Photo by Bill Geoghegan

As a follow-up to her article on her hopes, dreams, and preparation for a 108k run in Yogavile, Tracy Cooley shares the experience of actually undertaking and completing the run. You can read her first article, “Running: A Moving Meditation” here.

There are trail runs that rock your world and there are trail runs that change your life, my self-supported Yogaville 108k was both. I got to Yogaville on a Wednesday afternoon and changed in the campers bathhouse and took off down the maze of magical trails. Not even a half mile later I bonked my noggin on a tree that had fallen across the trail and never even saw it coming. In fairly short order, I started balling my eyes out thinking I was in way over my head and now my head wasn’t quite right after being knocked silly—no tribe, no pacers, no crew, and very little common sense.

I asked Swami Satchidananda to be with me for the next 67 miles and felt a sense of peace come over me. I was in his home and knew that I would be okay. Shortly thereafter, I ran past a tree that was shivering. The leaves were rustling and the entire tree seemed to be moving, I could hear the leaves from a few hundred feet away as though it were alive. Other nearby trees were completely still. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t alone.

I broke most of my rules in the early miles—my Yoga and meditation stops became extremely brief, I was not following my nutrition plan since I desperately needed the caffeine and sugar to keep me moving, and I stopped more frequently than originally intended.

Wednesday night was the only time that I stopped for dinner during the run. They were serving mushroom soup, which melted my heart and softened all my hard edges. I didn’t just eat this bowl of soup, I elevated my being through this soup—it was a spiritual experience. Only long dirty hard-fought miles can make me appreciate seriously good food this much.

When the sun went down on day one, I started listening to live recordings from Woodstock and did some long miles on the LOTUS road, stopping and bowing at the LOTUS temple; Chidambaram, the tomb of Gurudev, and Kailash, the Nataraja shrine each time that I passed. As the miles wore on, I started confusing the spiritual sites and mixing up the names, I was getting tired. (Jai Gurudev, Jai LOTUS, Jai Nataraja)

Not only that, I was terrified running in the dark. It was pitch black and the Ashram was locked up and shut down, and I could only see a few feet in front of me. But here’s the thing that kept me going—the most amazing sky full of stars that I have ever seen in my life. I secretly wished that everyone who loved Yogaville could experience this at some point. I cried deeply over how beautiful it was and how much I appreciated this experience—all the while listening to Hendrix, CSNY, and Joe Cocker, and on and on rock out at Woodstock.

But the fear became overwhelming and I climbed the stairs to the Kailash shrine and headed for home. There were more than 200 metal steps (I lost count). The night was dead silent and I could only hear my footsteps, until about halfway up the stairway to heaven (that’s what it looked like in the darkness). My footsteps started to shake the metal contraption and it sounded like there was someone behind me, which greatly added to my fear. I looked down the steps and saw several dozen steps lit up and then drop off into darkness. And I looked up the steps and saw the same, and felt that the world had disappeared and it was only me and these steps that seemed to take forever and a day to climb. My breathing was fast and my heartbeat was racing.

Reaching the top of these stairs and looking out over all of Virginia, with its amazing sky full of stars was breathtaking. Yet, still I was surrounded in blackness and now found myself in a big open field with only a couple feet of light ahead of me. So scared.

I got back to the room, took a hot shower, and climbed into one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Here I should note that Yogaville set me up in a special guest suite, since this is clearly a step above monastic life at the Ashram. They also put a bowl of fresh fruit harvested from their organic farm in my room. Special, indeed. Day one mileage: 18.

I woke up before dawn and scrambled to put on my muddy shoes and flew out the door. By the time the sun was coming up, I was running along the James River surrounded by deer who seemed to always be nearby. Since I had meetings in the afternoon (I do pro-bono work for Yogaville), I could only run until about 12:30 pm. Day two morning mileage: 19.

Post-meeting I threw on my muddy shoes again and set off. This time, I only ran a few miles since the fear was even worse than the night before. By the time that I got back to the room, there were three deer right outside my door. It was special. Day two evening mileage: 10.

I woke early the next day to wrap up the miles and set the strongest pace for all three days. I was getting seriously hungry at this point because of the high mileage and no meals of substance for several days. Fistfuls of Pringles, PBJs, bananas, Clif Bloks were my only sustenance—and lots of tailwind, of course.

Near the finish, I stopped by Integral Yoga Distribution (a distributor of Yoga, wellness and spiritual books, gifts, and accoutrements) and picked up mala beads as a reward for finishing. It was odd wrapping up 67 miles and not telling anyone, although there was a guy in the parking lot fixing his pick-up and he asked me how many miles I had just run and I explained to him. The look on his face was priceless. Day three mileage: 20.

My love for Yogaville can’t be captured in words and these miles made me feel a special connection to this Heaven on Earth that I had never before experienced in all my visits. I usually feel like a visitor on the trails, but this time I felt like I was at home.

I sat down with one of the Swamis that day and was distracted, hurried, and focused on organizing myself and getting back on the road home. Of course, this Swami was filled with peace, love, and contentment and she drew me in quickly and everything else seemed to drop away.

This is life as best as I know it—in all of the chaos and confusion and distraction, magic is happening. The goal of life is to not miss it, to be aware and present for it. The look in her eyes and the feeling of being with her is what has always brought me back to Yogaville; there is an energy there that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world.

Running those miles filled me with gratitude for what I have been given through Yogaville and through my life. My birthday was the next day, and someone (I think I know who!) tipped off the Swamis and they chanted the Mahamrityunjaya mantra to me (a prayer of blessing) and, then sang Happy Birthday with additional verses I had never heard before: “May you do a lot of japa (mantra meditation), may you grow to be like papa (Yoga master Swami Satchidananda), may you realize in this lifetime (Self-realization), happy birthday to you!” I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

I always cry like a baby and am filled with a new sense of focus and purpose when I’m leaving Yogaville. Being alone out on the trails helped me make peace with being alone, and with that acceptance comes a feeling of never being alone. The people who are supposed to be closest to me—my daughter, my parents, my siblings, my long-time friends—are the people who are genuinely closest to me. With them in my life, I will never feel lonely even if I am alone. They are always with me and I do not lose the relationships that truly matter.

I was never alone on those trails, but I did feel a sense of empowerment that comes from supporting myself. The next day, I celebrated my 47th birthday. Three days later, I bought a house on my own. I broke down laughing when I saw my name in the middle of the contract: TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN.

Good reminder that I am standing on my own two feet, whether I am running 108k or buying a house and the lesson that I learned to get me here is the greatest lesson of my life. Maybe there will be another closest relationship in my life but being TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN, buying the house, running the miles, eating the Pringles, savoring the mushroom soup, and praying with the mala beads is profoundly awesome.

About the Author:

Tracy Cooley is a certified 200-hour Yoga teacher, registered with the Yoga Alliance, and received her training at the Sun and Moon Yoga Studio in Arlington and Fairfax, Virginia. Her Yoga path began at Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia and she continues to visit the Ashram frequently and work with staff by providing pro-bono consulting services. In addition, she is the East Coast Coach for the Lupus Foundation of America and also offers private coaching sessions. Tracy received her running coach certification through the Road Runners Clubs of America . Over the last twenty years, she’s completed several dozen road and trail marathons and ultramarathons (distances greater than 26.2 miles). Her approach is centered on strengthening the mind-body-spirit connection to improve overall well-being, boost performance and increase awareness. More here at her blogsite:  “Start with Om.”