It's 7:42am and I'm mostly awake in a tiny Northern Colorado town called Walden. This tiny town had in influx of ultra-marathoners for the weekend. Every motel and inn booked because 346 runners were signed up for the Never Summer 100k ultra-marathon mountain race. And, here I sit in the kitchenette of the North Park Inn, hearing tired, but, elated runners packing up their cars, trading stories of finishing a hell of a race. I feel waves of confused joy, more connected to myself than I have been in a very long time. I feel like I want to shake everyone’s hand in town and tell them how awesome they are. I feel like I want to call each of my friends and family and tell them how amazing they are and how intense this experience was. I want to tell everyone how important they are. Wearing my Never Summer 100k t-shirt, I feel proud.
Last night, after 15 hours and 30 minutes of running, I used every ounce of energy I had to jog into the Canadian Aid Station at mile 50.1 while balling my eyes out, to hand in my bib, number 341. A DNF. A result that I declared “over my dead body” would NEVER happen. To say that the wheels fell off or that it just wasn’t my day doesn’t capture what happened. Broken is a more accurate word.
My voice was almost gone. My hands shaking. My body trembling. My back, shoulders and torso a weird level of painful that I hadn’t felt before. My mood totally sour. My head pounding. I couldn’t get food into my stomach. Chewing and swallowing making me gag for the entire 15 + hours. My stomach turning. For 15 hours I climbed and descended gigantic mountains. For most of that, I was in pain. Virtually, the entire time, my brain was sending me every fucking sign it could think of to tell me to stop. Just stop. STOP!
But, stop really isn’t in my vocabulary. So, for hours I belittled myself. Calling myself names. Telling myself I’m not that strong.
I have always been proud of my emotional and physical resilience. I’ve made it through nightmares that would have killed other people. And, I’m not just talking about dragging myself across a finish line. I’ve done that. A lot. I know I can do it. But, at what cost?
I’ve withheld “STOP” and ignored those signals from my brain to survive horrific situations. I’ve swallowed how I felt to allow 16 year old me to be abused for months by my boss, the owner of the restaurant I worked at. I’ve swallowed how I felt for years and ignored who I was, not willing to accept being gay. I’ve let lots of really shitty things happen to me, dragging myself through them, believing I had to. That’s life. Endure the impossible and do it without complaining because that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. However, internalizing years of pain has left me with an auto-immune disease, confidence issues, an inability to recognize and set necessary boundaries and other not-so-fun therapy topics. And, this year, my energy was crushed by a combination of an injured foot, a Crohn’s Flare Up, the loss of my dog, and some major life changes. Internalize it all. New and old shit. Internalize all of it. Break down myself. Just so I can drag myself across a finish line.
Proving what, and to whom?
So, yep, I fell apart during the Never Summer 100k. Fell apart in ways that were new to me. I lost it. Totally and completely just simply fucking lost it. My legs unable to lift my feet. My drive to go on totally used up. Yet, here I sit, writing this blog, feeling a weird kind of proud. Proud that I listened to myself. Proud that I asked for help.
No, this was not the first time that I fell apart in life. But, it’s the first time I reached out for help before something horrible happened. Because of this experience I feel joy knowing that I allowed myself to feel vulnerable. I tried as hard as I could. I tried with everything that I had. I opened up myself and gave myself permission to accept the state I was in. And, that makes me proud of myself.
I’m not sure if this is a lesson in humility. Or, a lesson in all of the things that could have been handled differently. Or, a lesson in just being human. There are no excuses. Unable to feel like me. Unable to dig deep. Unable to run. Unable to control myself. I handed in my bib, while balling my eyes out. Disappointed to say the least. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Angry. Pathetic. But, also weirdly relieved and so very proud. Number 341. Did Not Finish. And, that’s ok. There is a new level of strength in me because of this experience. So, I share this story about accepting defeat that has already, just mere hours later, made me better. Hoping you can learn what I learned. Life doesn’t always have to be about pushing- it doesn’t always have to be about climbing the biggest mountain, the fastest. Enjoy the descents, too. The views can be even better.
“What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first step to something better.” -Bruce Lee