"Don't quit, don''t quit, don't quit."
"Are you talking to me, or to yourself?"
Actually, I hadn't realized I was speaking out loud. But I covered that up, saying, "Both of us. Let's not quit, Jean. Let's make them force us off the course because we miss the time cutoffs."
This is such a different race story than the one I had planned for myself. It's only after a good night's sleep that I'm seeing any value in it at all. Looking back, I have to admit it was quite an adventure, and I figured it's one worth writing up. Here goes:
The first two loops (miles 0-50) felt great. It got really warm out there -- a high of 84 and lots of direct sunlight. I was well on track to meet my time goal, constantly looking at my watch and checking the paces I'd written on my arm. My stomach felt great, and my feet only hurt in two hot spots. As I left for the 3rd loop, Jazzy excitedly reported that I was 3rd female. In reply, Scott Rabb said something that now seems quite prophetic: "There's a lot of race yet. A lot can happen."
The third loop still felt great -- Mike was a wonderful pacer, letting me take the lead and set the pace, reporting how long each mile took, and giving words of encouragement. Towards the end of the loop I was slowing down a bit, but I was still running. I was ecstatic at that, because I kept thinking back to last year's Cactus Rose, when I barely ran at all on the 3rd loop. I kept saying things to Mike like, "Look! I'm running at mile 70!" "Hey! I'm still running at mile 74!" We saw Jason, Lise, Anabel, Don, and Edward, all the fast folks, and I felt good about where I was in comparison.
At mile 75, I dropped off Mike at the Lodge. He had turned his ankle, which has given him problems for almost a year now, so he went off to ice it, and I left the comfort of the aid station for the darkness of loop 4 at 11:45pm. I started off at a jog - - - and within the first couple miles, I was reduced to a slow walk. That got slower. And slower. One runner who passed me during that stretch told me that he took a two-minute nap at the Lodge and elevated his feet, and now he felt like he had new legs. So the last couple miles coming into Boyles, I told myself, When you get there, you can take a two-minute nap, and maybe that will be like hitting the "reset" button. In the meantime, I took in some more calories, because when I saw Liza go by with Chris, she had told me "Eat food!"
Looking back, I wonder if the answer really was just a calorie deficit, or that I pushed myself too hard in the heat, or that it just wasn't my day. All I know for sure is that lying down at Boyles only continued the downward spiral for me. When I pulled in, Jean was sitting there with her pacers, having just emptied the contents of her stomach. I laid down on the grass and promptly started shivering uncontrollably. My teeth were chattering, I started moaning -- and Jean and I both started laughing at me. It's strange, but in the midst of the darkness and pain we were both feeling, we laughed a lot during that hour we spent together at Boyles. It's weird to say that we were "together," though, because I had my eyes closed the entire time, and I was on the floor while she was in a chair. But I overheard her entire conversation with her pacers, and they overheard my random mumblings and apparently found them pretty funny. Her pacer Lisa joked that she was going to Tweet some of my best lines. I think that included comments like, "How can they sell food that tastes like crap?" which I said as I was forcing myself to eat a Stinger waffle. Jean's comments about her situation were pretty funny, too. I laughed so hard that I snorted a couple times. But gradually the tone turned more sober. Jean's pacers started talking about where their cars were parked. Jean and I both started realizing there was a decision ahead of us. I can honestly say that in the year and a half I've been running ultras, it has never once crossed my mind to quit a race. But now I felt like quitting. I've never understood how someone could run 80 miles and then quit -- you've come so far! Why quit with only 20 miles left? Well, now I get it. I thought it over and decided that I would try to walk to Equestrian. I didn't make the decision not to DNF at that point. I gave myself the option to quit at Equestrian. What I did decide was that I wouldn't quit yet.
Lisa, Jean's pacer, was kind enough to agree to pace me, since Jean was heading to her other pacer's vehicle. Lisa and I took off at a slow walk. She was great, telling me about her job, her family, and commenting on the difficulty of the course. I don't think I was contributing much to the conversation. After just 1.7 miles with her, I asked her if we could sit down. We sat there in the middle of the trail for a minute or two. And then I told her I needed to lie down for a while. I told her to just go back to her car and leave me. I thanked her for coming this far with me, but I didn't see the point in making her sit there while I fell apart. She reluctantly left, and told me that when I was ready to move, I should consider moving back toward Boyles, because heading to Equestrian was much farther away.
Was this my lowest point in the race? Telling other runners to please go around me, while I laid in the middle of the trail one and a half miles past Boyles? Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that it was. Eventually I got up and resumed my slow shuffle towards Equestrian. Along the way, Tanya and Jason passed me. Tanya looked great! She was running down the hill towards Mount Fuji. When I got to the bottom of Fuji, I looked up towards the top, realized I couldn't even see Tanya's light anymore, and I laid down again. Yep, that was my lowest point.
