“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast,” I repeated to myself as I started my first climb of the dreaded and steep “power-lines” section. My heart was starting to pump hard and sweat formed on my brow. I told myself to slow it down, take easy steps, EAT and keep moving forward. My body responded as it had during training. I was finally healthy and I knew what to do! The climb felt easier than I had remembered.
I fell into a rhythm and let my mind drift into thoughts of gratitude. How different I was from this summer! At the top of Mount Constitution, with a little over five miles to go, I smiled to myself. I felt fantastic and nothing was going to get in my way! I flew down to mile twenty-five at Camp Moran, changed and was quickly on my way out for another loop.
I came in from my second loop feeling just as great except my lungs had started to become a little irritated from my asthma. Entering into the afternoon the temperatures began to drop and a cold wind was blowing. These factors had managed to make me wheezy on the second climb and I was coughing on the down hill to Camp Moran. At camp, I drained a blister that had appeared and shoveled food into my face. Everything was going to plan, but darn my chest was starting to hurt so badly!
As I changed in the warm vehicle it hit me. My chest became tight and suddenly I was coughing! I couldn’t breathe, I crouched over in the van holding my chest, drool pooling in my lap, eyes bugging out and chest rattling. It took several puffs of an albuterol inhaler and two hours in the warm vehicle to recover. My voice was hoarse and my chest continually rattled with every breath. Tears pooled in my eyes as I looked at my boyfriend. Thoughts swirled in my head…
I am trained! I am strong! I’m ready for this! What just happened?
This past weekend I competed in the Orcas Island 100 put on by Rainshadow Running. It consists of a twenty-five mile loop around Orcas Island that the racer repeats four times. The race, in total, has around 26,000 ft elevation gain, pacers are not allowed, and weather can be variable. It is a beautiful destination race with great vibes and even better race directors.
Going into this race I was determined to finally train properly. This past summer I completed two 100 mile races with anemia, which was the result of not fueling well enough. The races were two weeks apart and the toll it took on my body was brutal. My body was weak and fragile during and after these events. I felt emotional, constantly tired, nauseous and honestly I wasn’t having much fun.
I had to rely heavily on my pacers to mentally get me through my races. Needless to say, this time around, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to finally use all my successes and failures to finish a 100 miler well executed and independently. Sadly, sometimes no matter how much we train or want something, it doesn’t matter. That is the joy and the curse of running this far. A great deal can happen and sometimes you have no control over it, no matter how well you are prepared. Just like in life, events are thrown into your lap and it’s up to you on how you learn to deal.
Sadly, I went on to the 100k mark and decided to pull the plug for safety reasons. I could not breath on the climbs and my inhaler wasn’t relieving it. For a moment, I wanted to cry, but then I remembered that this would be an opportunity to grow. Through the years I’ve found that I learn more from my failures than my successes. When I first started ultra running I was plagued by blisters, constantly losing toenails, tight IT bands, an injured achilles, plantar fasciitis, the inability to “eat on the run” and simply that good old bugger called “learning how to suffer.” These issues kept me from completing four 100 mile races, it drove me crazy.
My whole life I had always been successful at whatever I had done. Suddenly, with ultra running, I could not attain this thing I wanted and it killed my overly confident ego. I found that when I ran, it exposed my weaknesses and flaws. A side of me surfaced that I did not like, but I was too afraid to admit to in daily life… I was cocky and not humble. Every time I did not finish, I was pushed further into a personal journey of growth and development. I started seeing people around me more clearly, having more empathy and learning how to be a better person not only to others, but to myself.
After a DNF, it’s easy to wake up the next day and start the list of what-ifs . Just like it’s easy to fall into the trap of mentally beating yourself up when you fail at something in life. Maybe you didn’t get that job you really wanted, failed at a marriage, got denied from grad school yet again, or simply keep forgetting to pack your kids lunch… whatever it may be I have found the more I fail, the more I learn how to turn my weaknesses into powerful strengths.
I use my moments of hopelessness, loss or regret to reflect on what I do have, what I feel, and how I want to use it to better myself in the future. I use my DNFs to learn how to react the next time I am in the same situation. It’s a constant learning process of listening to my body and mind. In the process, I have learned not to fear the unknown, but to embrace it. To sit with my failures, acknowledge them, move on and most importantly to be good to myself. I may not have finished Orcas Island 100 a few weekends back, but I am proud to say I have grown.