As many of you know, Heather “Anish” Anderson just broke the women’s unassisted speed record on the Appalachian Trail, overcoming my 2011 record by a whopping 26 days.
Many of my friends have been asking me “if I’m ok with it” in the sort of way they’d ask me if “I’m ok” with an ex-boyfriend getting married to someone else.
And the answer is YES! Even right after my record, I asked that someone come out and close the gap between the men and women’s record. I wasn’t strong enough to do it—and frankly had/have no interest in a thru-hike that is a complete sufferfest. What Anish did is remarkable and a huge boon to womenkind, to the outdoor world, and to athletic feats.
That being said, I have enjoyed holding the record for the past 4 years. There’s something exhilarating, almost unworldly, with the joy I would receive contrasting the image of my 5th grade self—literally the last chubby kid to finish the mile run in PE class—and my new self, the fastest unassisted woman on the most famous long distance trail in the world. Very few people get to be “the best” at something in the world, and for four years, I was able to say that.
Yet the joy of the record, the lessons I learned from the record, and the ability to realize I am more than my 5th grade self have all become lessons that I have absorbed. They have become me. It’s like a book I read as a kid about “magic” ballet shoes that made a girl who couldn’t dance become a great dancer. One day she lost her “magic” shoes, and it turned out she could still dance.
Shortly after I beat the record, I had a friend who told me that if he ever broke a record on a long distance trail, he would be so happy that he would never be sad again. Beating a record would fill a gap, a need, a hole in his life.
But I found the great secret of the record to be quite the opposite: even with a record under the belt, I still had sadness and doubt. Bad things still happened. It didn’t make my desk job any better. It didn’t make living the winter through a place I didn’t like any better. The hole was still there and a record didn’t fill it.
For a while, I thought more records, bigger and crazier would be the answer to filling that hole.
But in the last 4 years, I’ve learned that hole isn’t filled by records. It is filled by being happy with who you are, what you can do, where you have been, and where you are going. I may no longer have the record and the exhilaration associated with that, but I am content in my own skin, and that sort of satisfaction and confidence is longer lasting than any record.
So please join me in welcoming Anish and the newest speed record holder on the AT. What she has done is incredible. May it give pause to every old man who doubts whether a woman can be as strong in the woods as a man. And more importantly, may it bring Anish the joy, peace, satisfaction, and confidence that every hiker looks for after a trip.