Well, we had a baby!

Last Friday my wife Katie showed me the true meaning of ultra, and the result was a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

Here we are with Elizabeth (Eliza) after returning home from the hospital:

(Check out that onesie!)

Isn’t she the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen? Now I finally understand why all new parents say that.

As you can imagine (or have experienced yourself), the waiting game during the final days before Katie went into labor were both exciting and nerve-racking.

Will everything go as planned?

Will baby and Katie be healthy?

What’s she going to look like?

What kind of father will I be? 

And naturally, I couldn’t help but hope Eliza would develop a passion for trail and ultra running like her father — just as her mother dreams of sharing the yoga mat.

Not just because it would be fun to run stride for stride with my offspring, but because of what trail and ultra running has taught me on a much deeper, more practical level.

Life’s Lessons, Taught Through Trail Running

I’ve been lucky enough to have many great teachers and mentors throughout life, but as great as they are, I’ve learned much more through actual experiences than I ever could from someone else. Many of the most life-changing experiences happened in the woods, on the trail, and when I was tired, vulnerable, and tapping into a part of me I didn’t yet know.

It was and is still those most difficult moments on the trail that shape me into who I am.

So yeah … I’m basically saying I want my daughter to go through some tough shit. But I hope it’s shit she places on herself through the trail.

Most runners will say the lessons and takeaways from running are endless, but when I think of what values or messages I hope she’s able to fully grasp, a few stand out:

Trail running teaches you how to be uncomfortable.

… Both physically and mentally.

Trail running places you in the heat, the cold, the rain, and face forward into the wind. You get dirty and wet. You chafe. You hurt, blister, and fall.

And it tests every inch of willpower you posses. At times all runners want to quit, and must actively choose whether or not to keep going. They have to decide if the hurt is enough to break them down, or if they can use that discomfort as motivation to move forward.

And the better we are at being uncomfortable — at managing and ignoring the discomfort — the stronger we become.

Life is uncomfortable. Life means dealing with harsh realities, illnesses, and situations we wish we could avoid. But the better we are at getting past the discomfort — and fighting through it — the stronger we become.

Trail running teaches you to appreciate nature.

A few years ago I wrote about forest bathing, or the idea that experiencing the stillness and quiet of nature for just a few minutes per day can drastically improve our moods and stress levels.

These days nature is something of an ignored source of entertainment. Our phones, computers, and tablets provide immediate pleasure that’s a lot simpler than gearing up to go out in the woods. And the disconnect from our natural surroundings not only has a direct impact on how we treat the natural world, but also our health.

Trail running gives me an excuse to get outside, on the dirt, almost every single day. It’s an excuse to be alone, disconnected, playful, and quiet. And it tunes me in to weather patterns, seasons, wildlife, and nature in a way that I’ve never been able to before.

I want that for Eliza. I want that for her health and sanity, and for the earth’s health and longevity.

Trail running teaches you discipline.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to truly master something, so for most of us, we’ll never come close to mastering anything but sleep, work, and Netflixing. As adults, we get comfortable in our daily routines — going to work, being with our families, and rarely pushing ourselves to try something new.

And because of that, most of us have lost the practice of discipline. Sure, we may show up to work on time or never miss church on Sunday, but that’s all comfortable and expected. As soon as a hobby or extracurricular gets hard, we flee.

Running, on the other hand, requires us to show up day after day, and to constantly push ourselves. If we don’t, we never get stronger or faster, and our routines become stale.

To show up, improve, and push requires discipline. Because running is hard, and there’s always another excuse (yeah you know what I’m talking about …).

But once you’ve learned discipline, it makes it’s way into everything you do.

Trail running teaches you to dream big and redefine the possible.

I can only hope my daughter is a dreamer, but unfortunately, kids are often taught not to dream. They’re taught to follow a certain structure, or to be realistic. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy doss of realism is necessary, but the absence of “what ifs” and big, outlandish dreams gets us nowhere.

Not that many years ago I never thought I could run 100 miles. It was such an outrageous goal that I didn’t even consider it possible. But then I started to dream, work hard, and make progress, and suddenly that outrageous goal felt within reach. Turns out it was.

Something that once felt impossible became a reality.

The confidence to chase those race and distance dreams — and the knowledge that hard work, discipline, and persistence can move me towards them — has completely shaped the life I live today. I fear that I would have never fully understood my possible had it not been for running.

Of Course, I Hope She Is Exactly Who She Is

I want Eliza to be a trail runner.

But it’s not about what I want. Everything I listed above can be learned through other means, and as my daughter the only thing I could ever truly want is for Eliza to become exactly the person she wants to be, with whatever interests, hobbies, and dreams she develops.

I do hope, however, that her passions in life do teach her how to be uncomfortable, to love and experience nature, to stay disciplined and work hard, and to most importantly dream big and redefine what she — or the world — believes to be possible.

She’s less than a week into the longest of all ultramarathons we call life, with mountains to climb, bumpy trails, and the type of joy they write movies about …

And I can’t wait to share many miles by her side.

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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