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Reaching the End of the Tunnel

“The light at the end of the tunnel” is a metaphor that is often spoken. Last weekend I felt this metaphor on many levels, including the most literal way. I was running on the Hiawatha trail through a 1.8 mile tunnel after 30 miles on my feet, hoping to see the light come into view. The tunnel was lit only by the light on my head. Water dripped from the ceiling unseen. The air was brisk, but welcome. I knew that at the end of the tunnel was the finish line; my second 50k would be in the books. Thoughts rushed through my head, disbelief that we did it, again.

Early in the run, I experienced true tunnel vision. My eyes were looking only at my feet, there was nowhere else to gaze. No words were being spoken, only the noise of my feet splatting in the mud. My mind only wanders from my breath to my feet. Focusing on sure footing as I avoid the chance of falling. As we exit the tunnel I say to my group, that is the real definition of tunnel vision. I then wonder of all the ways I experience this feeling outside of an actual tunnel?

Many of the goals I have worked towards require tunnel vision to complete. First, I think about the athletic endeavors. In long distance cycling I’ve stared at the stripe on the road, pushing the pedal one foot at a time, focusing on my breath, doing my best to ignore the pain from my seat. Just get there. By this point even the beauty around me can’t be acknowledged. While swimming I count my strokes. I hear voices in my head telling me not to think about the fish beneath me or losing my breath. When I run, I tell myself, ba-by steps-ba-by steps.

The light at the end of the tunnel can bring a sense of relief. A weight lifted– another metaphor often used. But there are other feelings that come as well. This weekend I finished a big race and I graduated from college. I’d kept my head down for 52 months to earn my degree. Each time I lifted it, I considered not finishing. In those 52 months, I quit once and took a two term break another time. I resisted the ability to keep my head down. I wanted to see the light sooner than the tunnel ended. Now the ending is here, well, until graduate school begins.

Running is something I enjoy. I enjoy the training. The race being over brings on other emotions. Sadness, emptiness, a desire to keep going, run another race. School brought feelings of bittersweet. I was the first in my immediate family to go to college, graduating summa cum laude with a 3.96 GPA. The resistance to finish the last two terms was stronger than I had ever experienced. Graduating came at me as a shock. I had been working towards a goal for so long I quit believing I would finish it. There was, in fact, a light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet, as we came to the end of the actual tunnel, approaching 31 miles, at 5 hours and 47 minutes of running, I didn’t feel the same relief. I felt sad for it to be over. I hadn’t even sat down yet and I felt a tremendous feeling wash over me. Running is what I love. It wasn’t like graduating, a goal that felt required of me because I started it. I had invested 41k of my hard earned money to achieve it. Running was a part of me that I wanted to keep continuously. With running, I didn’t want a light at the end of the tunnel. Running felt expansive.

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