A few years ago, I started running. As a life-long climber and skier with an impulse towards gravity sports, I hadn’t considered running as a fit for me. If I’m to be honest with myself, I think it had more to do with not being a strong runner than any other convenient excuse. As the stress of being Executive Director of Northwest Outward Bound School mounted, I needed a close-to-home release and so I signed up for a half marathon as a means to get back in shape. Sometimes I need fear as a driver for pulling away from the desk. At that time, 13 miles would have been the longest run in my adult life.

Mitsu, Executive Director, and Morgan, Senior Course Advisor, at the finish line

A few months of not very scientific training later, I ran a half marathon, then another, then another. I soon decided 13 miles was becoming easier and no longer pushing boundaries. A sensible approach might have been to run a marathon, instead my next run would be an ultra, at 50k – not a long one as ultras are concerned, just 6 miles longer than a marathon – but with 6’000′ of elevation gain and loss and on trail. It went well, and I ran a few more. Faced with making another sensible decision to graduate to a 50 mile race, I signed up for 100 miles instead. I think there’s a lot of value in answering calls to adventure, to something that feels too far. Through that experience, we learn to commit and learn what might be possible.

“Further isn’t about distance…”

 A month ago, Brendan Leonard, a longtime friend and outdoor writer/filmmaker, texted me a message asking if I would meet him in Flagstaff two weeks later to run the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim and back to the South Rim. It would be nearly 50 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain and 10,000 feet of elevation loss. With no time to train and having not run any significant distance in 6 months, I said yes. Looking back, it’s interesting to see how perception of what’s possible changes, from my first 13 flat miles being a source of anxiety and outside of my comfort to an ability to say yes to 50 without hesitation.

Brendan and Mitsu

I met Brendan a decade ago. On his arm is a tattoo that reads “Further.”. After committing to that first 100, I called Brendan to ask if I could have that tattoo also. He simply responded that it’s my arm. It has become a constant reminder that we can reach further in all pursuits. Further isn’t about distance (after all, it’s not farther). It is a reminder that we are more capable than we think, that our barriers are mostly self-imposed and based in constraints that we create for ourselves. The marathons have taught me that if we can learn to answer the aspirations in our hearts and step beyond the constraints created by our minds, we can achieve great things always.

Written by Mitsu Iwasaki, Executive Director


Check out more readings on going further and pursuing excellence:

Value of Just Going

Rim to Rim to Rim Trail Diary


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