This year I’ve faced quite a bit of failure in my running life which is something I’ve never been used to. I feel like running has always come relatively easy to me, however the past few years have been quite turbulent. Maybe I should reword this, running is not easy, it never has been, but for whatever reason it has felt 10xs harder the past few years. One thing I’ve definitely figured out by facing these failures is that it’s not a negative thing. I don’t feel sad, heartbroken or defeated that I had to drop out of my two favorite races of the year. I’m not upset that my ultra running hasn’t been what it was in years passed. Instead I feel stronger and wiser.
The early years of my running life were different and learning to change with life is a skill that takes so much time to master. Maybe I could recover faster because I was younger, maybe I had a great group of supportive friends that would run to the edge of the earth and back with me, maybe I could find time because I had more freedom in my work schedule, whatever the case, life is different and that means different challenges. Trust me, I’m getting the hang of it slowly.
I never thought I would DNF one race, or even two. I always thought I would finish whatever I set out to do because of pure stubbornness. Somewhere along the line though, I decided that If I wasn’t having fun I didn’t want to keep going. I don’t know if that is a good thought process, because really, running sucks!
Last Saturday at 6:00am I started my first Kettle 100. I’ve signed up for this race 3 times and only made it to the start once, THAT is how hard ultra training has been for me lately. This year, I had just rested and recovered a sprained ankle from the last weekend in April. Up until that day my training was just about spot on. I missed my last training weekend in April and all of May. I was able to train on the elliptical and bike, but I wasn’t getting the hill work I needed for that course. Maybe it was silly to start, but start I did.
The day started out smooth with a generous amount of cloud cover and cool temperatures, but little did we know we were in for a treacherous day. I missed Andrew at our first scheduled crew stop at 15.7 miles which read 13 miles on my watch. Because I wasn’t paying attention to aid station signs I ran through thinking he’d be at the 15.7 mile stop. I didn’t realize I had run through the aid station I was supposed to meet him at until I was a few miles away so I pushed on with what I had on me, which was really plenty. The next time I’d planned to see him would be mile 26.
Around 9:30am about 3.5 hours into the race a large storm hit the area. Runners struggled through downpours, lighting and thunder for hours turning long sections of the course into mud pits. More than a couple times my feet sank deep and I had mud up to my ankles. Other times I thought I might lose my shoe. The amount of time slogging through mud killed my quads.
The minute I saw him he said, “I AM SO SORRY I MISSED YOU BUT YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN, YOU’RE RUNNING WAY TOO FAST! YOU WERE AT A 9:10 PACE AT EMMA!” I really am not sure what happened, I didn’t feel I was running that fast and honestly I didn’t look at my watch often, and when I did, it was reading around a 9:30-10 pace, I guess it’s so hard to tell when you are on such varying terrain.
By mile 26 Everything felt so much harder than it should. Mile after mile, went by and I couldn’t believe my body had broken so much after the first MARATHON and I had 3 more to run today. Just before hitting mile 30 I realized that I needed to drop. How was I going to just “muscle through” 8,000 feet of gain if I’m feeling like I just ran 80 miles at mile 30.
When I met Andrew at mile 31 I had tears in my eyes and I told him I needed to drop and he argued with me, for about 40 minutes. I cried, I pleaded, I told him I wasn’t having fun, but he stood strong and told me I was just at a low and I could get through at least 5 more miles. He said that if I ran 5 more and still felt this bad I could drop at the next aid station. No amount of pleading, crying or tears would make him budge and off I went for 5 more miles. The first mile out I was cursing his name.
“Why is he so mean!?!?!”
“There’s so much freakin’ mud”
“I can’t believe he made me get back out here”
But after a couple miles, seeing people on the course making their way to the turn around, I was ok. My low was gone, I was having a little bit of fun, talking to people, running a little bit and walking a little bit. I even felt like I might ACTUALLY finish this thing.
I met Andrew at the next aid station and kept going. Now there was a cloudless sky and the temperatures were soaring. Running back through the meadows was like hell on earth and that’s what many would say. There was an endless field of grasslands visible for what seemed like miles upon miles. The trail was dotted with runners, walking through the heat that seemed to fade into infinity. At first I started running a little bit at a time and walking in between. Then I started walking and was just happy with that. I felt so lonely at this point in the race, even though I could see other runners in the distance, I felt like I’d never make it out.
By mile 42 I couldn’t run anymore at all. My hips, back and knees ached. I felt like a newborn giraffe with weak unstable legs learning to walk. I couldn’t run flats or downhills and uphills were a slow crawl. While it may have been possible to finish the rest of the race walking, mentally I wasn’t ready for that. Mentally I had checked out. I walked the rest of the way into Emma Carlin. I tried to run a couple times to be sure, but I knew my day was over. I cried to Andrew at the aid station and we sat again for another 20 minutes before he told me that either way this was my race, my day, and I could feel whatever I wanted to feel and that no matter what he was proud.
I stopped my watch, took of my ankle strap, turned it in and decided to go home.
Like I said, I’m not heartbroken, I’m not sad, this was not a bad day. This was a lesson and I’ve learned to embrace it and wear it as a badge of honor. It took guts for me to even sign up for this race, guts to start even though I had just sprained my ankle a month before, and even more guts to keep going when I wanted to be done so early. Yes it was a hard day, yes it was hard to walk away but I’m proud that I put myself on the course when I knew that I could fail.
Kettle will always be my unicorn race and that’s ok. It takes time and failures to get what we want in life and learning from those failures gets you one step closer to where you want to be.