I did it!!! I ran 50km on Sunday at Deception Pass! It was one of the most difficult endeavors I have ever encountered. It feels hollow trying to explain my experience with words on a page, but for me writing down my experiences is part of my process ... so here goes ...
I trained pretty hard for this run, but not in the number of hours that I put in, it was more in the quality of training runs that I focused my efforts. I challenged myself mentally more than anything else. I ran through deep snow, while it continued to snow heavily, forcing myself to run to a pre-determined point. Fighting for every step on snow and ice, I pushed myself beyond what I wanted to do. I got home that day and realized that even though it was so very hard, that I had wanted to quit, that I had wanted to let go of the goal I had in my mind ~ I hadn't given up. For once in my life, I did not give up.
I didn't expect that I would have to go to that place so soon in my 50km event. It was only four hours into the run that my legs began to feel tight, and I had to run through what ended up being the very beginning of the struggle. My mind is what got me through the last half of the run. My body kept moving because I told it to keep running.
The first four loops of the course were absolutely stunning, hugely enjoyable, incredibly technical, and such a joy. As we continued onto the fifth loop ... things began to change ... there was mud, slippery, fist-sized rocks, and steep hill. I felt tired once we got back to the bridge, but was still in great spirits. It was in loop six that things really began to change. The course smoothed out, becoming much less technical, and essentially was completely runnable. My legs didn't think so, and started to tighten up - quads, hamstrings, shins, hips and knees. There is nothing you can physically do for yourself once your legs begin to tighten up like that. There are no stretches, exercises or even yoga poses you can do to release the tension. The only thing you can do is to stop running. I entertained that choice. But I had a good conversation with a seasoned trail runner on the course. She gave me the facts. She told me that I could always drop at the aid station, but if I decided to continue, I would be facing a cutoff time. I also knew that I would be running the same loop twice. I pushed hard to the aid station, constantly moving forward, one step at a time, telling myself over and over - Run when you can, walk if you have to. It turned out that I couldn't run down the hills for any sustained amount of time without intense discomfort. So I made up my mind to run as many uphills as I could manage. When I finally made it to the aid station, I was so very emotional, my tears coming out in choking sobs. I looked at the supplies on the table, and in my drop box - fruit, candy, pop, chips, gels, electrolytes, mint chocolate-covered marshmallows ... but I knew deep down there was nothing there that could help me. I knew that if I was going to continue running that it would be pure mind power, sheer determination, and my word of the day:
Gumption. "Shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness."
I asked a volunteer when the cutoff was - he confirmed that I had two hours to complete the seventh loop - and here is the kicker - the first time around the loop took me 1 hour and 45 minutes. So not only would I be running with the knowledge that there was a cutoff time, I also had to run it in the same amount of time. I could not get any slower on the second time around, or I would not be allowed to finish the run. I had already experienced a "Did Not Finish" title a few years ago when I ran the Tenderfoot Boogie, and I was NOT going to have another DNF hanging over my head. So I ate a handful of potato chips, drank come cola, and headed out again. I was resolved to get this done.
I have never persevered like that. I had to dig deeper than deep. I had to turn myself inside out, and to burn through all the repetitive thoughts, to set aside so many things in my mind. And I had to do it over and over, with every aching step, with every ounce of willpower that I could muster. Imagine having an ongoing conversation in your head, while you are in serious physical discomfort, about whether or not you can do something. Many of us have lots of negative self-talk that goes on inside our minds. It took me so much willpower to burn through the negativity, the merciless thoughts, and to find a way to keep fighting for what I wanted. It is unreal for me to think about how much further I pushed myself ... so much further than I wanted to go, so much further than I ever thought I could.
And for once, I am beginning to see that I have been limiting myself all this time! All my life, I have been satisfied to do the bare minimum in so many areas, especially in the physical realm. But what amazes me is that what got me through this run was my mind. My body began to break down long before my mind did. I was talking to myself a lot out there ... "Come on Nicole, why are you walking? Why are you stopped? Can you take one more step? Yes, you can walk ... so now can you run? Yes? Okay, now don't stop running Nic. Keep going, you can do this. You got this. Run when you can, walk if you have to." The dialogue went on and on and on. When my self-coaching began to fail, I started chanting to Ganesha the elephant-god ~ "Om Gum Ganapataye Namaha". Ganesha, if you didn't know, is the Remover of Obstacles. Chanting a mantra over and over was such a great tool for me - it helped me to focus my mind on something other than the increasing pain and discomfort. I could almost see this massive elephant running with me, moving things off the trail and out of my psyche.
I became my own hero.
There is something new in me now, and I can't quite put my finger on it. It's as though being in that place of powerlessness, I feel a new sense of strength. I feel empowered, liberated, changed forever in the face of an event that many people thought I was crazy to even try. Maybe it is crazy, this fascinating, f'd up sport of ultra running . But every runner I had a chance to meet after the run, had been taken over by a calmness in their demeanor that I finally recognize. I see it clearly. I understand on some strange new level that it is worth it to challenge yourself absolutely and completely beyond the boundaries and limitations that we set up for ourselves. It is worth it to try something that you think is flipping nuts. It is absolutely worth it to try something that everybody else says is flipping nuts too! It is worth it to push through the mental and emotional baggage, to burn up all of the crap that gets in the way of our inner truth. I don't know if I was in touch with God that day, I really couldn't tell you, but I can tell you that my experience was bigger than my own body.
That is all I know for sure.
My advice to you is this: Don't limit yourself. Don't go through your life weakly wishing for things, telling yourself those wishes will never come true. Get your ass up off the proverbial couch and start living as the person you want to be. No human in this world is better than you, it is simply what they have decided to do in their life that separates them from you. You can be the hero. You can be the strongest one, the fastest one, the successful one. The only thing stopping you from becoming this way is your own mind. Know yourself. Come to know who you are and what you are capable of. Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind. Be brave. Be a lion. Be your own hero.