Why You Need to Get Lost

I’m training for a half-marathon on April 22. I realize this event could potentially thrust me into hating running forever, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

From now until April 22, my goal for each Saturday is to run 15 continuous minutes longer than the previous week. Last weekend I aimed to hit the 90-minute mark, and I hit it dead-center like a stone to Goliath’s forehead. But the victory over my 90-minute goal soon turned into a subsequent catastrophic 90-minute wandering through the desert.

And no, that wasn’t a second biblical metaphor in as many sentences. I literally wandered through the desert last weekend.

Getting Lost

Turns out I am indeed a stereotypical man. I’d always assumed myself to be “above” that degradation, but I was humbled last weekend. I’d been running for over an hour through some dusty, arid trails and eventually reached a road. Utilizing the directional skillz God supposedly gifts every man, I assumed this unknown road would wrap back around to my vehicle and I would drive home triumphant after slaying Goliath.

Only this unknown road didn’t return me to my vehicle. I swear the earth must have shifted and new mountains must have formed, because by the end of that 90 minutes I was clueless as to where on God’s brown earth I stood.

Getting Loster

Already exhausted, I scoured neighboring streets, desperate to discover the road connecting me back to my vehicle. For 30 minutes I searched futilely, only exacerbating the problem by getting more and more lost as my aching joints grew achier.

I could have walked up to someone’s house and asked for directions, but I was shirtless and sweaty and essentially the epitome of gross. Plus, I’m a man, and a man doesn’t ask for directions even when he’s bathed and shirted.

So I just fell deeper into the mire.

California Cacti

Getting Unlost

I hated doing it, still hate that this is what I had to do. But since there was apparently no road forward to my car, I had to retrace my steps and take the road backward. All three miles of it.

I’d already fulfilled my 90-minute running goal—Goliath was deader than a Palestinian doornail—but his ghost would haunt me as I ran-walked-stumbled another 90 minutes back to my vehicle. A thin layer of dust caked my entire body as countless cacti surrounded me on those same arid trails. My spit had evolved beyond its usual liquid form and frequently exited my mouth as some bulbous, fifth state of matter. By the end of those three hours in the desert, I was thirstier than I’ve ever been, and pain leapt from my ankles to my calves to my hamstrings.

Needless to say, the red Gatorade waiting for me in my car was the most heavenly substance ever to grace my throat, and the sleep I experienced that night was among my most glorious periods of unconsciousness.

My most wretched physical experience in 25 years, followed by perhaps two of my most satisfying.

Wandering through the desert sucks. There was nothing fun about re-treading a never-ending path of dirt for the second time. I learned I don’t know it all. In fact, despite my academic accolades, I’m really quite stupid sometimes.

But I also learned I’m more capable than I often give myself credit. That even when I’m thirstier than a slug in a salt mine, I’m capable of running or walking or crawling another step forward–even when everything within me cries to stop and die in the desert.

Everyone needs to get lost and wander through the wilderness every now and then. The reality check on your limitations and the grace that comes with getting back on track are invaluable gifts.

Don’t be afraid. Get lost. You’ll never be the same.

  • Mlyaksh

    A literal desert- can’t say I’ve been there. I did drive to Alabama one time while trying to get back home- turns out I-20 West is not the same as I-20 East.

    But figurative deserts- that I’m familiar with. Or so I think. I make myself believe I can find my way out again by myself. But the desert is always changing. It’s sand for goodness sake. So I stumble around for awhile, being the man who doesn’t directions, only having to fall down and beg God for direction. And wouldn’t you know it? There’s usually my way back right there.

    On a side note, asking for directons with the way you were looking might have creeped people out or sent the wrong message. Good call on retracing your steps.

  • Kirin

    I get lost all the time when I am driving, in my own town!! So I can’t even imagine being lost while I am on a run!! That is incredible that you found your way back, even if you just went backwards! I really enjoyed reading this post, it actually does make me want to go running in the wilderness and see where I end up!

    • TMZ

      KIRIN! Your comment made me smile. Go for that run. Get lost. Ever go to Lake Herrick on the UGA campus? Or the botanical gardens in Athens? Some great trails to get lost on there.

      COMMENT AGAIN SOON PLEASE. Hope you’re doing well!

  • David Martin

    You should google map it on your own to see where you were lost. It might be amusing to see how far (or close) you were from your car. In case you try it again. 🙂

    • TMZ

       I actually did just that, and turns out I’d run into a completely different city. I’d have had to kept running forward for a while before I reached some familiar roads that would circle me back. Probably would have been just as arduous of a journey, except through highly populated streets rather than the safe backwoods. Think I made a good choice.

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