To be honest, I wrote a post a few months back, when I was fuming angry and offended beyond belief. I was lived and almost shaking with negativity. That post was written on my iPhone while bumping along a dirt road in Western Kenya, that was riddled with pot holes, mud, and definitely was not a smooth sailing drive. One of my favourite people in the world snoozed beside me as we bumped along, for some reason, that comforted me, and led me to typing out a very long-winded and emotional post. I found it therapeutic and a huge release to write it all down, although I knew that I couldn’t actually post everything I wanted to say, and that in order to post anything, I would have to come back to it when I was calmed down and looking at it with a clearer mind.
Basically, this blog is public, and as much as I want to convince myself that it’s ok to stoop to that level and bash others, it just isn’t. It isn’t who I am as a person, and it certainly isn’t who I want to be in the future. Part of the reason I haven’t posted and blogged as much in the past few years is because I went from being just a runner in a big group of runners, to a race director and group organizer. I have to censor some of the things I’d like to say for the benefit of my public persona, and the different companies and groups that I represent, and am the front line for.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not who I am anymore, it just means that I’m more cautious and careful as to what I put out there for the world, and in particular runners in my community, and racers at my races may read. The Vancouver running and especially the trail running community is an amazing community, but as in any community or group, there’s unspoken issues, dislikes, and impressions that may or may not be truthful, and as someone who’s both out there/involved in the community, and someone who’s outspoken, blunt, speaks their mind (sometimes without thinking first), and isn’t great at sugar coating, or being fake, well, you can imagine I get my fair share, if not more than, misconceptions about who I am.
Anyways, this post is a combination of the post I wrote while in Kenya, edited with a few months of perspective and the post I was encouraged to write after seeing one of my favourite doggie instagrammers @Nalu.co posted about herself and her story, her background, and really just responded to those who “call her out” on instagram and question all of her life choices and decisions through a computer screen without actually knowing anything about her and her life.
Flashback to the beginning of November.
I’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster ride with this trip when it comes to relationships and communicating with people that I don’t connect with. I’ve always struggled with my ability to not be fake or mask my emotions. It’s really easy to tell if I’m upset with you, or having a bad day. I don’t hold back when it comes to my feelings, and sharing them. For the most part, this is a good thing, as it eliminates a lot of confusion and overall stress that comes with the “are you mad at me mindset?”.
Although, it doesn’t work so well when you don’t have a strong and open communication line. Say perhaps someone who you’ve had issues with in the past that have never been directly addressed or resolved. Or someone else who you’ve never truly interacted with, but there’s perceptions and misconceptions that have surfaced from others instead of formed through your own experiences and conversations.
It’s hard because as a whole, we judge and we create opinions before we should. It’s unfortunately become human nature to make snap decisions on someone by how they look, or your first interactions with them. Or worse yet, having an opinion in mind that has been placed on someone because of someone else’s thoughts. I’m definitely guilty of this, and I would imagine almost everyone would admit this as something they struggle with as well.
Back to my fakeness, or lack thereof, it’s interesting because I find it very easy to connect with and chat with total randoms, but when I have the impression that there’s any pre-existing opinion of me, I clam up, and become very awkward and standoffish, until I can try to get a reading on whether their perceived ideas of me are positive/negative, correct/incorrect. Of course not everyone is going to like me, that’s life, especially when you are someone that speaks their mind, and someone that is open and transparent. While transparency is great in theory, it doesn’t always work out in your favour. At least not in mine, as I’m not good at candy coating negatives and my thoughts come out blunt and that can be detrimental, as the edges of a blunt thought can be sharp and painful.
I’m a work in progress, and I fully admit when I’m wrong (at least I try to), and I am constantly trying to learn about myself and strive to be a better person. I’ve found that my lack of ability to be fake has hurt me in the past, as I’ve taken myself out of situations that may be painful or uncomfortable. While this is obviously a self saving practice, it’s a sign of immaturity to me, and something I need to continue working on.
Recently, I’ve been faced with a situation that has taken a lot out of me both emotionally and mentally. I was put in a position where I would have to travel and interact with 1 person from the category of prior negative issues that have never been resolved, and 1 person who while I’ve never truly interacted with them, I know that there’s built up perceptions they hold of me.
At first, my reaction was to avoid, to take myself out of the situation, and to perceivably run away. This was a reaction based purely on feelings, purely emotional, and purely to save myself from discomfort and unease. I knew it was the wrong decision. I knew that I would be kicking myself, and I also know that it would be the childlike reaction. I can fully recognize that. Doesn’t mean it’s not what I want to do, but doing it would be wrong, and in the eternally wise words of my mother and grandmother it would be “biting my nose off despite my face” (note – I always HATED that saying as a kid, but find myself using it quite a bit as an adult).
It’s not right to deprive ourselves just to make things easier on ourselves and avoid the confrontations or awkward interactions. I get why that’s what I want to do, but I also get that doing that is putting their value above my own. Which really is where the issue lies. It may not be the most comfortable thing ever, but losing experiences over potential drama isn’t fair to you and it isn’t right.
