in the world after this post was published, and the 2020 race was canceled. I was able to defer my registration to this year... so this is what I will be doing at the beginning of August!)
Hello, $76K readers.Welcome back.
Now that you're here, please allow me to take a minute to just
FYI, that was a good scream. A happy scream.
Because I have MADE A PERSONAL/LIFE/FINANCIAL DECISION after weeks (I mean it, weeks) of agonizing and obsessing.
(First off, a disclaimer: YES, I involved my family in this decision, and YES, everyone's on board. We've talked about it to the point that Fortysomething's like, I don't know how many ways to tell you that it's absolutely fine, why are we still discussing it.)
Do You Want To Know What It Is?
Here, watch this:
I'M GOING TO RUNNER SUMMER CAMP IN COLORADO!
As of last night, I'm signed up for part of the Transrockies Run 2020, a multi-day stage race across the mountains of Colorado. This race has an outstanding reputation not only for the scenery, but also for the logistics. Registration includes pretty much everything: accommodations (a tent each night), breakfast and dinner, a shower truck, and luggage transport from one stage to the next. Also, beverages (aka beer). People rave about the experience. The race definitely attracts high-caliber runners, but it also welcomes average runners of all ages and body types who just love the sport and want to cover some major distance in a beautiful place.
The full experience is six days long and covers a total of 120 miles, but I'm signed up for the three-day option: 21 miles the first day, 13 miles the second, and 24 miles the third. At altitude. It'll be a challenge, but I think I can do it. (The six-day option averages 20 miles a day for six days in a row. I'm not ready for that. It's also way more expensive.)
...What's that you say?
You want to know the registration fee?
Something in my throat, sorry.
It's... well, it's expensive.
To cut to the chase, the total cost is about $1400. That's why I've spent so long talking myself out of (and then into) signing up. I think the price tag makes sense - again, it covers the race itself, food, tent rental, five nights of camping, and sports therapy stuff - but whewwwww.
If you've read even just a few posts on this blog, you probably know that I'm pretty obsessed with running. It's weird, given that a) I'm not fast, b) I'm not agile, and c) I'm a perfectionist who likes to do things she can excel in. When people picture runners, they conjure images of lean, gazelle-like Olympians.
But I am not lean. I am not quick. I have more in common with a fire hydrant than a "real runner."
Typically, I don't bother doing things I'm not that good at because it damages my sensitive little ego. But for reasons I haven't fully deciphered, I love running despite myself. I love who I am as a runner. I can't tell if I turn into a different person when I put on my running shoes or if I just morph into the best version of myself, but either way, especially as someone prone to mental illness, it's good for me.
Whereas other aspects of life easily make me crumble, as a runner, I am determined, consistent, persistent, pragmatic, and surprisingly cheerful. In my snail-like way, I get out there and keep going. I can continue putting one foot in front of the other even when the experience is painful and/or boring.
I've been running for more than 20 years and have had only one injury (I overtrained, and my IT band rebelled).
So in my mind, by my own standards, I am a runner, and a pretty successful one at that.
Running a multi-day stage race is something I've been wanting to do for at least a decade. The Transrockies Race has been on my radar for a couple of years, but I've been particularly aware of it since registration opened up several months ago. Given the reputation of this event, I was intrigued. But I also felt that signing up would be completely unreasonable and selfish given that we could be saving that money or using it for other things.
I shoved the thought out of my head, but it kept coming back, over and over again.
In order to pay for this race, we'll have to dip into savings. That's what gave me so much pause.
We've spent the last two years paying off debt and building an emergency fund, and to throw so much at one experience feels like we're moving backwards in a way. We've got momentum now! Shouldn't we just keep saving and investing and gaining financial ground?
Once again, I find myself trying to find that balance between planning for the future and making the most of the moment. I am 41 years old. I am healthy. I can easily take a week off from my part-time job to go run in the woods. And while I hope I'll be able to keep running for the rest of my life, while I hope that I could make this same choice any year and not just this year, nothing is guaranteed.
After four decades of life and watching random and terrible things happen to people you love, that fact really starts to sink in. The phrase "Make hay while the sun shines" takes on new significance.
Part of my hesitation in signing up was the thought that continuing to add to the already-stocked emergency fund would be a smarter move. But that started to feel strangely icky.
It took me a while to figure out why:
Would I rather throw more money into an untouchable account intended to cover us in the event of future problems, or would I rather invest in something that excites me and makes me feel alive in the here and now?
Would I rather prepare even more than we already have for the nebulous bad stuff that could be awaiting us somewhere, sometime down the road, or would I rather focus on the more immediate things that I so clearly care about in the present?
The former seemed like the smarter move, but it also made me feel deeply depressed, as if we'd just be sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop. That was the part making me feel blurghy: the notion that we're supposed to hoard money and deprive ourselves of things that bring us joy, spending the cash only when truly awful and expensive things to happen to us.
Fortysomething and I are into survival reality television. We recently watched a season of Alone (a show about surviving alone in the wilderness) in which one of the participants spent weeks conscientiously drying and storing fish for the winter. In the meantime, he allowed himself a mere half a fish every 48 hours. One day, the medical team came in for a routine check and discovered that his body mass index had dipped below 17% - an indication that he was actually starving.
When they evacuated him, the guy was severely emaciated, had something like 40 whole fish hanging in his shelter, and was screaming promises that he'd eat more if they'd just let him stay.
Point being: there has to be a balance between preparing for the future and nourishing yourself now. You can't sacrifice present-day you for future you; that defeats the whole purpose of preparation.
Aside from the adventure and the challenge, the other reason I want to run this race is because I need something new and big to focus on.
Since leaving an academic job in 2016, much of my brain space has been taken up by thoughts of finding work, hating work, quitting work, feeling like a job hopper, feeling like a failure for not using my degree, and feeling like graduate school was a pointless endeavor. I've been sad about all of the knowledge I won't use and all the so-called friends I've lost now that we aren't in the same career field. I've obsessed about wasted time.
In other words, I've been focused on the things that didn't pan out despite enormous investments in time and energy - the sunk costs. And that's okay. It's okay (and necessary) to grieve.
But at this point, I'm ready to invest in what is working in my life instead of agonizing over my perceived inadequacies. I'm ready to place my focus on what I can mostly control.
Preparing for this race - because it will take a lot of preparation - is a way for me to redirect my attention so that I don't get stuck in the Land of Shoulda Wouldas and can keep moving forward.
I don't know where my "career," such that it is, is going, but this race gives me a better sense of where my life is going.
ANNNNNNYWAY, that was very long. Thanks for reading the whole post. Thanks for letting me dig into my thoughts. Thanks for listening. (And if you have annny interest in living in a running camp for four days and crewing for me, let me know.)