Somehow I got to the top of that hill. About 100 yards later, there I was curled up in the middle of the trail again. I proceeded in this fashion until I made it to Equestrian, in what seemed an infinite amount of time since I'd left Boyles. I told myself, Don't make a decision to quit until daylight. Stumbling into that aid station, I was desperate for a warm place to lie down, and I was hoping that Jeannie would be around to take care of me. I was blessed on both counts -- Jeannie gave me blankets and a mat to lie on, and when I continued shivering and shaking, she put me in the back of their car, turned the heat on for me, and let me sleep until daylight. She said Rich and Doise were going to head out in the same direction, and that they wanted me to go with them. I was noncommittal, because I wasn't sure I could make it.
A little while later, Liza crawled into the back of the Escalade and gave me some excellent advice. She said, "If you quit, you'll be mad at yourself tomorrow." I told her that hypothetically, I wanted to finish still, but that I didn't think I could physically make it to Nachos, much less the full 15 miles to the finish line. She responded, "I'm not going to lie. It's going to take hours and hours to walk it. I wish I could take some of those hours for you. But if you quit now, you're going to regret it." Wow. Even typing that makes me tear up a bit. She was right.
Jeannie and Rich had me drink Pedialyte and sip on Coke, and then I left my blankets and climbed out of the Escalade. We began walking toward Nachos, Rich in the lead; me in the middle, not able to keep up with Rich; and Doise so kindly walking behind me, I think to make sure that I didn't collapse on the side of the road. Every so often, we'd stop and rest in the shade of a tree, and Rich would give me two or three nuts, and Doise would force me to take a few swallows of water and Pedialyte. Thankfully, there were only two big climbs in the last 15 miles -- Ice Cream and Lucky hills. Still, every step was difficult. Thank goodness for the trekking poles Rich lent me; they really did help.
Jeannie met us at Nachos, with Rich's famous ice bandanas. Rich tied one around my neck, as it was really starting to heat up in the sun. He also put one on top of my head. They fed me cashews and Coke. It was great seeing Ed Brown there, on his way to a belt buckle. He took off back towards the Equestrian Aid station, and we left shortly after him, but with my slow pace, we lost sight of him immediately. This was a stretch where I had to ask them if I could lie down in the shade for a two-minute nap. Rich was so kind to stay with me, when he could have finished hours before me. And Doise was an angel to pace us both, so cheerfully.
At Equestrian, we sat in chairs for a few minutes, eating a little. Joe Prusaitis, the race director, pulled up on his ATV and asked for a Coke. He chatted a bit, and I jokingly said, "Do you have one of those nice, shiny Tejas 400 buckles at the finish?" To which he responded, "Yeah, I do. And I was all set to hand you a 3rd place trophy at the finish." I put my hand to my head at that comment. Joe meant it so kindly, but it just reminded me of all I had lost during this race. He continued, "All your buddies were at the finish line cheering for you. That South African was making bird calls; he said they were Julie calls. It was really pretty cool, actually." And that, my friends, is the first time I've wanted to cry during an ultra. Just to imagine how great that would have been, to finish and have my friends cheering for me, to know that I met my goals. . . . and to feel like I disappointed them as well as myself. Yep, that is a sad feeling. But don't worry, I didn't cry in front of Joe.
We got up and started walking toward the Lodge -- that last 4.5 or so miles to the finish line. Towards the start of this stretch, I realized that I was beginning to feel more like myself. The fogginess in my mind was clearing. Whereas for the last 15 or so miles (read, 12 hours or so), I had felt like an empty shell, now I felt like a real person -- an exhausted, totally spent person -- but still. I was able to pick up my walking pace a little -- I still couldn't keep pace with Rich's hike, but at least I wasn't slowing him down quite so much. As we walked, I began remembering silly things from the previous hours, like when I had told Liza that I was doing 1-minute miles. Yeah, that was not what I meant to say. And when I told Tony that I was dying, and he could have my stereo. :)
Up until this race, I was able to say that I'd never cried at a finish line. I can't say that any more. When Joyce handed me my buckles, she and I both cried. I told her, that last loop took me 16 hours. She was so kind, telling me that what Rich, Doise, and I did reminded her and Joe why they did these events. I wish I could say I cried because I was proud of myself for persevering and finishing, but that would be a lie. All I felt at the finish line was relief that it was finally over, and disappointment about what could have been. Lise, the female winner, came over and congratulated me for digging so deep, and I embarrassingly started crying again, while I tried to tell her thank you and congratulations. I cried all the way home, I cried last night trying to tell my parents about the race, and I cried while typing this. Go buy stock in Kleenex!
In the light of a new morning, with many hours of sleep between me and the race, and many kind words from friends, I can definitely see the value of the decisions not to quit. I say decisions, because it wasn't a one-time decision that I had to make. It was a decision every step, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And it wasn't just my decision; it was the decisions of Rich and Doise to stick with me and help me get there, of Jeannie to selflessly take care of me, of Liza to come sit with me and give me advice, of all the others who gave me words of encouragement.
It sure wasn't the race I wanted to have, but I am thankful for everything I learned. Most importantly, I learned how very selfless and generous others can be, and what true friendship looks like. I am so blessed to be part of the Rockhopper family. And I'm blessed to get to participate in events like this, which push us to our limits and let us dare greatly.
Thanks to Rich, who reminded me of this quote while we tackled the powerlines section of the course:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt