At no point in my life did I decide to become an ultrarunner. In the same way that you cannot decide to walk out the door one morning and meet the love of your life. Ultrarunning is something that happened to me. The ultrarunning life chose me and I reluctantly went along.

Six years ago, I got set up on an adult play date with Anne Lang. She was training for her first hundred miler and her husband thought it might be cool for someone to keep her company on long nights through the woods. We were intimidated by one another, which now seems incredibly silly. I thought someone who wanted to run 100 miles was a bona fide nut-job and I assumed she thought my bike racing was a little bit intense.

It didn’t take long for us to find our stride. I stopped trying to gun it up all the hills. Eventually saw the wisdom in her measured steps. I started to eat on runs. I learned what it was like to push through multiple walls. We ran in every weather and every condition; trained to peak fitness and with broken bones. Sometimes we stop to put our hands on our knees to howl with laughter. Sometimes we slow down to choke back tears. We have been running together since that first play date in 2013 and we have never looked back.

Anne is incredibly good at convincing me do to hard things. “Do hard things” is her life mantra. She has shown me the value of doing something hard. The idea of reaping enjoyment from hard work was not something I grew up knowing. I did not play sports in my youth. In fact, I did not grow up doing much of anything other than sulk and listen to Nirvana. The brilliance of discipline and hard work were not revealed to me until deep into my 30s. I credit much of this discovery to Anne.

I have been accused of dedicating too much of my life to ultrarunning. “You never come out anymore” and “All you ever do is run.”  These are things I have come accustomed to hearing. Sometimes I wish they could see it from the other side. The things I have learned in my “normal” life could never rival the things I have learned about myself on the trail. I am not sure who I would be if I had never struggled through the deepest, darkest nights of the soul and come out triumphant. I try hard to avoid an attitude of “You will never understand me” when it comes to my running. I sincerely hope that the people who love me will understand me, and will understand the manner in which I have changed because of running.

Running trails is the only place in which I am truly free from nagging self-criticism, worry and doubt. All the troubles that life saddles me with are made magically light by running. I worry that my friends and family may never understand that. Maybe I can offer this little bit of insight:

Take the moment in which you feel the most YOU; the freest, the most actualized. Perhaps you are playing a piece on the piano, performing a dance, or giving a presentation on something you feel passionately about. Consider the moment in which you feel totally free and totally you. This is what ultrarunning is for me. This is the place in which I am free.

Rather than arguing with those who think that running has taken over my life, I want to excite them with the idea that there is something out in the world that could bring them the same joy. I did not agree to this ultrarunning thing. It happened to me when I met Anne, and I could not possibly be more grateful.