Monday, October 7, 2013

Defeat {Or Not}

If you ever read any running literature, you know it is not uncommon to read about high level athletes who drop out of a race for one reason or another. In fact, just the other day, I read an article by Rickey Gates, an amazing trail runner, who had a DNF (did not finish) at a race.

I have now run a handful of races and have had one DNF. In fact, it was a DNF that I am proud of. I was signed up to run a half marathon in the middle of training for a full marathon. I had injured myself and had just begun going to PT before the half. I got to the start line of the half, knowing that I would probably not finish. At mile 8, I knew that if I wanted to be able to run my marathon a month later, I needed to drop. It was a tough decision in the moment, but one that I was grateful I made.
Apart from that, my other races and runs have mostly been “successes.” Well, last weekend, I was signed up to run the Devil Mountain 50 mile race in Pagosa Springs. It was going to be my second 50 mile race and I was trained for it. I had spent the months since my last 50 miler trying to hone in on my weeks spots. When it was time to taper, I did such a good job that my legs ached from not running (weird, right?)?

Race day came shortly after the flooding in Colorado, with some additional raining the day before. The morning was crisp and cold, and I was determined to do well. The race started and I went out at a steady pace, knowing in my mind exactly what I needed to do in order to make the cut off to be able to continue on to 50 mile race.
The first 10 miles or so were awesome. My legs felt good, the weather was cold but perfect, and I felt like I was buying time. When we hit the climb (pretty much mile 10-18), I was determined to be consistent and run what I could, while power hiking the rest. Then… we hit the mud. Not mud like “oh, it is still cold enough to be frozen” mud or “oh, I guess the trail is a little muddy” or “oh, I love mud!” kind of mud. This was real, awful, deep mud. The kind of mud that when you take three steps forward up hill, you inevitably slide back four steps. The kind of mud that tries to take your shoe if you aren’t paying attention. The kind of mud that when you look ahead at the runners on the hill ahead, you immediately have the life and excitement sucked right out of you because you can see them backsliding downhill. This was not just any mud.
By the time I made it through the climb up, I realized that making it to the cut off was going to be a stretch, but was hopeful that I could make up time on the downhill. Wrong. The downhill mud was at least as bad, if not worse than the up. When I would try to start to run, I would have moments of panic as I tried to keep my butt and head directly above my feet without slipping and sliding all over the place!!

I reached a mental spot where I was hopeful that the cut off would be extended, knowing how the trail conditions were, yet realizing that I needed to embrace the fact that I was still “going to be able to” finish as a 50k runner. Well, when we got to the aid station at the 50 mile/50k cut, we were told that the cut off was a firm cut off and that we had missed it, but could still finish as a 50k runner without penalty. Ben almost yelled at the man who told us and I almost cried.
I wrestled with myself over the next several miles (ok, not just miles, hours if we are being honest)about my anger/sadness/disappointment/feeling crappy about myself/doubting my ability/grief about not finishing the stupid race I had signed up to do. Sure, I had told myself early that at least I would “get to run” the 50k, but really?? I had worked my butt off for months to train for a 50!! How could I let myself down like that??

Ben basically had to encourage me the entire way to the finish because I was so distraught about not being able to run 50 miles (again, weird, right?). Then he had to coax me not to run 19 more miles after crossing the line. Unfortunately, this part is not a lie. I spent at least an hour after crossing the finish stewing about my performance, whether or not I was going to go run 19 more miles. I am not going to lie… I may have even shed a tear or two.
After I finally calmed down, I had a beer, some food, and started to converse with other finishers, several of whom had set out to run the 50 miler and had missed the cutoff. Ben and I started to hear rumors that only 8 people had made it past the first check point and then only 7 past the second. As I started to ask around, it was confirmed that only 2 women were among these 7 individuals.

As I began to process the information and over the next several days, it occurred to me that even though I had trained well (I felt amazing the next day), I was not alone in missing the cutoff. In fact, I was more the norm than not. It occurred to me that even though I may have felt defeated, I really had no right to feel that way. I began to realize all that I learned from my perceived defeat.
I had set out to run 50 miles and had been unsuccessful. The beauty of running is that regardless of how hard you train, every day is a different day and no one can ever fully predict the outcomes. Even the best of the best fail. I had trained well for a 50 miler and can easily use this same training plan again in the future.

I skipped a step between the marathon and 50 miler but can now say that I have my first official 50k on the books. I even placed in my age division for my first 50k. What if I had set out to actually race a 50k and not a 50 miler? 
Defeat is a beautiful thing. It is really only defeat if you allow it to be. There is a lot to be gleaned from perceived defeat. The best thing to do, I think, is to embrace it, learn from it, and keep running.

Needless to say, Devil Mountain 50 miler, I will be back , and I will make you mine… one day…

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