Reasons Not To, & Reasons To

By Emma Pearson

July 16, 2024

Main photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash. Other photo my own.

7 July 2024

I am sitting in bed in a hotel in Verbier, Switzerland, when “normalement” I “should” be “walking swiftly” up a great big mountain as part of a mountain trail run. But literally an hour ago, I decided I would not start.

Almost exactly two years ago to the day, 14 July 2022, I wrote a piece called “Reasons To, Reasons Not To” about my then imminent 13 km Lake Geneva swim – across the lake’s widest point.

I was so nervous about it, and in the days before, wondered why the heck I had registered and no longer wanted to do it. Yes – it’s a bit of a pattern for long, endurance events! The promotional videos look so enticing. And I love moving in “big nature”. So I enter events.

In the end I was pulled out of the water a kilometre or so from the Evian finish for being over the time limit (a first). And yes, I could blame the poor organisation and sloppy guiding – for sure I had done well over 13 km by that stage. And indeed, I hadn’t made it to the opposite shore by the time curfew was called. I know when I am beat.

For today, I had entered the “baby run” of the Verbier St Bernard trail series of events. I got up at 5h30, ate something, went to collect my bib from the main registration tent, even felt midly inspired by the jolly-despite-the-awful-conditions camaraderie. Then (mistake!) came back to my hotel to keep dry and get properly ready. All the while looking at the weather (mistake!), observing the mist (mistake!) (visibility about 50 m), scrolling through various weather forecast pages on my phone (mistake!) (rain due till 9 am), and on a whim, decided not to go back to the start. Another first.

The weather this morning in Verbier. And it hasn’t much changed.

Unlike two years ago for the lake crossing when I naturally reflected on “Reasons To” followed by “Reasons Not To”, this year I notice it’s easier to come up with “Reasons Not To” before “Reasons To”. Is that what ageing (maturing) another two years does? So here goes with my lists:

Reasons Not To
The weather is crap – truly crap for mountain running/jogging (and it’s been very wet for days and weeks, so terrain will be slippery)
I don’t want to injure myself (in a week or so, Medjool and I head to Albania for a month, and the first half will be spent trekking on the Peaks of the Balkans trail – I need my knees/ ankles/ hips intact)
I have a cold – yes indeed. Sniffing and sneezing. In mid-July.
My hotel room is super cosy and I fancy a duvet day
There are books I want to read, videos I want to watch
I am listening to my body and my heart rather than my head. The no is louder than the yes.

Reasons To
I’d feel proud of myself
Even if I didn’t enjoy every moment, I’d be glad to have tried (or at least to have started)
I’d be hanging out with Mike for a while out there, for that’s one of the places I find him

Yes – it’s that last point. That’s why I entered this event.

Last September, I planned for my Swan Song trail run – my intention was to say goodbye to trail running. Why say goodbye? Partly because of getting older, but mostly because it’s a time-consuming engagement, and so best done as part of a relationship.

I entered the baby event of the Ultra Tour de Monte Rosa, and even finished it. And I truly enjoyed it. The day was glorious, the views stunning. And I was well accompanied by my buddy Julie. And I didn’t see any swans, so it made sense not to hang up my trail running shoes. Yet. Surely I could find more events tailored to my needs, interests and capabilities?

Endorphins still racing in me I foolishly entered another event – this one. But it’s longer and steeper, as well as being at the start of the “summer” when I am not properly trained.

Good learning. Note to self: only enter events that are in early September when fit from summer hiking given that you no longer actually train for this kind of thing.

Coming here yesterday was enjoyable (I love Swiss trains), until I was in the final stage and in the télécabine going up to the resort. I had sudden and unexpected flashbacks to 2003 when Mike, Ben, Megan and I skied here for a week in the winter. Julia had not yet been conceived. We came again in winter 2005 when Julia would have been a little less than one year old. And we came as an entire origin family for a couple of nights in March 2008 for my dad’s 70th birthday. I haven’t been back here since then. And never in the “summer”.

Such easy, peaceful, enjoyable, carefree times I have had in this resort. In my life before. So unlike how it feels being here today, years on. My body cannot compute. My body doesn’t feel the same. My life so different and unrecognisable. Me the only constant and yet altogether unrecognisable to me.

I forget, sometimes, that grief and loss changes not just the present and the future but also the past. There’s a lack of neural pathways to interpret, to make sense of, the past. I have formed new neural pathways for home, for my immediate environment, even for some relationships that I now navigate without Mike when for decades I had Mike with me in them. But where visits to places or time in relationships are more infrequent or sporadic, my body, heart and mind slip straight into the old neural pathways – where Mike – and Julia – were present, breathing, alive – in my life. I don’t have the new neural pathways to support me in these old places or relationships that I revisit. They haven’t had a chance to form, to get updated.

I don’t know how to get around it – this revisiting of places from my life before. I think I underestimate, again and again, the toll it takes on me. And so today, I am practising self-compassion and kindness, not just raw courage.

I also don’t know how to say goodbye to this sport. I want to say goodbye properly, with an intentional and conscious “Swan song” event, but at the same time I don’t want to. I realise it’s not about the sport. It’s not about the events. It’s about my former life. It’s about having to say goodbye (yet another goodbye) to the part of me that lived 7+ years ago. It’s about saying yet another goodbye to Mike and the pastimes we shared. It’s also – undoubtedly – about saying goodbye to a younger, stronger, fitter, happier me.

It sounds illogical, because it is illogical. It’s not the horrible missing of Mike when I am in the mountains on trails. It’s also tenaciously hanging on to the very few remaining, frayed threads of my past, my former life.

Perhaps, if I am brave, I will take myself out for a walk later today and have yet another farewell ceremony – for places I have been and no longer come to, with much loved people who no longer walk or breathe alongside me, for the life that was and is no more.

What I have learned with endings, loss and grief is that they just go on and on.
Never-ending endings.

And perhaps that is my binding connection.
To Mike.
To Julia.
To that version of Emma who I still look for, out in the mountains, in forests and lakes, but is nowhere to be found.
She’s gone.

About Emma Pearson

1 thought on “Reasons Not To, & Reasons To

  1. Well if you had done that run you wouldn’t have written this blog and honestly I think it’s one of your best, about grief: how it affects not only he future but also how you experience and interpret your past. Well done Em. You are such an inspiration in how you live every moment with all of your being.

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