So, needless to say, I didn’t bite my nose off despite my face. I stressed, and had some really in-depth conversations with those who love me about the bigger picture, and my happiness. In the end, I jumped in and just had to believe that everything would be ok.
I don’t give myself enough credit for how I do preform out of my comfort level. Surprisingly, while its not my favourite thing, I magically find my path, and am able to survive and even thrive at times. I really am shocked by this, as it’s not how I see myself at all. I see myself as being awkward and not great when I’m past my comfort zone, but in reality, I love connecting with people, and I find it easy to find some common ground and build relationships from there.
There’s that quote about how something magical happens outside of your comfort levels, and while I get that and see it, it’s not always the easiest thing to push yourself to that uncomfortable place. And yet, when you do, beautiful things happen, and life has a way of working itself out the way it should.
For example, last month (September) I ran my first ultramarathon in 1.5 years. I wasn’t prepared, I certainly wasn’t trained or ready, and I wasn’t at a level of comfort that I’ve found in lining up to run ultras before. In essence, I had to jump back into that world, and trust that my body and mind would remember enough to get me through it. It was scary. Nerve-wracking. Completely out of my comfort zone.
Surprising to me, it went a million times better than expected, and I found myself in a situation that completely warmed me from the inside out. I had to rely on and lean on people I’d just met. I had to rely on myself to find versions of myself that weren’t at the surface. I just had to have faith and trust.
It was so much more than a running race. So much more than a weekend in the mountains. So much more than physical activity. It was beautiful. It was exciting. It was touching. It was a million lessons learned and reminders of who I am, what makes me me, and of just how strong I really am.
The girl in me that ran her first half marathon and then her first marathon, used the motto “you’re stronger than you think” to push her through. Now, I think it’s fitting to say that “I’m stronger than I KNOW.”
I know in the past 11 years of running I’ve grown as a person. Each year there’s been different obstacles in my path to overcome, and each year is filled with not only triumphs to celebrate, but also failures and negative experiences to learn and grow from. It seems silly to say it, but running changes you. And not physically as much as mentally. I’ve watched it in myself, I’ve watched it in brand new runners that discover running by accident, and I’ve watched it in long time runners that try something new, like trail running, or an ultra, and all of a sudden after a few months, they’re looking around shocked, saying “How did I get here?” or “How was this ever not my life before?”
It’s a beautiful thing to see, and it’s something that I work towards bringing out and inspiring in others. I want you to see how strong you are, I want you to see that your perceived limitations are just perceptions and not reality. I want you to embrace change, growth, development. It’s why I started the Ladies of the Trails. It’s why I started writing. It’s why I will always jump at a chance to take somebody new to trails on a trail run. It’s one of my strongest passions.
Running and writing are two ways that I express myself, and show the world how I’m special and different and my own person. I love making those connections and knowing that people ‘get’ me.
Just like the friendships and connections made during Golden, this trip is similar, except in the fact that there was no safety blanket of friends I knew and trusted. I had to jump in, feet first and just trust it would work out.
Again I’m reminded of how the step out of the comfort zones is important, and brings so much more reward than staying in that little box you’ve put yourself in.
Probably not surprising given the tone of this post, while it certainly wasn’t comfortable or easy to make the decisions and the efforts to be on this trip given the emotional circumstances, it turned out to be the only decision I could’ve made.
Again, the amazing connections and friendships that have come from flying solo into a different experience, and just trusting myself to be able to do it, have been so worth it. So rewarding, so unique, and 100% nothing I would’ve experienced in my comfort zone box.
When you’re forced to build connections from nothing, it’s easy to shy away, and rely on what you know, or those you know, but when you don’t have those security blankets it’s like being thrown to the wolves, or jumping off a building – you’ll figure it out to survive.
I didn’t just survive, but I thrived.
Remember what I said about first impressions and perceptions on looks? The people I’ve bonded with on this experience, most of them, I never would’ve pointed out on day 1, or any day for that fact and been like “these are my people”, but they are. They are so special and wonderful and exactly what I needed in this situation.
That’s the thing about perceptions, judging, and first impressions, they just can’t be trusted, as surface level is just exactly that. The person inside is not necessarily the exterior perception they exude, and if you judge from the first look or feeling, you’re the one missing out.
A terribly long winded way of saying that the most recent additions to my life have added so much joy and strength and have solidified my recent thoughts and affirmation that I need to step outside my comfort levels more often, and I need to trust in myself. It may not be easy, but it’s always worth it.
Moving to Squamish without really having friends, running a stage race without really training, and coming to Kenya when my heart said it was going to be hard, those are all recent examples of having trust and faith in myself to figure it out. And thankfully, that’s exactly what I’ve done and my life is so much richer because of it.
It’s hard to fit more people into our lives, there’s only so much time, and we are all so busy, but I’m starting to feel like you can never have enough friends. Friends are the people who enrich, inspire, support, and make you whole. I’m so very lucky and thankful for the people I’ve connected with in Squamish, at the Golden Ultra, and then in Kenya. My life is better because of you, and you know who you are. Sap, sap, mush mush.
