fitness opportunities

How Fitness Creates Meaningful Opportunities

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By Mara Abbott,
Olympia, CTS Contributing Editor

I am absolutely unable to resist a good sports story.

Technically, my job at the Buffalo Bulletin is to write about energy and natural resources, but when I overheard my publisher recounting the tale of a mother, a son, and a hundred-mile trail running race to our sports writer, I couldn’t help but pop my head over the cubicle wall and offer to help.

The story was about Buffalo locals Matt and Marcie Scarlett. Matt is working toward a masters degree in exercise physiology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He was home for the weekend to visit his family and, as one does while on vacation, he also planned to compete in his third hundred-miler at the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run.

Marcie had signed up for the weekend’s 18-mile race, but when she heard that her son didn’t have a pacer lined up for the final 18 miles of his 32-hour odyssey, she turned in her own bib and waited to surprise Matt at his final aid station so the pair could run, chat, and cross the finish line together.

“It wasn’t a tough decision at all,” Marcie told me two days after the race, when I got a chance to talk to the pair together on speakerphone. “It was one of those God moments when you said, ‘This is what I’ve been training for and this is what I’m going to do.’” Plus, she noted with regards to her 23-year-old son, “I figured that I could keep up with Matthew if he had 82 miles behind him.”

For his part, Matt was surprised and delighted by his mother’s decision. “I was switching things out, putting on some new socks and she came right over and said, ‘Alright buddy, I’ll be running with you the last 18,’” Matt told me. “That just meant the world to me. I can’t really describe that feeling, just really grateful and excited. I told her, ‘It’s ok, you can run your own race,’ and she just looked me in the face and said, ‘No I’d much rather do this.’”

Matt and Marcie were even joined in the final, five-mile, dirt-road drag to the finish by one of Matt’s friends from his undergrad years, who rode alongside them on a mountain bike all the way to the finish line.

It was a sweet story, and one with an obvious draw for the community that had watched Matt grow up. Still, the more I thought about the Scarletts’ race, the more convinced I became that it also held important lessons for sportspeople far outside of Johnson County.

Keep your priorities in order

It would have been understandable if Marcie stayed laser-focused on her own race and missed the opportunity for a special experience with her son. In fact, in some cases, depending on how devoted she had been to her training, how long she had been working toward her goals, and how devoted she was to the prospect of winning a river rock trophy, sticking to her original plan might have been a good choice.

In this situation, Marcie was able to clear-headedly evaluate the pros and cons of each alternative, map them against her own values, and then—perhaps most importantly—go forward with no regrets. It is important for all of us to check in regularly with the things that are truly our top priorities in life, but it is also critical that once we make a decision, we continue to move forward rather than ruminate on the would-haves and what-ifs of a moment that has already passed.

Cultivate your communities of support

I had to laugh while interviewing the Scarletts, because they sounded just like a couple of pros armed with a talking point cue sheet. At every opportunity, both mother and son praised the race organizers, the volunteers, and the beauty of their home mountains. With that sort of gratitude consciousness, it isn’t tough to see why Matt found himself surrounded by people eager to help him succeed.

Not everyone has the opportunity to return to a hometown where the whole community knows your name and is cheering you on, but we can all work to cultivate our own communities of support. Gratitude, presence, consistency, and a willingness to both give and receive help are all important practices for anyone who dreams of achieving big goals.

Have a learning mindset

When Matt reviewed his race, he mentioned the two previous hundred-milers he had finished, discussed the lessons he had learned, and talked about the ways he had tried to apply that knowledge at Bighorn Mountain. He even told me that he had honed the ability to drink coffee from gel flasks during the night (just the idea made my still-developing runner’s stomach turn) to help himself stay alert.

Matt could have gone into the race with a sense of arrogance — running a hundred miles successfully wasn’t a new challenge for him. Instead, he approached the experience as an opportunity to learn more. The humility and openness of a mindset like Matt’s can help us all learn more quickly and get more out of every challenge we face, whether or not we reach our goals.

Keep the long run in mind.

Matt impressed me when I asked about his goals for his next ultra, because he said his biggest priority was to keep competing for a long time. There isn’t anything wrong with having short-term goals, but keeping in mind the mantra, “I want to keep doing the things I love for a long time,” makes it easier to stay patient through injuries or performance slumps.

Define your own extraordinary.

Marcie’s review of running for four hours with her twenty-something son was entertainingly nonchalant: “I tell you, we just had a great visit.”

Most people wouldn’t characterize four hours of pushing through tough terrain as a good opportunity for a casual chat—though I did enough time in Boulder to know that there are plenty who do.

My takeaway from listening to Marcie talk was this: We all get to define what we consider to be within reach, manageable, or enjoyable on any given day. A lifetime of running and being active with her son had prepared Marcie for the opportunity presented to her at the Bighorn Mountain race. The more we all keep plugging away at extending our own limits, the more we are able to expand our own definitions of what is possible and what is extraordinary.

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Comments 2

  1. Great article Mara,
    I’ve been continually learning to balance the determination to complete a goal, with being open to the Universe & the serendipitous opportunities to experience something else, (or in addition) to the planned goal.
    Quite impressive to have 3 hundred-milers under your belt by 23! Those experiences of being with someone while digging deep, or in inclement weather, or during a disaster etc. are indeed memorable, and at times life-changing. I’ll always cherish the last 20 miles I got to pace a friend on the Angeles Crest 100.
    It seems some get so stuck on goals, and tunnel-visioned that they may miss even better experiences, or land up hurting themselves. I’m all for goals & sticking to them, but staying open as well.

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