No. Not today. Last year, I signed up for this race, completed half of it, and walked away. I had the strength, but I also had my reasons. I just couldn’t run through it. I chose to say, “no”. I took my ball and went home.
Fast forward a year. I got my ball back and I wanted to play. But, I was physically tired. I didn’t get to sleep in as planned, the six-hour drive to the race was difficult in the pouring rain, and to top it off, I was woken by a bear as I camped. I had reasons this year too, but I was going to race.
I teach my students about the three types of conflict in literature. For some reason, they passed through my thoughts.
Man vs. Man; I was going to push during this race, and it was a race. But, if someone had more oomph than I, by all means, go ahead. If not, no worries, I’ll pace you. This was a race, but I was not in competition with anyone else.
Man vs. Nature: What can I say? Mother Nature is a bully. Besides the bear, this time she threw rain, fog, cold, mud, deer flies, and ticks at me. She does like to have temper tantrums on race day…
Man vs. Self: Yup, this was my challenge. I was at the base camp, seeing a sign showing 20 foot visibility and a 20 degree change in temperature. It was raining...hard. I was looking to give myself an out. My BIL cottage is just an hour away, maybe I should go visit...What do I have to prove? Should I just say, “NO”?
There is a voice inside me. She is quiet. I often have to push through all the distractions to hear her. She gave me the mantra that pulled me through and got me to take those first few, no turning back steps. She whispered to me, “you have come much further than you have to go”.
Normally in a trail race, there is a flat section at the beginning to help space the runners out. No such luck here. Within 50 feet of the start, I was climbing. It was not easy, and I will freely admit that I traversed many moods. From the base to the summit, the rain was quite fierce. It made footing very slippery and more than once, a runner in front of me would slip and cause a domino-effect fall. This did not lighten my mood. I had to force myself to dig deep.
They call this a vertical marathon, or a sky race. With the alternating fog/rain, I could not see where I was climbing or if there would be a relatively flat section where I could take a breath. I devised a plan, that I would push with all I had for every three pink trail markers, and then slow my pace to recover. I completed both ascents using this method. I now know, when it is my time to go, I do not want flowers, but a lovely bouquet of pink trail markers would be nice.
I completed the first ascent and saw...nothing. Just fog. I have summited that mountain three times, and have yet to see the view. However, the reward for my effort was a glorious descent down an Olympic Giant Slalom course. I was flying. The rocks were tricky, but I felt like the little girl in the opening scenes of Little House on the Prairie.
I finished the first loop almost giddy to start my second ascent. BUT, not so fast. I hadn’t really been following the race changes. They changed the course, and I now had to go hit some trail miles. This again defeated me. I knew I had the energy to climb, but I didn’t know if that would be true after I hit some technical trail. WIth no other option, I chose relentless forward progress and pushed on.
I felt like I was running through a nightmare. The fog made visibility difficult, and I’m pretty sure they imported rocks and roots. I thought back to my Ironman bike training….”don’t shift for what you see down the road, shift for what is in front of you”. I took each turn of this twisty, Dr. Seuss mapped trail, focusing only on what was 5-10 feet in front of me. It was endless and I lost what little sense of direction I have. Finally, I saw another human...a photographer...who told me I had a mile and a half to go. I’m sure I’m smiling in those pictures!
Finally, I was able to start my second ascent. My mood had changed. I was thankful for the opportunity to get to to this. Thankful that my body was strong enough to pull me along (even if, at some points, I was leaning forward so much I was nearly horizontal). Thankful that I have a little voice that knows how to push me forward.
I came upon a woman. She was crying. When I stopped she told me, “I am generally a very positive person, but this is stupid”. I had to laugh. This is the mantra that I have no problem hearing. It is often very LOUD and persistent. This comes out when I have to dig deep and I’m not certain I’ll find what I need when I do. I sat with this woman for a bit. Told her this will pass, and that finishing is within her power. I helped her patch up a blister and gave her a bite to eat. One of my happiest moments of the race, was seeing her get up, and say, “Thanks. I’ve got this from here”.
I hit the summit, again. I only knew I was close, because I was getting cold. “All downhill from here”, I thought, Oops, not so fast, I went down the wrong path, and had to backtrack. “Ok. NOW, all downhill from here”. I envisioned a descent like the first one, but that is not what I got. The rain had turned my wildflower-lined path into a slip and slide. I’d like to say I stayed upright, but I don’t want to lie. I got pretty beat up, but I knew with every step/slide, I was closer. I could see the finish line from a mile away, and I was going to push until I got there.
And, I did get there. They did not offer finisher medals, but I have three pink trail flags, that caused me to smile during my long ride home. I think they are beautiful.
My body is scratched and sore. I am stiff and a little sleepy. I've taken three showers, but I still feel dirty. But, my soul--that is soaring. I have come pretty far, but oh, the places I will go....