Running Through the Fear

From Outside Magazine
By Katie Arnold

In the wake of a bizarre physical attack and the death of her father, Katie Arnold felt paralyzed by the anxieties of parenthood and being a woman alone in the wilderness. She got through it the same way she’d always done, by lacing up and hitting the trail. An exclusive excerpt from her new memoir, Running Home.

There’s one question that people always ask me about running alone in the backcountry. It’s the same question they ask me about taking young children down whitewater rivers. I know because it’s also the one I ask myself. Aren’t you scared?

The answer is: absolutely. In the seven years I’ve been an ultrarunner, I’ve taught myself to tolerate uncertainty, to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve run and won races ranging from 50 kilometers to 100 miles, but I still rarely leave the house without weighing my worries against my desire to run, assessing the risks of being on my own in the wilderness, thinking hard about what’s at stake. Everything.

I’m scared of getting lost and of getting hurt and of being attacked by animals wild and domesticated—even livestock. Dogs that lunge at me from yards; cattle that graze in meadows, staring at me with their mean, blank eyes when I sidle by, daring me to pass. They’re just cows, I chide myself, feeling foolish, but they are large and lumbering and ten times my weight, and they could mow me down in an instant.

I don’t worry about lone coyotes—at 40 pounds, they’re too small and skittish to do any harm—but packs of coyotes, though rarely encountered, are unpredictable. (In 2009, a female solo hiker was killed by a pair of coyotes in Nova Scotia.) Rattlesnakes are uncommon in my hometown of Santa Fe. They don’t do well above 7,000 feet, or so I thought, until the day I came upon a pair of mating rattlers in the middle of a trail. I was nearly on top of them before I realized the coiled brown rope at my feet wasn’t a rope at all, but a knot of amorous vipers, and I yelped and hurdled over them. Now I keep my eyes down.

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Zen and the Art of Winning Leadville

From Elevation Outdoors

By Katie Arnold

Photo by Glen Delman

Two years after breaking her leg and a doctor telling her she had to quit running, this Zen athlete took first place in one of the hardest endurance races on the planet. All it took was a little bit of Whitesnake and an understanding that winning is nothing more than the river beneath your feet

The day before the start of the Leadville Trail 100 Run, I was walking down the mining town’s main drag when I passed a dilapidated white Victorian. It had peeling gingerbread trim and two sun-faded whitewater kayaks beached on the front-porch railing. The front door looked fused shut, as if it hadn’t been opened in years. Painted above a window was a sign that read “Cosmology Energy Museum.” And above that “Divine Spirit Over Matter.”

I stopped in my tracks. In less than 24 hours, I’d toe the line of my first 100-mile race. I had no idea what lay ahead, but I understood that in order to make it through the mountains to the finish, I’d need more than physical stamina and sheer willpower. I’d need heart and humility, a little bit of luck and a lot of grace. I’d need divine spirit over matter.

Two years earlier, I’d broken my left leg in a whitewater rafting accident. My orthopedist had advised me never to run again. “Find a new hobby,” he said dismissively. He put in a piece of metal the shape of a baking spatula just below my knee that you could see through my skin. I was 46 years old. The farthest I’d ever run before was 62 miles. I didn’t have a coach or a training plan. All I had were the Sangre de Cristo Mountains out my back door and a copy of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, written in 1971 by the Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. My friend, the well-known Zen writer Natalie Goldberg, had given it to me—with a caveat. “It’s a classic,” she told me, “but you might not understand it.” Buddhism, by definition, is beyond definition, sometimes even explanation.

The minute I started reading, though, I understood everything. Not with my brain, but in my body. I understood Zen Mind because I understood running. Suzuki Roshi was writing about sitting, but I realized that if I replaced “sitting” with running, he and I were speaking the same language. After all, the tenets of Zen—form, repetition, stamina and suffering—aren’t so different from the principles of ultra running. If I could apply his teachings to my running, maybe I could train my mind and spirit to be as strong as my body. Maybe even stronger.

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