Nothing motivates, moves & inspires me more than someone sharing their story. I am endlessly fascinated by 1) the ability of the human spirit to endure and 2) the subsequent desire to tell about it. Maybe this is why I share mine here.
I am equally impressed with our drive, as humans, to grow and change. To tell our stories, to speak our truths, with the realization that our lives are fluid and our stories reflect that. To extract the essence of growth and learning from each experience or season of our lives and let it trickle over & nurture the present. Rather than drown under the weight of an old story that no longer rings true, we courageously face change while letting go of what no longer fits.
This is what I aspire to every day. It’s not always easy.
During a recent run, I happened upon this podcast on Trail Runner Nation about Sally McRae’s experience at Western States 100 this year. Well worth the listen. She gives a blow-by-blow account of her race which culminated in a dramatic fight from mile 96 on for 10th place – which she achieved – securing for herself an automatic entry into next year’s race. I almost stopped my workout I was so enthralled! She is one tough cookie.
Many things she said stuck with me, but in particular this: She described waking up in a sweat the morning of the race with this phrase echoing in her head: “You WILL finish. It WILL be painful.”
You WILL finish. It WILL be painful.
Something about that resonated with me. The confidence and the acceptance. Her confidence in her own ability & her own strength. Her acceptance of the reality that it will hurt. The pain is not something to be feared. It’s a given.
Change hurts. It can be painful to admit that a person, a pattern, a habit no longer belongs in your story. Letting go and moving forward can feel like a loss. Setting a new standard for oneself requires courage and an acceptance that it will be painful.
Last summer, I DNF’d at my first 100 mile attempt. There were some very dark miles that night alone on the trail. I doubted my abilities and asked myself alllll the questions. (“what were you thinking signing up for this??” “why did you even try?!” “who are you kidding thinking you could run 100 miles!!?”). I was chasing a 3:00 AM cut-off at the mile 53 aid station. If I didn’t make it I would be pulled off the course. And I was last. (yep, DEAD. LAST.)
I was pretty out of it by that point, but here is what I remember about those miles before the 3:00 AM cut-off: I was barely moving. Nothing was staying down, not even water. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Every ultrarunner’s nightmare: not being able to eat.
I had my trusty “sweepers” behind me (a sweeper in an ultra is a runner who follows the last runner and picks up all the course markings and ensures the trail is left as it was pre-race). My pride was out the window at that point. I just needed to KEEP MOVING. Down the rope section, sliding on my ass, clock ticking. I remember looking at my watch and seeing “2:42″. I remember thinking “There is NO FUCKING WAY I can run right now.” Then I ran. I ran and ran into the dark wet tunnel with my sweepers cheering me on. I was absorbing their energy. I began to believe that my race wasn’t over after all. My self-pity-filled negative self-talk changed. “There is NO. WAY. I am missing that cut-off.”
Nearing mid-tunnel we saw a pinpoint of light….”hey! look! the end of the tunnel!” (Hint: it was dark….no ‘light at the end of the tunnel’- DUH!) We realized that pinpoint of light was a bobbing headlamp. It was Lars, coming to pace me. He told me later that he had expected to see me crumpled over in the dirt, sobbing – that’s how far off my time goal I was.
Lars was on a MISSION. A mission to get me to that aid station before 3AM. “Ok Erin. You need to RUN. You need to run HARD.” I swear I was running an 8 minute pace after that. 2:54, 2:55, 2:56…. I don’t remember the pain. I made it into Hyak at 2:59. Last runner in before cut-off. I had high hopes in my ability to keep pushing despite slogging those last 30 miles on zero calories. Leaving the aid station, heading back out into the dark, the reality set in that I had given all I had. I stumbled through the miles, begging Lars to “just let me lay down in the dirt please? just for a minute?”
Soon after, I dropped from the race.
I still wonder if I could have pushed myself harder. I still wonder if my story could have ended differently. How was I able to run so hard one minute and have NOTHING LEFT the next? This is a story I hold close to my heart, for so many reasons. I look forward to weaving the lessons from this one into those I have not yet experienced and have yet to tell. I take this story with me, tucked in my pocket. I know it will aid me in meeting my shiny new goals.
Sharing our stories connects us. In a moment, I see myself in you & you in me, and the harsh judgmental gaze we often give ourselves, softens.