Monday, December 12, 2011

The dark side of the Hellgate moon

12:01 a.m. Full moon rising. Mountains awash in the silver light. Shuffle through leaves. Splash across creeks. The rhythmic cadence of gravel crunching under foot. Thoughts crowd the mind. Other times, no thoughts come to mind. Eat. Drink. Be patient. Have no patience. Make decisions. Pray. Unmake decisions. Slog up the next mountain. Run down the other side. It's relentless forward motion toward a finish line.

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.

9 comments:

Sophie Speidel said...

I am glad to be the first to comment!

R...you *are* the torch for the Hellgate women out here. Bright, shining, steady, smart. It doesn't matter if it is 15:40s or 17:30s, your inspiration to us is the same. Thank you for being so inclusive and positive over the years. Hellgate would not be the race it is without its pioneers, and you are one.

10 years is a nice round number, but take it a year at a time, a day at a time, a step at a time...

Hope you are recovering well and feeling better.

xox

Kerry Owens said...

I never had even a second of doubt that you would finish...and I have no doubt that you will be back next year.

Every year at Hellgate surely does have a different story and usually the best stories aren't the "PR" stories.

Congratulations and I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing holiday!

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Ladies- thank you so much. I do not deserve such kindness. I don't feel very inspirational or positive when I am out there. I get sullen and introspective and depressed. Ugh. But no one sees that. To quote a song, "this warrior is a child."

Congrats to both of you. Such great races for both of you. And Kerry, a second Beast in the books. I am impressed beyond words!

Freda Spencer said...

I agree with Sophie and Kerry 100%! I never doubted you would finish and looked forward to reading your blog about Hellgate. I know you will use the difficulty of this year in helping others - that's just the way you are. You will help them prepare mentally for not being crewed and not being up front. For being alone for hours. For persisting and finishing against all odds. What Kerry said is so true - the best stories aren't usually the PR ones - they are the ones how someone overcame physical and mental weariness and against all odds, finished! Thanks for sharing and being transparent and such an inspiration!

Rick Gray said...

You are a survivor and in the process you become an encourager. This is not only true for your ultra running buddies, but for the high school kids that you coach. They are learning life's lessons from what you are demonstrating to them. In a rough time when things were not on your side you moved forward and accepted the task at hand. I for one appreciate who you are and what you stand for.

Mike Matteson said...

Congratulations Rebekah on number eight.

Casseday said...

You are TOUGH -- nuff said.
Congrats!

Monique Dube said...

And I am the first timer Canadian that was scared to death at the start and pretty much through the entire course. You encouraged me at the start and provided encouragement along the way with cutoffs and "whats up next route info". I watched you watch the clock and then kick into gear to make up time. I finished and it wasn't pretty but it was the toughest of my efforts to date. You are not only admirable but were generous with your time to assist. I consider that a well rounded runner. Thanks :)

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Ah, Monique, Thank you so much. Your words mean so much. I am glad I was able to help you in some small way. Many blessings to you and have a Merry Christmas.