IMG_0232Vulnerability. It’s a scary thing.

It’s mile 42 of my first 50 mile race. I’m hot, tired, delirious, and scared. My friend Alex Bea is pacing me, doing the best he can to keep me focused and moving forward.

I barely talk to him, or anyone else, for nearly ten miles. Sliding through the mud with my head down, I’m moving forward as quickly as my slow legs can possibly can muster.

As I cross the finish line, a volunteer places a medal around my neck, and I stumble towards the open field looking for my family who has been cheering me on all day. Over walks my wife, who shrieks in excitement and wraps her arms around my salty body. I immediately weep.

I hadn’t cried that hard in years, but for the several hours leading up to that moment, I was fighting for every step. Fighting the fear of failure, embarrassment, and pain, and I was fighting to hold my fragile state together.

I was completely vulnerable, and all that vulnerability exposed itself at the finish line in my wife’s arms.

Or there was the time when I was the age of 13, and moved to a new town and started a new high school.

To say I was terrified to start my freshman year without knowing anyone besides my older sister, would have been an understatement. I felt alone and angry.

And of course, completely vulnerable. At the mercy of whatever high school (and its kids) threw my way.

How Vulnerability Helps Us Grow

No one wants to be vulnerable. The feeling is god awful, and it often leads to hurt, heartbreak, or failure.

But maybe instead of avoiding vulnerable situations, we should be running towards them. Maybe it’s when we’re vulnerable that we actually grow the most.

Staying put, even if it’s comfortable, often means we’re missing out on the excellent.

Here’s what I mean, using my examples above:

1) I could have quit half way through that first 50 mile race. People would have understood if I blamed injury, heat, mud, or any number of factors.

Or better, I could have not even started to begin with.

That would have allowed me to avoid the whole painful situation. I could have spent the day watching baseball and drinking beer with friends.

But then I wouldn’t have run my first 50, and I probably wouldn’t be writing for this blog today. It’s because of how deep that vulnerability was that overcoming it felt so good. I grew stronger because of it, and learned about myself in the process.

2)  I hated the idea of moving when I was 13, but staying by myself in a small southwest Virginia town without my family wasn’t an option.

As expected, that first year of high school was hard. Eventually, though, I made friends, and found my place in the community. I even started to like it.

And I grew.

It’s because of the move that I developed into the person I am today. No doubt about it.

The vulnerability I faced helped me grow more confident, exposed me to new people, and shape my young adult life.

These are just two examples, one I had control over and the other I most certainly did not. But they both had the same result: some pain, lots of doubt, and ultimately growth.

My experiences aren’t unique. People do it all the time. But people also avoid situations like that all the time because they are scared.

It’s time to quit being so scared and put yourself out there to meet new people, get a new job, train for a new distance, or set a goal so big you completely fall flat on your face.

Why I’m Putting Myself in the Most Vulnerable State I’ve Ever Been

AshevilleMy wife, Katie, and I are moving to Asheville, NC.

That’s right, we’re leaving our friends, jobs, and comforts in Washington, D.C. to follow our dreams. And it’s terrifying.

We both feel completely vulnerable.

So why would we do that? Because it’s going to be incredible, of course.

Katie will be training to receive a higher level of yoga teacher certification and specialization in Yoga Therapeutics, and will be working as a full-time yoga instructor.

I’m transitioning to become a full-time blogger and writer, continuing my work here on Rock Creek Runner, and working for Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete.

Life is comfortable in D.C. We have respectable jobs, a nice apartment, and friends. But that’s all it is, comfortable.

We’re not following our passions, taking risks, or living in the type of city we want to call home. And that’s no way to live, is it?

In one and half weeks we’ll be loading up the truck and making our way down south, knowing full well that we could completely fail to make money, meet friends, or find the happiness we’re after.

But there’s a greater chance it’ll pay off. And even if it doesn’t, we’ll know we gave it a shot and learned from the experience.

Now It’s Your Turn to Make Yourself Vulnerable

So what’s this all about, and why are you writing about vulnerability on a running blog?

Because it’s time we were all inspired. Inspired to train for a new distance, like I’m doing right now, or set a new PR goal, that you’ve been too scared of failure to go after.

And because there’s something engraved in us runners that calls us to push ourselves farther and do things others are too scared to attempt.

