Monday, December 12, 2011
The dark side of the Hellgate moon
I was running my ninth Hellgate 100K sick and tired-literally. Seldom ill, a cold of uncommon proportions left me weak, eyes watering, diminished hearing, and unable to breath through my nose. That, along with general undertraining, did not bode well for another success story at this devilish race.
But I had two non-negotiable jobs. I needed to start and I needed to finish.
It was not going to be easy. My long-time nemesis, sleep, repeatedly beckoned. I first heard her siren call at the long, lonely climb beginning at mile ten. I tried to fight her off taking in the rushing, frothing stream charging down the mountainside. Such power and force in those waters cascading over and around the boulders. I looked at the brilliant moon through bare but silhouetted branches. Enchanting. Yet my greatest desire was to lay down and lose myself in delicious sleep. I dare not yield.
I thought about the runners I coached and the lessons I tried to teach. I knew they were praying for me. I wondered how they ran at the season's first indoor meet earlier in the evening. My mind rehearsed their encouraging words. It was enough to get me up that hill.
I ate, drank, and pulled out every ploy from my eighteen-year bag of ultra-tricks. I talked to myself and answered back. I ran when I needed to run and walked when the incline became too great. For the most part, I was alone. Alone in the dark with my fear and my dreams playing tug-of-war with my spirit.
When the sky lit with the morning's rising sun, I was further back on the course than I had ever been. The aid station had little to offer. Still, they helped me rush through and be on my way. My mind turned into a cluttered mess of times and paces as I desperately calculated my projected arrival at coming check-points. I knew I was ahead of the cut-off but had precious little room to slow down. I had to push.
I had forty-minutes to spare when I left the forty-two mile aid station, taking food from my own drop bag. Nothing looked appealing but I had to take in calories. The workers did all they could to encourage and help. Still, with apologies, the wares on their table were limited. I was beginning to understand the additional challenges of running near the back and without a crew. But at least only three sections stood between me and another finish.
I climbed. I ran. I walked. I ate. I sipped. I was exhausted and impatient. I suffered. My suffering wasn't so much physical. Nothing really hurt and I was able to run. I was just so tired of breathing. So tired of being out there. In my suffering, I made decisions about giving up racing. I no longer enjoyed the "have to" training and the time it takes. I no longer felt the compulsion to "race" but was not completely taken to the idea of merely "finishing." I would train with my up-and-coming ultra wanna-be's. We would have great fun in the woods and then I would watch them carry the torch into a race. I had it all figured out. Done deal.
And then I crossed the finish line. It was another personal worst time. But it was a finish; number 8 and more than any other woman. I did not quit as I did one year. I persevered. It wasn't pretty. But my finisher's award sure is.
Will there be a ninth and then a tenth finish in my future? My trail decision was "no." Eight was a perfectly good, even number. But now, maybe ten really is better.