Originally posted on AskLaurenFleshman.com January 2016.
I’ve seen and lived running in a lot of different ways.
For many years, a drive to be the best was my primary fuel source. Big wins and big losses helped me hone my skills. Injuries tortured and humbled me. My coaches and teammates in high school, college, and beyond infused into who I am. Pregnancy and motherhood expanded me (literally and figuratively). Working in the industry showed me where the road blocks and opportunities are for positive change. Coaching allows me to experience pursuit from the front row seat of other people’s cars.
Running continues to be my best teacher. At times it has been mind-blowingly transformative. Other times, a chore. Even an albatross. I’ve learned that running is most powerful in my life when the heart of it is wild; when it isn’t fenced in by obsession with outcomes, negative body talk, and all the other crap you can possibly attach to it. We inherit much of our relationship with running from others, but when we can sort out what it means to us, what the wildest, purest version of it is for us, and pay attention, then it can work all kinds of magic.
Writing is an incredible tool for sorting all that out. I didn’t really start writing until I was 27, and it was only because I was highly motivated to make sense of my struggles with running. I couldn’t find the advice I desperately needed online, but I was able to call a few pro athlete acquaintances who had been through it. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have access to those people, and how shitty it was that 99% of readily available content was so severely watered down it didn’t even really help the majority of “the masses” it was targeting. That’s why I started AskLaurenFleshman.com in 2009. To have a collection of real time experiences in journal format, as well as answer people’s questions in my own style. I wanted to create what I had been looking for in the hopes that others would find it helpful. The writing process turned out to help me most of all because it helped me get grounded in my running. I wasn’t expecting writing to help my running, but it did.
And it works in reverse as well. Running can lead to wilder, more powerful writing. When my brain is clogged up, running shakes it loose and shimmies the pieces into some sort of order. My feet working the earth simplifies my existence to the forces of physics. I’m an organic being, moving across the crust of the planet, and I can do this with nothing more than the naked body I was born with. I am a ghost, running through scene after scene of other people’s lives unnoticed. It’s fucking amazing, running is.
Writing frees the runner, and running sparks the creative. It’s a relationship that fascinates and motivates me to get my hands dirty. I have a LOT of training in running, but in writing I am very raw. I took some steps in the past year to learn more about writing, and that’s how I met Marianne Elliott (author of Zen Under Fire, activist, yoga teacher, and runner). She taught a writing workshop at Muse Camp in Bend last summer. In one hour, she left such a big mark on my writing experience that I flew to Oakland for another workshop she co-taught. It was the first skill outside of running that I ever invested money and traveled a long distance for, and it was well worth it. She and Laurie Wagner showed us how to write in a way that made our writing more powerful, not just for others, but for ourselves. And it reminded me of the way a few carefully chosen cues and tools in running can not only make you faster, but make the running you are doing serve as a more positive force in your life.
In working with Marianne, I saw that my approach to powerful running and her approach to powerful writing both start with stripping down to the heart of the thing. Both require identifying what is true and having the courage to take it out of your head and express it. This synergy inspired me to create a retreat focused on running and writing, and I got up the guts to ask her to come facilitate it with me (she said yes! All the way from New Zealand to Oregon!) I’m also thrilled to announce that Julia Hanlon of Running On Om will be the Camp Director. We have a date set, and a vision. Now all that is left is to run and write (and a bunch of other stuff) it into being.
P.S. The name “Wilder” comes from the fake name I use at open mic nights to feel more courageous. For some reason it works. Now it’s time to share it.
Update: Febrary 11, 2019
After facilitating five Wilder Retreats and one Wilder Workshop since writing this introductory post, Wilder has grown in its meaning and purpose. As the teacher grows, so does the teaching, and I have dedicated myself to some good hard growing in the time since 2016, (and don’t plan on stopping). However, it is refreshing to read this original piece from when Wilder was just an idea, and be reminded that the foundation is still unchanged.
After retiring from elite competition, like any big life change, how I move in the world and see the world has shifted some. It has been shifted by life, by kids, by the people who have attended Wilder retreats, the stories I’ve heard, the teachers I’ve stood beside, the softening I’ve witnessed in people, the things I’ve seen unfold in the months and years for many following a retreat, the letters and emails I’ve read from past participants. My enthusiasm and commitment to this kind of work has only grown as a result.
More than ever, I believe there is a transformative power to this work, and I will continue to do it, and teach it. If writing and running have a place in your heart, regardless of the specifics of your experience, speed, career, or goals, Wilder is worth looking into. Even if the pulse of your wildest running or writing has grown faint, if it still whispers to you, and you want to hear it, Wilder is worth looking into. Maybe especially then.
Most of us runner/writers stand more confidently in one practice or the other, and we all have ways of getting in our own way in both, and we all have things to teach and learn. When you come to Wilder, you see what happens when we unsettle the ways we’ve been trained to run, write, speak, and listen for four days. The heart of the thing is uncovered. The voice grows. What it means to be human is evident.
Before applying to Wilder, please read the details of the retreat page. In particular the section that says, “This retreat is for you if…” And “This retreat is not for you if…” If it speaks to you after that, please apply. I’ve love to have you at a Wilder in 2019 or beyond.