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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Midstokke: The environmental impact of being an ultra-runner

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

For years, I have been looking for a good reason to stop running. Other people I know find all kinds of good reasons: Their knees are damaged, chronic shin splints, they are too busy, it’s too hot or too cold, they don’t like it, it’s hard, unpleasant, unproductive and arguably a waste of time and energy.

While all of that is true for me, none of it has the special ingredients of shame and guilt that really motivate me to make change in my life. So I keep running.

For the past several months, I dedicated a large portion of my life to additional miles of mountains. I neglected my family and my garden just so I could stuff a backpack full of fig bars and salami and take off into the woods for hours at a time. When I am training for a thing, time on my feet supersedes all other important things.

It is a narcissistic and righteous form of avoidance, but the scientists and doctors keep publishing studies on the importance of exercise. Extrapolating from these findings, we can conclude that more exercise must equate to more improved health. This can be further distilled to: If I don’t run all day, I will probably die. Most likely of diabetes, choking on a pork chop or napping too long.

Thirty-five miles into a 50-mile day last week, I found myself with the right amount of time and misery to dedicate my mental capacity to finding a valid reason to stop running.

Not right then – I needed to finish my race, and I had about eight peanut butter cups to motivate me – but the next day for sure I could end my running career.

As I teetered up and over mountain after mountain, I dreamed of setting my trail runners on fire. Perhaps some dramatic gesture would be the end of this insane habit. I shoved a salami stick in my face and cringed at the pain in my heels as blisters drained into my dusty socks. I could feel the liquid seep into my shoe. When a blister drains in the middle of a run, the pain is a temporarily crippling, searing, scalding sort of torture. If I got more blisters, that would be a reason to stop running.

On this day, I whined and winced and gasped for a good mile, glad there was no one to hear the embarrassing display, lest they think I am less tough than I pretend.

As I rooted around in my pocket for the next snack, the next 200 calories to fuel me, I had an epiphany.

During this training season, I have consumed no less than 40,000 salami sticks, 800 peanut butter cups, 70 pounds of steak, enough Amish butter to justify my own dairy farm, a truck load of brown rice, 1 billion gels and gummies, and fostered a taco habit that could feed all of Mexico City for at least a lunch break. And half of the year at least, my avocados are probably imported from Chile.

Being an ultraathlete is not an environmentally conscious hobby. I might well be single-handedly responsible for climate change just by the amount of dead animal that I consume. The packaged stuffs I fuel on create a shameful amount of waste. The sheer amount of calories I process for months at a time is the product of an American culture of naivety about abundance. I should know better.

When I came crashing into the finish line after 1 a.m., I ate two hamburgers and swore off running. At last, I had a good reason. The best reason. I was going to save the planet with my laziness.

Between naps and potato chips the next day though, I read an article about famous vegan runners. Then I researched waste-free fueling pouches and homemade gummy recipes. I checked the local store for my favorite running shoes. I learned that I can grow my own sweet potatoes here in North Idaho.

One by one, I found solutions to every problem I had created. As I watched a toenail turn vibrant shades of purple, the swelling in my ankles went down and the shoes I love went on sale. I gave in.

Back on the trail, I found myself breathing in the smell of the forest in afternoon sun. It bakes like a kind of sweet dessert, the cedar and pine wafting together with the summer blossoms of lupine and wild rose. I forgot about the blisters and the time, and blended into nature until I was a part of it again.

I guess I’ll keep running until I find better reason to quit. For now, it is what fills me with gratitude for this planet and keeps me connected to the importance of caring for her. I hear some people achieve this with afternoon strolls as well … so perhaps there is still hope for me.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at ammimarie@gmail.com

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