“The story is always better than your ability to write it.” — Robin McKinley
I awoke off just a bit.
The alarm on my Xoom tablet went off: first at 5:10 and then again at 5:20. I got up at 5:40 after falling back asleep. Losing 20 minutes wasn’t a disaster — I build spare time into my race mornings — but it did set the tone.
I was rushed, annoyed, and bothered.
I showered, dressed, grabbed my Nathan as well as the assortment of little gear, and hit the road blasting Glee’s Rocky Horrow to try to change my mood.
At 6 am, the temperature was 28 degrees, cold enough to pull out my thermal gear for the first 19 miles when the sun would finally peak out and start warming things up. When I parked, I reached back to grab my equipment bag…and it wasn’t there.
The black mood came back.
There was already doubt in my head about my fitness. Less than 2 weeks removed from the St. Louis marathon, my legs and heart never felt fully recovered. Last night I started to feel normal, but I knew it was going to take a perfect day for me to survive.
Now: my mental state was shot.
Of course, I was stoked to see all the insane, headlamped runners walking through the woods to the start line. I high-fived, patted backs, and shouted words of encouragement. Inside: the questioning began.
Things got worse during the first 5-mile loop. The trail was rocky, the nasty mid-sized rocks that smash Vibrams. And the recent rain lathered up the course. Within minutes, my feet were achy and cold, and we were battling the footing along the route.
Miserable at the 5-mile finish, I stopped at my car and changed into my street running shoes, which I knew would be a problem on the hilly terrain coming.
I headed down the trail, and with each slipping step, I grew more sure that my day was going to end early.
The trail — across a series of giant, rolling hills — couldn’t be run; you navigated it. Runners fell constantly, and I found myself stepping in mud and sliding in all directions nearly every step of the way.
By mile 10, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. My mood was sour, my body was broken, and my heart was aching.
I promised my father that if my heart started hurting, I’d stop. Truthfully (sorry dad), that wasn’t entirely true. If I thought I could have kept going, I would have.
I’ve never DNF’d, and I didn’t want to start today.
By mile 14, I was toast. My body completely gave out. There was no more juice in the legs. I stopped, and cussed.
Never start something big that you are sure you are going to finish. If you do, it’s not big. You’re just telling yourself it’s big.
Instead of reaching for success, aim for failure.
I set out on this running adventure to find something that I didn’t even know was missing in my life. I set out to push into the unknown of what I can — and can’t — do. In order to find that, I have to find failure too.
As I stood on the side of the trail, alone in the woods and angry at the world because of everything that conspired against me today, I reminded myself that I set out to find failure
Also: I reminded myself that there was only one asshole out here today, and while I didn’t want to name names…
I was five miles from the Start/Finish line, the only place I could DNF. That’s a long walk when you have nothing in the tank. And that’s a long time to stew in my own anger.
“Stop being a dick,” I said aloud although it wasn’t too anybody else. Outwardly, I’d been stoked to be part of the race; Inwardly, I’d been a wreck.
That stopped now just as my day crashed to an end.
I started walking, and singing. I made it a point to high-five or pat every runner that ran past me and when the ultra-marathoners came back in the other direction from the turn-around, I handed them my Gu or let them drink some of my water.
I stopped thinking about my day and started thinking about theirs. They had 14 more brutal miles to complete up and down hilly, muddy, wet, nasty terrain. And they were doing it alone.
They needed high-fives and encouragement.
As I plodded along the route, my day — predictably — got much better.
I laughed with some of the runners I’d started out the day with who were circling back; I joked with people as we climbed, spider-like, up the sides of muddy hills; and I just looked at the beautiful scenery around me.
When I reached the Start/Finish line, I passed a woman and her dog, both sitting at the trail head encouraging people.
“How’s your day,” she asked.
“Not my day today,” I replied, and before she could say anything I added, “but if you’re going to fail, doing so after 19-miles on a gorgeous Autumn afternoon ain’t a bad way to go out.”
“I was just about to say that,” she said.
I’m sitting in the hotel right now, my friend Sarah sitting on the other bed, both of us typing away on the Internet.
We went for lunch after my race, and laughed for about an hour. The dark mood of the morning duly brushed aside, replaced with the joy of life and the pleasure of friendshps.
I’m sure there will be those who offer my sympathesies for not finishing my face. They are appreciated but unnecessary. I didn’t finish THIS face, but I will finish my Ultra soon.
So worry about the race is to miss the point of the day. The race was the least important thing I did. Instead, I was again reminded of the humbling nature of sobriety and running, the healing power of the people around me, and the simple choice we each have every day to decide to be happy.
The thing I didn’t finish: that bad mood.
That’s a pretty good day.