Ever done a loop course, or perhaps the same race multiple times, when you think you should be experiencing deja vu, but instead you find yourself in unfamiliar territory? You are covering the same ground and your brain is telling you that you should recognize your surroundings…but everything looks, sounds and feels different. It is like you are running through that area for the first time.
I’ve experienced this a number of times in races, but I always chalked it up to an exhausted brain or tired eyes. Or maybe the light playing tricks on me when I’m running during a different time of day. However, I’ve started to think that maybe when this happens, we don’t recognize familiar territory because it actually is new. We aren’t retracing the same steps – we’ve seen more, felt more, and suffered more since the last time we covered that same ground. Those experiences end up changing us and that influences the way we interact with our environment. The same, familiar territory is new once again.
Next week, I will be moving back to Afghanistan with my work with the UN, returning once again to the same compound I left five years ago almost to the day. Back to running around in circles. Back to nightly curfews. Back to call signs, security checks, bunkers and bombs.
Am I taking a step backwards? Am I just retracing my old steps? I thought about this a lot before accepting the position. After over four years in areas of conflict, I worked hard to get a job in Geneva and set up ‘normal’ life in Chamonix. That was supposed to be the ‘finish line’ so to speak… so why do a 180 and head back out for another loop?
Perhaps for some life takes a more linear path – one that can be divided into clear segments (school, college, work, marriage, babies, retirement?). In the humanitarian world, there is often “life in the field” and “life after the field” (putting aside the rather pejorative term of “the field”)… but I’ve come to learn and embrace the fact that my path is not a linear one. It is full of unexpected twists and hairpin turns, but ones that challenge me and lead me towards the unattainable finish line.
I will miss these mountains in Chamonix dearly and, I’ll admit it, I’m finding it hard to breathe thinking of losing that ability to step out on the trails… but I’ve done it before and I can do it again. I’m returning a different person than I was five years ago, and I’m really looking forward to exploring what awaits. I’m heading into a big job, but it feels like the right next step. So next week I return to Afghanistan. To a country I love, to work that drives me forward, and to that old and unrecognizable trail.
(Oh, and before you ask, no – I am not changing my race schedule. Just wait until you see the creative ways I will train in Kabul 🙂 More exciting race news coming soon…)