Here’s how to face your vulnerabilities, and do something amazing:

  1. Figure out what it is your fears have kept you from doing, and write it down.
  2. Write out all the many reason you want to do, then all the worst case scenarios.
  3. Read through the worst cases, and realize that maybe they wouldn’t be so bad (e.g., we quit our jobs and follow our dreams, worst case is this time next year we’re starting back at similar jobs to the ones we’re leaving).
  4. Remind yourself why you want to go after this goal or dream (e.g., because months of hard training and pushing your physical limits may pay off with an unforgettable new 13.1 PR).
  5. Make a plan and build a support group.
  6. Go for it. Face the fears. Be vulnerable.

As Seth Godin puts it in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.”

My wife and I have decided to quit hiding. I hope you’ll do the same.

For those that are curious, a bit more about the move.

So what does this mean for the site? Good things. Very good things.

Without another full time job, I’ll be producing higher level and more frequent content on Rock Creek Runner. You can expect a few awesome features and products to trickle out over the next several months. I have a lot in store for you guys, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

What about the running group? I hope that it’ll be up and running again this summer. A few people have expressed interest in keeping the group alive, which I’d fully support. More details on that to come over the next few months.

Am I keeping the name Rock Creek Runner? Yes, I’ve decided to keep it. Rock Creek Park has been my home since I started running seriously in 2008, and I can’t just let that go. The people I’ve shared miles with, trails that have given me strength and escapes from the realities of D.C., have brought me more joy than any city park every should. It will forever be a part of my running, and so it will forever be a part of this site.

Besides, Asheville has loads of rocks and creeks…

Photo Credit: Asheville

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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17 thoughts on “The Benefits of Facing Your Vulnerabilities (And How I’m Doing Just That)

    1. Thanks Meg! In many ways we’re sad to be leaving as well, but it’ll be a great adventure. Same for you and Alex!

  1. Well now I have yet another reason to visit Asheville… I want to go there SO bad!

    I’m gearing up for my first fifty-miler in August and I’ve been kinda scared… and I’m fully aware that I, too, will sob like an infant when I cross the finish line. But I know how much meaning it will have for me. I know how huge it’ll be to train up for and accomplish something like that. So I’m doing it, dammit.

    1. You should totally come visit! I’ll take you out on some of the trails.

      Yeah! That’s the spirit! I can’t wait to hear about it. You’re going to kick ass!

  2. Great post! That’s the very definition of life (facing one’s vulnerabilities, challenges, uncertainties, unknowns) and, as you said, how one grows. As for “why are you writing about vulnerability on a running blog[,]” well, life is the perfect metaphor for running–or, is it the other way around? 🙂

    Best wishes to you both in your new directions. Asheville is one of my favorite cities. (I ran the Grandfather Mountain Marathon nearby last year.)

  3. This post really strikes home for me… in just 5 weeks I will be attempting my first 50 miler and last summer we vacationed in Asheville (returning again this Summer) — Best of luck and I’m also a big fan on No Meat Athlete

  4. Woohoo, excited to welcome you to Asheville, it is a wonderful place to call home! And yes, Bent Creek has lots of trails, rocks and a creek to offer you once you get here.

  5. Good luck on your new adventure, both you and your wife! Enjoy all the new experiences and keep on growing as a runner, writer and most importantly as a human being!

  6. That’s AWESOME! I’m so excited for you guys – going after your dreams together. Awesome blog posting – I can’t wait to read more!

  7. Congrats on your first 50 Miler. I will never forget my my first and how I felt crossing that finish line. I am running my second one this weekend actually and the excitement is different this time around. There is just something about the “unknown” that really makes us feel on fire. The same with your move. Goodluck to you and your wife. I wish you the best.

  8. Hi I am also running my first 56 miler on the 1st of june the comrades ultramarathon just want to share this with each and every runner here my wish dream and desire is a silver medal it would make my heart verry happy it is not going tobe easy because it means that I am going to have to complete the distance under 7 hrs 30 minutes It means I am going to have to run the first have off the race in 3:10:00 or the last have of the race in 3:10:00 al is going to depent on how many minutes I get on a km I am just going to have to make myself a pace band and try to focus on that want to know what all of you are saying on this forum or blog.

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