As Lulu would say “do something that scares you once a day”. I’m not that extreme with my comfort levels, but I encourage you to take this as a reminder to push your boundaries, and today do something that scares you.
Now, this is not to say that the entire trip and beyond went off without a hitch. That would unfortunately not be the truth, and you’ll remember that at the beginning of this post I referenced being livid and shaking with anger and frustration. It wouldn’t be an honest and open post if I didn’t fill you in on that, but, for the sake of the community and the public-ness of this post, I won’t name name or include specific details.
It came to my attention that who I portray myself to be online, and the posts that I post on my Instagram account where being questioned for validity, and being referenced as fake, un-true, and not realistic or genuine to who I am. In particular it was said that I don’t actually run as much as I say I do, and that I am trying to convince my followers that I’m a better runner than I am. In short, that my account is not ME.
I actually could not fathom this sort of thing being said about me and my accounts. My Instagram is as real as it could possibly me. I am not one of those sunshine and rainbows posters that only posts beautiful photos with positive remarks. In fact, I probably post a 75/25 ratio of positive to negative comments, because, in reality, that’s the truth of my life. I’m mostly happy and upbeat, and loving life. But, I do get sick, I do get injured, I do definitely have bad days, and when I do, I talk about them. I post about things that go wrong during training runs, I post about how hard some days are to even get moving, I post about the reality of gaining 20+ lbs and how it affects my running and day-to-day life.
Yes, I choose beautiful pictures to showcase, and yes there’s more pictures posted if it’s a sunny day, or if I’m running more, that’s just simple logistics. But, never have I posted a picture of me running or a trail and said I was running when I wasn’t. NEVER. If I’m just hiking/dog walking, I say it. If I’m injured or tired and could only do 30 minutes before quitting, I say it. On the flip side, if I had an amazing 5+ hour run, I say that too. I am very aware of what I’m posting, and very conscious that it is a realistic peek into my world. My experiences that make me, who I am. Yes, I will ask someone to run a small section again, or take a photo of me in that section. Yes, I will stop and take photos when my breath is taken away by the surrounding images. But, I won’t take off my pack or clothes to look different, I won’t run up a hill that I will always power hike, and I will certainly never “pretend” to be running when really I spent the day huddled up inside and hiding from the world.
I promise you, my Instagram is completely real, truthful, and frankly probably too honest and personal look into my life. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that’s who I am. I find it to be lying if I don’t tell you all the details. I find it lying to round up to 4 hours when I only did 3:45. I cringe inside when something isn’t 100% the truth of the picture. If I had a bad run, I actually cannot type out “great run, beautiful spot” and leave it at that. I can’t stop myself from explaining that it sucked because I’m Christmas heavy, or because I can’t figure out a shoe that doesn’t hurt my stupid messed up feet. I can’t lie to my friends, and I can’t lie to the randoms out there that are judging me based on my account. What if they meet me and their first reaction is that I’m not who I say I am??! That would devastate me, so quite frankly, I just AM who I REALLY AM, in real life, online.
Yes, I wish I was wittier and could be super pun-y like John Crosby (our race MC). Yes, I wish I was 25 lbs lighter and didn’t look like an elephant running in some pics. Yes, I wish I could run in a sports bra on the ridiculously hot summer days and feel comfortable. Yes, I wish I was as fast and as strong on trails as I was 2+ years ago.
But guess what? I’m not any of those things. It’s just not me.
What I am though, I’m proud of. I’m someone that has battled injuries in their feet and ankles for 2.5 years with no real answer or solution. I’m someone that weighs more than I look like I weigh, and fluctuate from 157 to 187 lbs. I’m someone that loves rewarding myself with a delicious treat from PureBread, and a latte from Starbucks post long run. I’m someone that loves being outside in nature and in the woods, with friends, with my dogs, and especially with my ridiculously fast husband. I’m also someone that really doesn’t enjoy running in the rain, and unless I have firm plans with a friend, am highly likely to choose to sleep in and hide from the rain instead. I’m someone that loves getting a wee bit lost on the trails, and not knowing exactly where I am or how to get back. I love discovering new places, running new trails, running with new people. I’m someone that hasn’t worn a watch to train for more than 6 months now. I’m someone that has some of the most amazing and wonderfully supportive friends in the world that continue to inspire me every single day. I’m me, and I personally really like me, and I really like that my Instagram is so real, and that there’s nothing on it that I don’t stand behind 100%, and that I don’t believe is ME, the real me, whether online or in person.
For reference, my Instagram account is https://www.instagram.com/solanaleigh/ and it will continue to be a public, open account, that shares my story, and what I see and feel through my eyes.
This post is a bit misconjointed (I don’t think that’s even a word, but it fits). That’s what I get from writing a super long and super frustrated/emotional post on my iPhone, and then trying to edit it and censor it slightly 2.5 months later. I do apologize, and hope that my messages shine through, as mixed in as they are.
Thanks for reading, and allowing me to have this outlet.
Have you ever met someone in real life that wasn’t who you thought they were online? Do you think that your personal account reflects who you are, or do you purposely portray something else?