This is a letter.
A letter to a place. A letter to people I´ve met. Maybe also a letter to myself.
This is something I wanted to write since years maybe. This is something I want and need to write right now. This is something I don´t know if I´m going to write about again in the future.
I struggle. And I´m currently trying to understand what I struggle with. What´s its name or connotation. Which are its sides, causes, eventual consequences.
Which are its symptoms if you can call ´em this way.
It´s going on since a couple of years right now. At the beginning I just called them bad moments or down moments. With the time I started to look at them as episodes.
And then, as these episodes keep come almost on a regular basis and most of all, apparently with almost same characteristics, you find yourself thinking about symptoms.
And you find yourself scared as shit.
So now I´m here, at mile 45 and something of Rio Del Lago. I just got into the Hallowed Land of ultrarunning, approaching the descent from Overlook down to the American River.
Down to the place I´ve dreamed of for such many years. The No Hands Bridge.
I´m even having quite a good day so far. I feel fit, on point with energy and calories, weather is great and this is definitely a great race. And again, I´m running on one of the most beautiful and iconic trails in the world.
All is going good. Except for one fact: the symptoms, the struggles, the episodes...just do not care the shit about you. About how you´re feeling. About where you are and what you are doing.
They come, more frequently quite out of the blue, and they start their horrendous but still seducing music.
One of those symptoms is an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. In these moments I start to feel alone, no matter who I´m with or where I am. I start to feel alone, far away from everyone and everything.
This sense of loneliness brings me then immediately to questioning myself what I´m actually doing right now, right here. I feel in the wrong place at the wrong moment. I feel I do not deserve to be here, like this is not my place, this is not my dimension.
And then, it starts to get physical: I slowly lose control on my own body. Quads start to feel empty, feet seem they are swelling relentless in my shoes, and toes are crying at every single step on a downhill.
I don´t want to drink anymore. Let alone eat.
Yeah, not only I´m destroying my day, my race and months and months of training. Not only I´m destroying one of the few things on Earth that makes me happy.
I´m destroying myself.
Or something is trying to destroy me. To put me out. Out of the race. Out of the day. Out of myself.
I´m passive to that. And I´m scared. And I feel incredibly alone into that.
So that is going on as I descent to the River through the warm hours of the day. I can hear the AR running through this thin and rocky valley. I can see it, the colors, the stream. But I cannot enjoy this moment. I´m struggling, I´m suffering, and I´m coming to the end of my day, and maybe of my running.
Over there. The No Hands Bridge just compares well hidden into the valley. It´s simple. Just an old bridge on a river. But even in this moment, even on the edge of my inner deepest darkness, I can not avoid to have a bit of goosebumps approaching it.
Maybe this could be even a positive episode, I think in the moment. Goosebumps is maybe just a way that your body use to tell you you´re still here, you´re alive.
So I decide do get my hat off and cross the bridge, walking. It seems like an endless moment. I can hear and feel my steps on this light gravel path, the River behind and all around, the inner voices becoming so loud that I can not actually hear the people around of me.
Until, again, out of the blue, all becomes quiet. Maybe two or three seconds, I don´t remember. But indeed, in these three seconds I do not hear anything, anymore. No river, no voices, no physical pain. Nothing.
Until one voice, one single voice, does come to my ears again, letting my mind in a sort of reconnecting process, which I don´t figure out in that moment.
Simple words: "Do you need something?", and with these simple words actually comes one hand. And then both.
Hands. Yeah, in that moment I probably need hands.
Hands that give me something to drink. Ice in my cap. Things to eat I would probably never pass safety controls at the airport with. A chair to seat on for almost an hour.
Hands on my legs, on my shoulders. Hands on my hands.
And then, voices. Not only sounds. In that moment, I need voices. Voices telling me that I´m not alone. That I´m doing good. That I have plenty of time. Words of love and wisdom.
Voices telling me that I´m right here, right now.
Voices telling me that I am. Period.
Now I´m reconnecting again with things that are around of me. With people, eventually with time and space, with the whole race and with the day.
Even with my whole trip from Europe down to this place. To this valley.
And to this bridge. Which is not only a landmark here. It is actually also a gate, marking the beginning of a long loop through the night (for me at least), into the unknown that always occurs at some point during a hundo.
I´m out right now, determined to go on somehow, fighting as hard as I can against (or with) the episodes in myself, but still searching for the reconnection with my own mind and body, with my own me.
The same hands and the same voices are putting me on the trail again right now. With some sort of gentle determination.
And I´m actually out from No Hands, ready to...suffer again, a couple of miles later.
This shit is not going away, not at all. This is the first time that I face it for such a long time, for such a long episode.
And I´m getting more and more scared about it, as I realize that I am completely at my limit, both physically and mentally. Could be that the cause or the consequence of this whole story? I keep questioning myself about that, as the miles keep going by, and I know that the simple questioning is still a part of the destroying process right now.
I question all the questionable. What am I doing right here? Why am I doing this? Why didn´t I give up the whole thing a couple of miles ago? While didn´t I listen to the seducing voice in me, telling me that it´s not so bad to give up, to retire. It´s still just a race, right?
And then I find myself questioning about the chance to quit as soon as possible. Will be possible at the next Aid Station? Will I be able to go back to the Camp pretty soon? How will I spend the next few hours? How will I recover?
No...I need someone else right now, which I can ask questions to. I need voices right now, again.
Right, the first couple of runner and pacer that I meet, I ask about it. About all.
I´ve actually met a couple of runner and pacer a few moments later. I´ve actually made some questions.
One thing I didn´t consider: the answers.
Maybe sometimes you just need hands. Voices. And answers.
The answers would get me eventually through the whole night and give me the chance to slowly (very slowly) reconnect with my own mind and body.
Even to share a bit of my struggles.
To reach the No Hands Bridge for the second time. Where the gate now actually looks no more to the dark night, but to the way back to the finish line.
Where I had the chance to run some of the most emotional, struggling and inspiring miles of my life.
Remembering letting the No Hands back, gettin´through the night with just the light of our frontlamps guiding us on the way back home.
And guiding me on the way back to myself. Rewiring my brain and body.
Still suffering and struggling, but not scared anymore.
Quite the opposite in fact. Accepting it, embracing it.
And that is maybe a sort of a lesson that I´ve managed to get from this experience.
Accept, embrace, instead of question and fight.
Maybe the episodes, the symptoms, the voices (which are all still happening and going sometimes) are just a sort of a letter that I´m writing to myself.
Signs of something. Kind of a energy, a force. Maybe just an unbearable and overpowering weight.
Which I have to know better and better. To accept. Which I have to embrace. Which I definitely have to learn to live with.
It´s a process, and I am definitely into it, full on.
Knowing, maybe for the first time since years, that I´m not alone.
That I have hands around me. And voices. And answers.
And that I can still walk, and run, with no hands.