By Tom Amaral
My name is Tom Amaral and I'm an ultradistance trail and mountain runner living in
Banff, Alberta. Pat asked me to write some guest posts describing my life in Banff.
Although the following might seem a dour subject for an initial fitnessrelated post, it
describes the ebb and flow of the moods of a person intimately tied with pushing
themselves hard in the mountains.
Check out my #mountainporn on Instagram (@scree_dust) or read about past adventures
on my blog, screedust.wordpress.com.
It's late fall and the days are getting shorter, the mornings frigid and the mountaintops
dusted with snow. My running season's been long: nine months of training; thousands of
vertical metres; hundreds of kilometres; many summits and multiple ultras. I feel the way I
normally would at this point in the season, characteristically conflicted, desperate to pull
off something epic yet lacking patience for anything too big... Over the summer, through
repeated exposure against an alpine flintstone, I sharpened myself into a finetuned
mountainrunning tool. Have I now widdled this stick down to nothing?
Mountain running emerged as part of a feedback loop that formed between me and the
mountains. Like a groan of distortion spiralling out of control, I hiked, then scrambled,
then ran, then sprinted my way up them. I became inspired, then possessed; obsessed
and depressed. The relationship between me and the mountains, and the type of fitness
that now defines me, has been shaped like a chunk of clay on a spinning wheel, chiseled
by repetitive contact with the alpine. At peak fitness one becomes the perfect mountain-
running machine. Beyond that, the medium is widdled away to nothing.
The question I ask at this point in the season is: how much is too much contact with the
mountains? How much stress and pressure is too much? Or more simply: "Should I head
out to the hills this morning or should I really stay in bed?"
It seems obvious that I should feel this way late in the season, but it's been my
experience that this low can occur at any time and begs the question: from where do we
get the mental fuel that drives us in the mountains?
Mountain and ultradistance running is considered by many to be fun, albeit "Fun 2.0",
something painfully challenging yet abstractly rewarding. "It doesn't have to be fun to be
fun," said Mark Twight, who was a master of suffering. The mountains are an arena to
challenge yourself and in the Rockies the size of the challenge is as big as you want it.
It's easy to dream big, shoot high, then get out there on the ridge and find yourself utterly
lacking the will to do what you set out to do. Sometimes you have the gusto and even
though everything sucks, you push on and succeed. Other times, you're just heading out
the door and subconsciously know that though you have the ambition and ability, you
don't have the drive.
This mercurial quality of the mountains themselves carte blanche for the projection of
our inner dramas I find arcane and fascinating. I've always marvelled at Banff's Mount
Rundle which is never really the same mountain twice; whose character and mood shifts
with changing weather and light. These monolithic heaps of choss are, if anything, the
victims of nature and aren't scary, malicious, inspiring or any way I happen to feel about
them. The mountains are big hills of rock, clad in ice, snow and whatever adjective we
ascribe to them. On this other plane however, they are like metaphysical prisms which
take hold of our worries and aspirations and warp our realities entirely.
When it comes to the "feedback loop" between me and the mountains, this indicates a
disconnect between my positive and negative emotions and what I can actually physically
accomplish. Sometimes I pussyout on projects I'm knowingly capable of. Sometimes I
feel burnt out and turn back on perfectly "easy" peaks. Other times, it's truly a miracle that
my little legs can accomplish what my silly imagination can think up. This indicates an
independence between my mood and perceptions regarding the mountains, and their
reality. "Inspiration" is something I have sometimes exploited for success; in other
instances small worries have kept me from my goals.
This conflict and emotional collision between inflated fears and dreams characterizes the
mood of fall for me as a mountain runner, and much of mountaineering at the best of
I want to know how fall and the onset of winter impacts your mood as a trail runner. How
do you feel at the end of the long running season? Are you looking forward to some
muchneeded rest and perhaps a little crosstraining, or get stircrazy like me? What does
fall mean to your mood?