Saturday, September 25, 2021

Failure or transition? Or, maybe both?

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
The race didn't start off badly. I felt comfortable running the first 13 miles of the slightly downhill old railroad grade of the Virginia Creeper Trail. The chilly air encouraged a consistent pace, crossing over multitudes of old railroad trestles spiffed up for recreation purposes. When the grade became flat, I wisely heeded the advice of friends who had previously done this race. Be sure to take walk breaks. So I did. Progress was steady as I made games out of counting steps, alternating running and walking. The trail of mostly crushed gravel was beautiful with a combination of cascading waterfalls, open meadows, and over 40 bridges spanning the river and deep gorges. Life was good through the first 34 miles that ended at the trail head in Abingdon. I was moving well, glorious thoughts of a finisher's belt buckle within grasp. I was under a 24-hour pace if my calculations were accurate. Then it was time to turn around, retrace steps to the mountaintop start, reverse directions again and traverse the same path for the third time to the finish. At least that was the plan.

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.


Steve Pero said...

Good post, honest. I could have written these exact words last week after not finishing Grindstone. Vertigo took me out and the fact the 70 is a mere 5 weeks away, I'm also done. We had some good years, Rebekah...time to do as you said.

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Steve- Yes, age is not kind but vertigo...that is actually a good reason to stop. I guess the memories we made will have to do. (PS- Still may do 100 miles but on my own conditions and with no pressure...just for the adventure!

Anonymous said...

But what about shorter ultras - like 50ks and 50 milers? You can still test your endurance but finish in the daylight depending on the time of year. Blessings to you.

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Anonymous- Suffering is guaranteed at any distance- 50K and 50 miles, 100 or more. I may need to pick my poison on my own terms for a season.

Unknown said...

I know you don't want to compare yourself with others, Becky, but I hope you're not beating yourself up for not finishing. I think you are AMAZING!! You have ben through so much! Thank you for the candor and inspiration! The Lord's blessings on you, little sister!

Anonymous said...

This note is to send some encouragement to you. As I ran this morning I thought about your post and wanted to send a few thoughts in case any are useful. (1) I Run Far has an "age old runner" series by Liza Howard that may be of interest. It is listed under "columns". I have enjoyed reading those interviews given my older age. (2) What about an experienced coach for a short time to change things up - particularly someone with knowledge of training 60+ yr old women (Jason Koop's group might be a place to look). (3) Since the first third of the race went so well for you, could you consider shorter races to get back in the groove?

I recall hearing a Billy Yang podcast (I think) with Ann Trason. She spoke about how she shifted her running as a result of age/health. You have always been an inspiration to me and I hope you can continue finding joy in the effort.

Shining Speidel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shining Speidel said...

Oh, Rebekah. Thank you for your honesty. I'm watching, listening, and learning from you, as always. Run on your own terms. Enjoy the mountains at YOUR pace. What a legacy you have set for those of us right behind you to be inspired by! I hope our paths cross again --- maybe in a a race, maybe not. Thank you. xo

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Shining Speidel- Thank you for your kindness. So many thoughts still rummaging around in my head. Not sure what I want to do. Honestly, I usually feel exhausted on a daily basis. I LOVE the idea of glorious racing days ahead but not sure if I can commit- especially when my grandma role has become so important. There are only so many hours in a day. Maybe if and when I retire I'll be ready to take the time need to train properly.

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