Outrunning Co-dependence One Mile at a Time

Running across the United States ---> Outrunning co-dependence and unhappiness

By: Sydney Zester
August 19, 2016

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The peacefulness is almost overwhelming. So is the canyon. So is the pain in my Achilles. It’s just after sunrise and the light of the sun is starting to give the canyon a bit of life. Shadows fade and we are welcomed with vibrant paint strokes of red and orange everywhere we look.  I’m thankful to be running with the boys instead of Jen—she was a little too chatty for 6 AM, which really feels like 5am since we crossed into Mountain time yesterday. As we silently pace closer to Zion’s entrance, things around us get a bit more interesting. The llamas in the few yards we pass look just as confused to see us as we are to see them. The boys and I continue to sway up and down the climbs—we’ve fallen into a relaxing rhythm. My Achilles still hurts. Zack starts talking about his mama—a fighter and survivor. I stop thinking about my Achilles.

We pass a sign for a town limit. Population: 18. Huh. That’s smaller than our team and we fit into two 15 passenger vans. We see the van off in the distance. Although out here even when we see it, we’re still a good mile and a half out from it. Just like time, distance and space mean so little to me now. I don’t really mind though—it’s cool today, a nice breeze whispers through the canyon and across my skin. The closest tangible thing to peace besides our daily 5am gas station coffee. 

Truthfully, my body is tanked from yesterday’s 13 miles through the Mojave Desert at high noon. And this morning we were welcomed with a time change; we all groggily bid that extra hour farewell. But still, I literally wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m totally in love with life in this moment. Exhausted, unshowered, hungry and all. We run the last three miles to Zion’s gates, all together.


Run the 4-Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness | Photo: Jason Hatfield

It’s odd to think that just a few months ago I was a 19-year-old university student whose life revolved around her boyfriend. One person. An entire life crafted to somehow attain fulfillment from another imperfect human. It’s laughable now that I look back on it, but those moments and those years I was so engulfed in my codependence and shared identity that I couldn’t see life past his blue eyes. See, we were high school sweethearts who were embarking on a road so many had before us: long distance. Cliché, I know. But man we were in-freaking-love. 

There’s something about loving someone from miles and miles away that really screws with your mind. I thought I needed to hold on tighter to him in order to master my own happiness. Of course, as I funneled all my emotional energies, physical time, and hard- earned cash into waiting for the next phone call or visit, I inevitably became more and more miserable. It’s impossible for one person to make you happy. We create our own happiness and if a partner comes along who compliments that happiness, awesome! If not, that’s cool too. We are our own souls navigating Earth and it’s up to us to pursue our inspirations. Of course this was not how I was living three years ago. I was depressed—unable to understand why a life that I crafted solely around the one thing that made me feel so much love was failing tremendously at doing just that.

One day on a whim, I decided to apply for a 4000-mile cross country charity run. Crazy, yes. I was accepted. Ever crazier. Before I knew it, I had raised $4,500 and was flying across the country to San Francisco preparing to run back home to Baltimore. To this day I have no clue what gave me the courage to do this—I wasn’t a traveler, I was giving up six weeks of my precious summer time with my long distance love, and I’m introverted beyond belief. Yet there I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: running 10-20 miles a day; sleeping on floors of churches, YMCAs, firehouses, and community centers; asking for food donations; and bonding with members of our nation’s cancer community, sharing stories of fighters and loved ones lost. If I had to guess, my intense love of running—the peace, clarity and empowerment it provides me with every day—fueled my unexpected, whimsical jump to adventure.


Trail Run Moab’s Slickrock Trail | Photo: Ben Duke

Over the course of 6 weeks I morphed into a completely new being. Actually, more accurately, my true self was finally able to breathe—it’s totally amazing what magic happens in your life when you are intentional about feeding your soul. Besides the obvious physical challenges of our journey—enormous mileage, sleeping on floors every night, eating anything and everything that we could get generously donated and our hands on, the lack of showers and laundry for days, the heat and altitude, and being in the middle of absolutely nowhere 99% of the time—the emotional and intellectual challenges are what wholly fed my growth.

See, I was surrounded by 26 absolutely incredibly interesting runners 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I was introduced to a brand new way of living, one that put personal growth and exploration first rather than another person. These were folks who were inspired to travel to the farthest corners of the Earth, pursue PhD’s, volunteer to help their communities. They were single, married, or in relationships and all were 100 percent happy with their lives. Incredible. Especially to me, the girl who had just spent the past 2 years of her life moping around because all of her value was vested in one thing, or rather, one person. I hadn’t been pursuing interests or trying to meet new people. I hadn’t been setting goals and then surging out to accomplish them. I had one goal: get engaged because then I would be truly happy. I can laugh about it now because of how naïve and simplistic my world was back then, but man it has taken a while to get here.

Sharing sweat and blood and definitely tears with these beautiful people taught me that I could be so much more. I could aspire to so much more. I was in charge of my own future. I had the power to search within myself and within the world for contentment and curiosity and, of course, fulfillment.  Running across the United States didn’t just open my eyes, it cracked open my world, and with that, goals and excitement and authenticity came pouring out.


Trail Running in Lockett Meadow | Photo: Moe Lauchert

Now this is not to say that I ran across the country and all of my problems were solved. I came home and had to face incredible discomfort with my old habits. Change is awkward (and hopefully inevitable) in life. But with the tumultuous times that followed my six-week slice of heaven came a heart that desired so much more and a mind that dreamed so much bigger.

I have since traveled the U.S. high and low. Climbing mountains, seeking out alpine lakes and glaciers, driving back roads, running tons and tons of miles. I became an ultrarunner and ran races through streets and up mountains. I drank way too much coffee on both coasts and in between. I applied to and was accepted to a graduate program studying something I adore. And I have pursued relationships and friendships in ways that I had never before. My uncharacteristic, on-a-whim decision to do what so many thought was insane was the greatest decision of my short 22 years on this Earth, and is inevitably what will shape the rest of my years.

Cover photo: Jason Hatfield

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