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A Runner’s Sudden Existential Crisis

Devin Kelly looks forward every year to meeting his running friends at Farmdaze. Every February at a farm in Brooklet, Georgia, a 24-hour ultra-marathon event is run. Along with the pig roasts and folk music, some runners cover up to 100 miles in a single day, others a fraction of that. Farmdaze is a place of grace:

… a place that calls itself a race but is really everything that a race isn’t. (It is) an event that lets people give up if they want, that doesn’t shame them for it. (It) lets them become present in the story that is, simply all of us trying to love all of us …

Originally, Kelly ran competitively for personal pride and for his father, who would travel long distances to see him and his brother run. He loved running because it always meant something.

During his most recent race Kelly was gruelingly pushing himself to reach the 100 miles. He said he found himself alone, “under a field of stars, soaking wet, skin steaming. I tried to see the stars but my headlamp’s glare made it impossible. So, I turned it off and offered myself to the dark. What is the point of all of this, I asked myself, what is the … point?”

Suddenly, almost like a bolt of lightning, Kelly

… felt partly empty, without purpose. ... The truth is: I wanted to feel more. ... There was so much distance between what I felt and what I was supposed to feel. It made me sad … I had believed in what society told me would happen: that I would push through a challenge and emerge, new and strong, where love was. But I was left instead with the deep, profound emptiness knowing entirely for certain that what you were told by society was wrong. ... What happens if the stories we tell ourselves about our lives leave us lonely, wrestling with meaning? What then?

Source:

Devin Kelly, “Out There: On Not Finishing,” Longreads (September, 2020)

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