One of the things that makes ultrarunning amazing is that there's always a learning moment waiting to be grasped. This is not to say that grasping these moments comes easy, in fact, many come with despairingly difficult circumstances. Yet, in the absence of perfection therein always lies progress and growth that challenges us to become more resilient in the face of adversity.
Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run was a great failure and great success and one of the most intense emotional running experiences I have had. Going into the race, I had every reason to believe that it would go very different than it did. My year of running and racing had gone amazing to this point. I had two trips to the podium, an 8th place finish at the grueling Jemez Mountain 50 miler, the Tucson High Five, and set a record at the Painted Hills 12hr challenge. My hopes were so high, dangerously high. However, despite having been doing this for many years, I neglected to remember this is ultrarunning and what the ultrarunning God's giveth, the ultrarunning God's taketh away and give back in unexpected ways. It was not the race I hoped for but it was the race and experience I got and as my disappointment subsides my appreciation rises.
There's no way around it, I completely blew up and had my worse performance in over 3yrs. Nothing went right out there. I ran this race to honor my mentor Rick Kelley who passed last year. It was Rick's favorite race and he did it 6 times and it is hands down the toughest, grittiest, most difficult race I have done. I ran (pun fully intended) into so many problems dehydration, muscle cramping, puking, I fell multiple times gashing my leg and battled utter emotional and physical despair. Yet, I had one overarching goal and two angels from heaven with me and some of the best aid station workers and kind, caring souls to get me through. No matter what, I had to finish this beast and get Rick's bandanna past the finish line a 7th time.
It took everything I had emotionally and physically. If my body were a Windows operating system, it was undoubtedly flashing the proverbial blue screen of death - WARNING CRITICAL SYSTEM ERROR! The pain from cramping was so severe at one point I bit a chunk out of my cheek, it was unholy. There were moments where my stomach turned inside out and my legs cramped at the same time. I sat down at aid stations and cramped up at one point, when medics were working on the gash in my right leg, my left leg seized up. While running, I clenched my teeth so tight my jaw started to hurt more than my leg cramps. I couldn't believe it, it seemed like I never trained or ran before in my life. My physical crisis soon escalated to a full blown, level 4, code red, existential crisis. The puzzle of my meltdown corroded my sense of self. I felt lost. I was angry, sad, disappointed, empty, broken, embarrassed, and shamed. I remember thinking too bad there isn't a Chernobyl award given away to the runner with the worst meltdown. The physical pain was secondary to the apparent mental meltdown that had succumbed me.
|Moving Forward: Photo Credit Kent Warlick
By the time I picked up my good friend and pacer Kent at mile 44, I was in a bad way and was very seriously wondering if my days of no DNFs were over and the anguish that overcame me thinking that this of all races, the one for Rick that he never DNFd was going to be my first. Kent and Julie were having none of it.
Kent and I made into the evening and there were a few segments where I was able to rally a bit but everytime I put together a decent pace and good amount of running, the leg cramping and particularly my left leg seared in pain. And to make matters worse, I couldn't keep any calories down without throwing them up two miles after eating them. Kent kept reminding me that we were going to finish and even though my attitude was despairing, his words of encouragement and reminders of why I was there shined like a bright star in the darkness of my mind. I wasn't alone. In the last 25 miles, the physical and mental pain persisted but we always moved forward.
Rick's memory, and Julie's and Kent's believing in me and all of the support from the AC Community when I didn't believe in me carried me through. This finish was them pulling me through and not me gutting it out. When it was over, I sat down and wept. For me, it hurts to under perform and not reach goals and not be able to compete and feel like all the hard work amounted to nothing. However, it hurts more and in different but piercing ways to quit. Rick would have had no business with me quitting. I can just imagine sitting down with him and sharing what it was like out there and watching him chuckle and respond by saying "Yup I did that s***t 6 times, good job you're no quitter now do it again next year."
Though I wish I could say otherwise, I am not sure I have any pearls of wisdom or inspirational gems that others can lean on as they navigate their place in ultrarunning or this world. However, I am reminded that this blog is about running on mountains and the search for peace. So, it's probably prudent to address something other than the complete lack of peace I had out there. True to form, the running gods always give back in unexpected ways.
We are so quick to embrace an attitude of going about our ultrarunning and life difficulties, adventures, and feats alone. I am well aware that this concept has and will continue to drive me but I have learned it can also blind me at times. This concept is such a salient feature of our culture that Angeles Crest had an entire group of runners designated as "solo", meaning no crew and no pacer (which I should note, is badass in every sense of the term). For me, I have, at times, taken this concept to the extreme. I have considered myself as someone who does not lean on others. However, I was forced to abandoned this self-concept and replace it with being self-determined not self-sustained. Being self-sustained allows one to be resistent to fall out and failure, which has at times, its own benefits. However, being self-determined forces one to be resilient because when fall out and failure occur, resilience, not resistence drives the ability to face fear and risk and rise out from underneath the fall out and failure.
My experience at Angeles Crest is not uncommon. It's a stupid hard race. All day out there, every runner and even the solo runners at some point had to be self-determined and show their resilience and capacity to lean on someone other than themselves and by doing so allowed for the collective human spirit to shine. In all the difficulty of the race, the human spirit stood above the highest mountain peaks and peered like an Ansel Adams photograph over lowest valleys.
Some runners were attempting the race for 3rd or 4th time, some were in aid stations crying in pain, bent but not broken, in pieces only to be put back together by their crews and heroes who volunteered. Other runners rallied and pushed to stay under cutt-offs. No matter how far into the pain cave I was or anyone else, the enduring human spirit was there providing the light in the dark. Even the runners that succumbed to their battle with the course and their bodies, did so only to ensure they would survive to run another day.
In a time where humanity and unity seems so elusive, the raw power of a collective group conscious to help others in need and individual resilience can be found in the sport of ultrarunning and there is a great sense of peace in this.
I don't know what is next for me. I have a lot of disappointment and frustration to work through and to mend my relationship with ultrarunning and my confidence is broken and needs to be repaired. I am without the proper words to articulate in a meaningful way what the experience was like but this was my best attempt. However, I can say that within the despair of great failure, great success and the gift of the human spirit and resilience does not reside outside our ability to grasp it. I am not sure I would have known that without running Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. There are many lessons that go beyond ultrarunning buried in this experience and I intend on uncovering them and using them to have a better way forward. Time will tell if I have yet another reinvention and come back in me.