For those of you just joining this adventure, welcome! The second entry you find yourself reading builds upon the introductory story of Leadville, CO and the events surrounding my journey to its very own Leadville Trail 100. Context was the main focus of that introductory tale and, as aforementioned, has become something I value immensely in all aspects of life. That being the case, I’m tempted to continue barreling down the trail of context, building it everywhere and anywhere like those wild-game fences along the backroads of God’s Country in west Texas. However, I’m inclined to believe we have enough contextual foundation to support the house all these stories are trying to build. I’ll let you know up front – we won’t be building a mansion, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I’d like to think the story-laden home we’ll end up with will at least be cozy, albeit quite humble.
I digress. Presently, the Leadville 100 is less than 6 months away. Presently, I can barely run more than two miles. Presently, my life has been a mess with worries about loss of training, loss of sanity, and baffled rage at my left patella which insists upon being wild & excessive in its lateral tracking.
A Rogue Patella
This injury I’m battling, in which my patella is tracking outside of its home in the femoral groove and inflaming the cartilage inside of my kneecap, is most likely the result of an imbalance in muscular strength and flexibility. After months and even years of specializing in distance running with little cross training, certain muscles in my legs have gained more control over my kneecap than they were designed to have. All it took was one ice cold, high-intensity bout at the track to finally pull the kneecap out of alignment. The cartilage responded to this invasion with all its military force, declaring World War 3 upon the knee joint in hopes of restoring that idea which we’ll focus on – Balance.
On the list of ideas most highly regarded in my life, balance is right up there with context. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve ended an argument with “Ultimately, it’s a balance between the two,” well… let’s just say there’d be a heck of a lot more Salomon Speedcrosses in my shoe collection.
So what do I mean by “Balance?” I mean that often times, there’s not just one clear answer to a pressing situation, not only one path which must be pursued to bring you home, more than one area to focus on and to learn from in order to achieve full understanding. There’s immense “Truth in the tension,” as one wise man in a far-off land so articulately described it. I believe that embracing this is integral to finding fulfillment in our lives.
I’m struggling here. The peril of taking such strong, ambiguous thoughts in my mind and giving them shape on paper is a challenging one indeed. So let’s roll out some examples to attempt to clear this up. We’ll start with an easier one – physical training. As a runner, you have to push your body. You need hard days to initiate physiological responses and improve your level of fitness. However, those days need to be balanced out by easy days so that your body can recover and capitalize on the building blocks you’re giving it. Too much focus either way and you’ll end up at the same place – the sidelines. Herein we find an important truth; balance is rarely a 50/50 sort of deal. An innumerable number of factors may go into figuring out the balance point for any given situation, making it a tricky, potentially never-ending process.
Basic examples like that of physical training are rife throughout our lives. We all need a healthy balance between personal time and human interaction in order to best feel like ourselves (again, this is widely variable dependent upon introvert / extrovert tendencies). In our relationships there needs to be a balance between the spark of fun & excitement and the raw discipline to be true and loyal when that spark is nowhere to be found. In our jobs we find a necessary balance amongst pursuing our passions, while meeting the world’s needs, while also being challenged, while being instructed, while also instructing others (this conveniently reminds us that balance isn’t confined to to a two-sided framework). In our ultra marathon training we must balance the exciting long-distance running with the less appealing, monotonous cross training in order to best pursue the Leadville dream.
These things I’m assuming we can readily agree upon. “Three cheers for balance!” we all toast as we down our celebratory drinks. But put that drink on hold, for it’s in the harder topics, those that so readily polarize us, where balance becomes hated, even seen as weak. In topics such as these, the crowd is suddenly inclined to cry “You spineless, Texan-Canadian wanna-be runner! Why not just pick a side of the argument already?!”
Embracing the Truth in the Tension
Why not? Because in all honesty, I don’t try to find the middle road of heated discussions as a cop-out. Most times, I firmly believe that all sides hold varying degrees of value and truth that need to be appreciated. I suppose this means it’s example time once more.
Take politics. Here, I see a need for balance between the ideals of both Democrats & Republicans (and whatever independents may call themselves these days). Isn’t compromise what got our country off to such a fairly rad start anyway? Give one side all the power with no recognition of the other, and things go downhill quickly for us all. There’s truth and progress in the tension.
In the seeking of truth, I see a need for balance between science and the arts. The immense value of science’s ability to uncover empirical evidence is undeniable. But how could we even begin to catch a glimmer of the depth found in love or sorrow without song & poem? There’s truth and deeper understanding in the tension.
In religion, I see a balance between faith and works. “Faith without works is dead.” But at the same time “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith…” There’s life to be found in the tension.
Make the Patellas Happy Again
While I love this topic, I also struggle with it because it is so annoyingly difficult. So often I want to focus all of my energy on the side of the discussion I enjoy, the side that’s easy and readily makes sense. But then my knee gets angry. I pay the price by being unable to do what I love most, and I’m reminded of the need for balance. Or alternatively, I get so wrapped up in finding facts and valuing the tangible world that I enter depression, forgetting to wonder at and enjoy the beauty & poetry of life.
It’s a hard idea, this beast of balance. And let me be clear in saying a few things. First, balance is not some sort of magical cure-all. Second, let us reiterate that balance is rarely a 50/50 kind of deal. Consequently, we should not simply ride the fence and hide from hard discussions under some sort of false pretense of “balance.” Doing so betrays the true cop out, free-riding through life with no real convictions, refusing to consider all sides of an argument in favor of laziness. We will naturally swing to one particular side of a situation or a discussion. We will be required stand up for and defend the ideals that particular side promotes. This is a good & natural thing, necessary for balance to fully grow and benefit us all.
Those caveats being outlined, I’d wager that all of us could benefit from being just a bit more mindful of the truth in the tension. Maybe, just maybe, it will lead to a few more happy patellas and a deeper appreciation of this crazy life we’re all trying to balance out.