Here's the abbreviated version. I started the YETI 100 miler, determined to
live out the statement by a friend battling cancer: "Don't you want to
know what happens if you don't give up?". I never found
out what would happen because I gave up--quit--threw in the towel--at mile 64. Let's not sugar-coat it. I failed.
Big time. I am not proud of it. Please don't tell me I'm still a winner for having started. Please don't tell me you don't even like to drive that far. Such platitudes are not helpful.
|Happy at mile 34|
Somewhere between miles 35 and 49 miles, a switch in my head turned off. My head was swimming, steps faltering. All I wanted to do was sleep. It didn't make sense. Sure, it was an early morning, but I had only been running for about 5 or 6 hours when it hit. I hit the caffeine tablets. I fought with all my might not to lay down and sleep, but that would not get me further down the trail. Attempts to run were futile. I felt so weak. I hiked as best as I could, keeping a pace around 15-minute miles. I tried to eat and drink, thinking my swirling brain a result of low blood sugar. Surely, it doesn't always get worse. It can get better, right?
By the time I arrived in Damascus to begin the 18 mile climb back to Whitetop
mountain, I was discouraged. Very discouraged. I had to regroup and adjust the attitude. Changing
clothes to prepare for the falling temps, several cups of hot chicken broth
helped my mental and physical state. Though I continued to walk, not run, I
felt a little better. But as night fell, the concrete mile posts seemed to grow
in the distance between. My pace uphill was now 16 – 17 minutes. Even in my
brain fog, I knew that a pedestrian 20-minute pace from here on out would get me to the finish well under the
required 30 hours. But did I want to walk for another 40 miles? How
discouraging to see the front runner come back down the mountain, a full 24
miles ahead of me! I felt so old. So decrepit. So worthless. So "has been."
For the most part, I had been alone the entire race, left to contemplate the pathetic inner workings of my mind. Now, cold and moving slowly, the thoughts brewing over the last weeks and months began to surface. They needed to be confronted head on. I could not remember the last time I looked forward to a race. At best, it was 4 years ago as a just-turned 60 year old entering a new age group with high expectations. Lately, I think I enter races for 3 reasons: 1) Obligation and expectation, 2) Because I love the idea of racing and 3) I remember the glory days when I was running at the front of the pack. But no longer am I strong and agile and fast. I honestly could not tell you the last time my legs felt normal, let alone strong. I’m not sure if it’s my mid-60s age or the evil statins I take. There are no easy recovery runs because it always seem like I am recovering. I don’t like living this way.
I’ve been running the long stuff for about 28 years, training year in, year out. I’m tired. I hate the feeling of “have to” training. The pressures from my job, home, and family responsibilities make consistency even harder, which leads to more frustration and guilt. That’s not to say I don’t love going to the mountains, especially with young woman with fresh legs and eager minds who yearn for adventure. But having the pressure of a race hover over my head like a guillotine is anything but pleasant. I’m done. There, I said it. Like the epiphany Forest Gump had when he nonchalantly stated it after halting his incessant running, “I'm pretty tired… I think I'll go home now.”
But after coming to grips with that Gump reality, I first had to get to the next aid station where I prayed Gary would be waiting for me. Prior efforts to take in more fluid and calories became less important, which likely did not help. I was cold. I knew I was not embracing the suffering as I hoped I would. Could I live with myself if I allowed what would likely be my last race end in a pathetic DNF? Nothing was critically wrong with me. “What a WUS,” I harshly labeled myself. I had no good excuse. No bones protruded, no ligaments torn, no cardiac arrest. And yet, like Forest, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.”
Gary was there. “I’m done. I know I have time but I just don’t want to walk another 38 miles.” Tears flowed, my body began to shake, and my emotional state prompted an asthma-like attack, breathing labored. Nevertheless, within an hour and a half, we were back at the hotel. Showered and laying between crisp white linens, I was glad to not be making my way along the trail. I was ready to stop racing and transition to giving back to the racing community while continuing to mentor youngsters just entering the fray.
I’m glad it is now after 1 PM Saturday, the 30-hour cutoff. I no longer need to think about those brave souls who continued in the fight to the bitter end. Do I regret my decision? Truthfully, yes--especially after I checked the results to see all the finishers along with my name at the top of the DNF list. I knew I would. Regret is guaranteed after a self-inflicted failure. But unless I find the fountain of youth and grow strong legs beneath me, I still think my racing days are over. It’s time to release what has become bondage, finding once again the profound joy of running at any speed.
To the mountains and beyond. . .on my own terms.