On Keeping the Door Open

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I’m not quite sure I’m hardcore enough for this trip.

It’s the most common concern we get from prospective trip guests at Run the Alps. And it’s one that has proven universally off-base. Run the Alps trips are focused on inclusiveness, with plenty of options to accommodate a variety of ability.

I understand the sentiment, though.

It’s really about challenging yourself, and the nagging doubt we all feel when we explore our personal boundaries, whether physical, mental, or both.

I’ve been there with trail running, and I’ve been there with Run the Alps.

I remember when Salomon runner Rickey Gates suggested I run France’s Ice Trail Tarentaise. “I don’t know,” I thought to myself, “That race is too much for me. It’s for other people.”

Six months later, I ran one of my best races ever, finishing third in my age group in one of the world’s more competitive trail races.

The Summit of the Grande Motte – the high point on the Ice Trail Tarentaise. (Now known as the High Trail Vanoise. Photo courtesy of Ice Trail Tarentaise.)

I felt the same feeling at the start of CCC, TDS, and – this year – UTMB. At the time I pondered each of those races, I had almost closed the door on them.

Trail races, like so many other personal challenges, sometimes feel impossible. Until they don’t.

That process of keeping the door open to possibility is the first step towards challenging oneself. A seemingly crazy idea comes to mind; you come close to slamming the door shut… but a glimmer of light shines through the crack. As the days pass, in an act of self-redefinition, you rethink the possible. More light shines through that space between yes and no, darkness and light. Eventually, the day comes that you run through.

And that will change everything.

That has been the experience for me with this very company too. Originally conceived as a small, self-guided trail running company based solely in Switzerland, Run the Alps now operates in three countries, has a dozen guides, noted guest runners, partnerships with brands like Salomon and Patagonia, and a host of associated projects.

And – as you might have already guessed – there’s a lot more coming too.

Along the way, my life has become immeasurably richer, with new friends, new mountain paths, and new challenges both personal and professional. If you had told me, four years ago, that I’d be living in the Chamonix valley, the world’s hub for trail running, I would have dismissed it as a wild fantasy. But, one open door at a time, it’s happened.

There’s a flip side to all this, too. Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön points out what happens if you don’t walk through those doors: “If you stay in the comfort zone, it shrinks.”

Trail running in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. Keep the door open. There’s magic on the other side. (Patitucci Photo.)

I’ve learned that growth comes from keeping your mind from slamming that door closed. The more I stay open to possibilities, the more those possibilities have become realities. Now, when someone suggests an idea, I’m more inclined to daydream about it than dismiss it.

Whatever your personal challenges may be for 2018 – a Run the Alps trip or something entirely different – when you hear yourself saying, “That’s probably not for me….” catch yourself and take a deep breath. Keep the door open. That might make all the difference.

Happy 2018.

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