In the past few months, I’ve often found myself reflecting about the concept of pushing the limits. If on one side I crave edges and my curiosity urges me to see where I can arrive and questions if that’s really it, on the other side I wonder if this concept hasn’t actually been spoilt by our social myths. Outdoor activities are ever more often used and “shared” as show offs or poses, and their value depends always more on their “hardness” and “incredibility”. They’re used as a mean to self-praise and acceptance, instead of self-reliance and growth.
The result: we are launched on a reckless race towards the ultimate limit and who can reach it first. All the rest are just rabble, things not worth doing, places not worth seeing. We always end up exaggerating.
So, exactly because of all this, what if “pushing the limits” ended up also meaning to be able to accept these limits in the first place? To feel comfortable in them and see them as a natural condition, instead of something to be ashamed of, or angry at. Something to be – guess what? – grateful for.
I couldn’t figure out a balance between the two. Then I found a place that perfectly embodies this dichotomy and explained it all to me.
Savouring the place
Apparently, this past few weeks’ motto has been “magic is right behind the corner, and it happens when you least expect it”.
I discovered Monte Gennaro one Sunday afternoon, when me and my faithful hiking buddy Veronica didn’t want to waste a glorious sunny day, but didn’t even have the opportunity to embark on anything other than a short, nearby activity. We were both craving a new place, but really didn’t know where to look. Then someone suggested Monte Gennaro and we decided to opt for it.
40 minutes away from Rome, a new place for the both of us and a mount: it sounded just like the perfect choice.
However, as it had already happened for Monte Terminillo, I’m pretty sure we both were underestimating what we were about to come across.
The best word is probably Fairy Wood. An enchanted beech wood, ready to welcome us anytime we feel the need of some nature and profound, unspoilt silence.
We decided to go on a random hike, no actual trail to follow. We sort of explored the place without any other pretension. No other intention than to enjoy that magic.
We actually ended up naturally following the 303 trail, from Prato Favale to Fonte Campitello. Starting where the road ends in Prato Favale, you just have to follow the typical red and white marks all the way to the big fields, where horses and cows browse freely.
Again, an overwhelming feeling of simplicity took over for the majority of the afternoon. While going back home, I couldn’t stop wondering why I left so much time go by without caring about that place. Why did I sacrifice such precious spots in the name of this general obsession for the “great”, the “incredible” and the “limitless”. Why did I snub them?
I actually felt a bit ashamed and ridiculous. It felt unfair and, somehow, an easy choice. It’s so easy to follow the crowds that crave something extra-ordinary. Be hyped by videos, pictures, magazines and performances. I can’t say the same when it comes to appreciating what we have, abandon the dreams of glory and success with which we get bombarded everyday and focus on something no one will talk about, yet is at the very core of life.
At the same time, I can’t deny my passions and all the other things that make me feel as much alive and even more in contact with nature and my more physical side.
A balance between the two is necessary, as always.
So while enjoying my slow hike and nourishing these thoughts of appreciation and “local gratitude”, I realised it actually was a perfect itinerary for trail running.
Just to clarify: I’ve started running again just a few weeks ago, after years well away from tracks, times and races. Like a big magnet, one day I woke up and felt the urge to start running again. But I could never think to do that away from mountains. So, after a few training sessions, I started to look for itineraries where to practice trail running. That was a perfect one to start with: light and near home, following an itinerary I already knew, in a magical place like that.
Reaching the edge
Of course the first 2 or 3 miles uphill were worst than a kick in the face. I couldn’t feel anything but pain and the loud, hammering will to quit everything and just go wild on chess. “I will never be good enough to do this”, “I will never be able”, “I will never be resistant enough”.
Then the spell happened: who cares?
The edge of giving up, running, those beautiful beeches, that clean air, the sun and nature in general: they all reminded me that nothing could matter more than doing something I love in a place I adore.
When did it happen that we started to measure happiness according to performance? Should I be less happy because my timings are not so pro? Or should I feel grateful and gratified I “simply” learnt how to struggle through fatigue and hopelessness, finding out I can make it through them and actually feel gloriously good after everything?
Ultimately, was pushing my limits a matter of performance, or a matter of gratefulness and satisfaction of who I was, where I was and what I was doing?
I would never sacrifice the enjoyment of the beauty of a place just to achieve a performance. The reason why I could focus exclusively on my run and trespass that edgy point was that I had already satiated my need for contemplation and detailed exploration. At the same time, I truly desired that feeling of extreme physical struggle to feel fully accomplished in that place.
The same coin
Curiosity and gratitude. Never sacrifice one for the other. They’re both profoundly important in order to not miss out in life, yet be able to live the present and not overlook places, people and things just because they don’t sound extra-ordinary enough.
Pushing the limits can mean many things, or actually, just two, but rather opposite ones.
To push limits does also mean to stand right within them and not feel inadequate because of them. To go beyond boundaries also means to realise the preciousness of small, near and daily again. As it started to arise in my mind a few months ago, to master gratitude, instead of feeling upset because of what we still haven’t accomplished.