Let's not confuse a mission with a goal. Sometimes the goals we set (Read the blog post) are not completely within our control. We set our sights on a big win, a personal record, or a championship trophy. The weather is brutal, the trail is a quagmire, or our opponent pulls off a once-in-a-lifetime race. We fail at reaching our goal. That never feels good, which is why understanding our mission is so critical.
When I signed up for the Black Mountain Monster 24-Hour race (BBM), I forced myself to contemplate my mission rather than set a finite goal. After what I saw as a failure at the 2021 Yeti 100-miler (Read the blog post), I really thought I was done with racing after almost 30 years of the long stuff. But I suppose Black Mountain become a way of doing penance for quitting at mile 62.
The mission? Simple. "Run a little. Walk a lot." And I did just that.
Since BBM tends to draw runners living in proximity to the line of the simultaneous 6, 12 and 24-hour events, no one had any preconceived notions of what my performance should be. That was a relief. All anyone had to know was that the lady with silver hair and crepey-looking skin showed up for a long walk in the woods.
Did I train frantically for this event? No. In my best years of running, I would have never arrived at the start without getting in as much training as possible, often sacrificing family time and overall health and well-being in the process. But now? After coming close to throwing in the towel all together, my approach to "training" since the YETI debacle last fall is vastly different. I run when I can and when I want to. If I miss a day--or two--I have learned to live with that. My weekends do not always include a long run because, quite frankly, other things (like time with my granddaughter or house projects) are more important at this stage of life.
Was I nervous to look squarely into the face of 24 hours on my feet? Sure. That is a long time considering my average of 25-35 miles per week. But then again, walking with purpose is much less destructive on tendons and ligaments. And, with lessened aerobic and anaerobic conditioning required compared to running, high mileage loses importance if praise-worthy performance is not part of the mission. That said, I specifically prayed for wisdom to recognize real warning signs of impending doom during the event. I knew my mission, but did not want to do something stupid in keeping it.We weaved ourselves repeatedly through a 3.125 woodland course, arriving back at the start/finish aid station at the conclusion of each lap. A little single track here, forest road there, with grassy fields thrown in for good measure made up the course. With torrential downpours the day before, unavoidable shin-deep mud bogs were more suitable for pigs than runners.
I was conservative from the start. My mission stayed on repeat in my head: Run a little. Walk a lot. Up through about 25 miles, that run/walk thing worked well. From 25-40 miles, I became more selective in choosing to run. But for what would be the last 31+ miles, I essentially walked with purpose and fervor. If you want to know the ending, I ended up as the second woman and the first person (man or woman) in the 60-69 age group. Overall, I was 16th out of 71 runners entered in the 24-hour event, officially logging 71.88 miles.
But there is more to the story than a fluke podium finish in a race absent of top-tier woman competitors. Never before have I had to discipline myself to be so patient for so long. When I noticed fewer runners on the course after 4:00 PM (the finish time for the 6-hour entrants), I made myself look forward to cooler temps in a few more hours. I interacted with other runners as we passed by. I kept guard of my attitude by being pleasant and happy every time I passed the Start/Finish. I looked forward to being embraced in the darkness of the coming hours.
By 10:00 PM, the 12-hour mark, it was necessary to prevent my mind from thinking that my race was only half-way done. It became imperative to remind myself: "Just. Keep. Going. 12 hours in the context of a lifetime is miniscule, You are fine. Nothing is wrong. You love the dark. Make the most of it. Smile. Be smart, not stupid."
So, are there life lessons for the athlete, the teacher, the coach, the business person--well, any human-- buried within the story? I think so.
1) A clear mission is foundational to accomplishment. If an activity or action does not lead toward the mission, then it is time to reconsider one, the other, or both.
2) Slow progress is still progress. Patience to embrace and appreciate each moment is critical.
3) Control what you can control; mostly attitude and perspective. Don't worry about what is outside of your control.
4) Avoid discontentment after the fact. My miles were slow and steady but not at all impressive compared to when I could run 100 miles in 20 hours. But I am not now what I was then. That has to be okay because time changes things.
5) Never underestimate the importance of constant forward motion. You can cover a lot of ground if you just keep on walking on mission.