Strength

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

I can't believe I am doing this (terror- early miles)

I can't believe I am doing this!!!! (elation- finishing straight)

This is so hard. This is too hard.

This is dumb.

This is amazing!

Why do people do this? I am never doing this again.

I can't wait to do this again!!!

I feel terrible. I am going to pass out. I am going to barf.

I feel amazing! I can't believe I didn't pass out and now I feel so good!

This was a terrible idea. Who thought I could do this 2 months after breaking my foot.

May the lord open.

1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4

They are playing my song!!!

Ok, reel her in. Just don't cramp. Don't cramp.

Don't look back. Keep it cool. Pretend you've got it together.

(blubbering sobs) Holy CRAP, I did it! Gold medal!!!

These are my thoughts while racing Comrades. That in a nutshell is my Comrades 2017 experience. I've been trying to get motivated to write a race report for the race but honestly feel like I am over race reports for their own sake. I am just looking for the take-aways, the lessons, the things I want to remember. I raced Comrades despite having only a very short training block after Two Oceans and London, races which I did coming straight back from a very extensive and long injury.  I knew that Comrades would be hard. It is a hard, fast, competitive race and I was in good shape, not great shape. I was in good health, but not niggle free as my foot continues to adjust and settle and relearn. Comrades is hard period. And I tried to steel myself for it to be harder than a normal healthy well-trained race might be.

And it was freaking hard. I battled both mental and physical barriers to get to the finish line. I had a good day for my fitness level, but not a great day. I faced down a deep undercurrent of desire to quit that was almost incessant. I had to trick myself, distract myself, bribe myself, and make deal after deal with myself. There were moments where a DNF threatened for both reasons: mental and physical (great article AJW!). But somehow, I made the choice time after time to not quit. Yes, there were good, even great reasons (like when I nearly passed out), to contemplate quitting but ultimately, time after time, I found the strength to keep going. It was not graceful or easy or even close to a great race for me, I got super ugly, but I made it to the line.

Getting to the finish line of Comrades and two weeks later, coming in third at Rock and Roll Seattle marathon, as well as "watching" Western States stories unfold have made me think a lot about strength. Strength does not mean never breaking down, never falling, never failing. It means bending, adjusting, persevering, enduring, staying steadfast and yes, even sometimes knowing when to quit. Strength can be having a perfect day where everything clicks. Strength can be being ready for a great day and finding yourself in the chair for hours, but finally finding a way to move on. Strength can be recognizing that you have nothing left to give. In our sport, there is a such a beautiful display of strength from the first to the last finisher. We put ourselves through so so so much adversity. We prepare as best we can, but when you are out there on race day pushing limits, so much can happen. Strength is working the problem, strength is honoring the journey.

In my 11 years of ultrarunning, I have had near perfect days, had perfectly crap days, had days in which I unlocked the magical power of simply not quitting when I really wanted to, had DNF's that were both heartbreaking and some that I am totally at peace with. What I have realized through those experiences is that no matter what, whether I win, finish or stop, that it doesn't define my strength. My strength is defined by how hard I work, how much I am willing to endure, how much I honor the journey, the sport and who I want to be. Strength is going through the darkest depths and simply not giving in to the darkness, knowing that there will always be light again. Sometimes that light is a finish line, an outcome, a resolution. Sometimes that light is a new race, a new opportunity or a new life. 

There will be light after the dark.

There will be light after the dark.

The last year has been a pretty hard one for me. I feel like it has been like jumping from bad patch to bad patch, with only temporary glimmers of hope that have kept me pressing forward, slowly, painfully. There have been things in my life that I was certain would fail. There have been things in my life that I was ready to abandon. There were times when I had absolute certainty of what must be done. And yet, I did not quit and do not want to quit. Instead, I started to look at the struggle and say, "perhaps this is the only way through, perhaps what is on the other side of this is growth, is a deeper sense of connection, deeper understanding, valuable lessons and a deeper understanding of strength, both mine own and others". Perhaps, enduring what can be endured is absolutely life affirming. When I made the choice to stand on a start line, begin something, involve myself I had good reasons, big goals, positive feelings, hopes, dreams, etc. So when things go south, does that mean that I was wrong to make a start? Usually not, usually it just means that just because something isn't easy, doesn't mean its not worth doing. Just because it gets hard at some point, doesn't mean that this is a "stupid race and I am a stupid idiot for ever thinking it was a good idea". Yes, sometimes we have to stop. Sometimes we have to change, let go or choose a different path and that's ok. But sometimes we can endure things that are hard and face shredding and come out the other side saying, "I am so glad that I survived that. I am so glad I did not quit". We don't have to laud a sucky experiences, but we can be grateful for our own ability to go through tough shit, to survive and the once again live in the light and thrive.