Expectations versus reality.
Facing a defeat when you wanted so badly to perform feels devastating. The fact of the matter remains, I didn’t cross the finish line of Kodiak, and instead dropped at mile 45.
I think I felt so broken after unpinning my bib at The Kodiak 100 because I wanted this race to feel like a celebration. I wanted the culmination of early morning workouts and late night stretch sessions to feel as though they paid off in a tremendous climax of achievement and accomplishment.
I wanted so badly for this race to be a memory Elan and I shared together, a fabulous triumph of hard training runs and early mornings. With friends driving from all parts of California to support us, I wanted to make them proud, to battle together through low points, but emerge instead victorious.
Beyond that, I wanted to eat pancakes Sunday morning, righteously sore, utterly exhausted, another year older (as I turned an eager 22 years young the day after the race), reveling in the fact that Elan and I had both just run one hundred miles, and totally okay with sitting in a car for eight hours.
So what happened?
When we arrived in Big Bear, something didn’t feel “right.” Sure a long car ride will generate sore legs, but I didn’t expect it to mess with my digestion or heart rate the way it did. Being at altitude poses new challenges that I thought my body was ready for, but instead it left me hurrying to the restroom more times than I care to admit and feeling winded walking up a mild incline. I tried being diligent about water but was feeling extremely bloated from even the smallest amounts of food making hydrating a daunting task.
The evening before the race, Elan and I both prepped our crew on gear and nutrition. Filling bottles with GU Roctane Summit Tea and filling last minute baggies with Advil and pretzels. Everything was coming together. Turning the lights off early and getting good shut eye felt like an omen us ultra runner’s aren’t usually akin to with the usual 6 AM gun time. With a noon start, it was next to a luxury!
The nausea set in around mile 15 and immediately I knew something wasn’t right. For two hours at the start of the race my nutrition seemed to be going down effortlessly, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of genuine fatigue and stomach discomfort. While I didn’t start to panic (yet), when I reached mile 26 and wasn’t feeling any better, I started to worry.
Right before the 30 mile mark (and second crew access aid station) lives a notorious climb out of what is frequently referred to as, “the gates of hell.” Halfway up the climb my heart rate soared and my vision went blurry, every step felt like my ankles had been shackled with chains made of iron and lead. I felt as though I might throw up with every step, and genuinely contemplated laying down on the trail for it to subside. The overwhelming sense of nausea, fear, discomfort and panic became all too consuming and came on all too quickly for comfort. With what felt like a miraculous tenacity, I made it to the aid station and fell into a camping chair.
After spending a few precious moments in the aid station with my crew, it was time to get up and moving. I had been forced to swallow pretty much anything that was put near my face, all of which included but was not limited to a few potato chips, a mouthful of ramen noodles and a slurp of ginger ale. Hugs, affirmations of encouragement (and protestations of fear on my end) and it was time to get going. When I rounded the corner with my crew out of sight, I projectile vomited what felt like the entire contents of my stomach. Thinking I would start feeling better and that was my upswing, I broke into a steady shuffle, only to be met with another stomach heaving bout of vomit. The next aid station was only four and half miles away and I convinced myself things would eventually turn for the better by the time I got there, but boy was I wrong.
Sparing the unflattering details; from miles 30-45, I threw up once every half mile. By the time I reached the aid station upon which I physically dropped, there was nothing left in my tank, my vision blurry, my heart rate through the roof, and my only emotion being sheer relief to be safe and in the hands of a medic. About a mile from the aid station, a volunteer was sent to retrieve me from up off the trail and escort me in. I nearly started crying tears of relief when I saw a blinking headlight flashing in my direction after spending three hours on the trail in complete darkness, in excruciating stomach pain and severe discomfort. All I wanted was for it to be over.
The amazing aid station volunteers drove me back to the start of the race where my family and crew picked me up to take me back to the cabin. In their sincerest efforts to stay positive and full of love, they hung a, “Happy Birthday Banner,” across the car thinking I would be lucid enough to appreciate the gesture. Unfortunately, I was semi-conscious and needing only to lay down and stop the feeling of vertigo I was in the fifth hour of maintaining.
After peeling off my clothes and steadying myself against the shower door, my mom poked her head in to make sure I was okay. With a towel wrapped around my body, I looked up to her and felt flooded with a solace I wasn’t expecting to feel. She asked me if I was okay, and I remember hugging her and saying just how happy I was to be done suffering.
Travis, Elan’s crew chief asked me a profound question the morning after I dropped. He looked at me calmly and asked, “have you made peace with what happened?” While it was gut wrenching (literally) I told him yes. Yes because physically it was impossible to continue. I have never been as scared as I was being on the trail all by myself, feeling as horrible as I did. When I reached the aid station, the thought of continuing was no where near my consciousness, I was simply in shock to be safe. Sure, now being so far removed from the situation, it feels tender and raw having the unfortunate DNF result listed under my name. Beyond my race result though, I learned more than I have during any race and I feel oddly grateful and at peace for it.
A dear friend of mine told me not to look at this race as a failure. And in every sense of the word, she’s right. I didn’t make it across the finish line after running 100 miles, but I made it back to the finish line to cheer on my boyfriend who….WON THE ENTIRE RACE. I’m incredibly proud of how hard he fought and how smart he raced and he deserved to cross the finish line in the position he did. And honestly, it was absolutely one of the most difficult situations I’ve found myself in; cheering and supporting for someone who has achieved such an enormous success while you are grappling with a disappointment of equal magnitude in the opposite direction. It was a feeling both awkward and instructing, yet he handled the situation with grace. A man who is humble and hard working, Elan nailed the task in front of him in a manner I feel so lucky to have been able to witness. He was patient, determined and stead fast in the idea that being able to call yourself a runner is a privilege, and one we should never take lightly.
We run because of the people in the sport. We run because we love to be there for each other, regardless of pace or position. This race did not go as I had planned but the memories Elan and I made will carry over into everything we do and every decision we make. To fail or succeed in the ways that we did taught us both about being patient, being calm, and simply being grateful to do what we love, every, damn, day.
To my crew and family, thank you for supporting me. The day after the race I got to run in the mountains along the course and celebrate being healthy. Perhaps I didn’t intend to run on my birthday, but in the present turn of events, I did, and it made me realize what a miracle it is to have faced hardship and still become stronger.
Running will always be there. Races will always present unique challenges. There will always be something to sign up for. For now, I’m going to rest my mind and recharge my batteries in hopes to rekindle a little confidence. I think I let slip a bit to let go and have fun. In an effort to set expectations of a celebration, I forgot to actually celebrate. Movement in and of itself is a celebration and I’m grateful to have been reminded of that.
Time to celebrate.
If you too have struggled in a race, training, or even just the minutia of every day life, remember that you’re not alone. We all face those moments of discomfort and fear, and what I learned from this particular situation is to not become paralyzed by it. Life happens and more often than not in ways we least expect it to. Learning to appreciate what transpires is the beauty of being able to grow as a human. Be there for one another regardless of the accolades associated with it, be there for one another because it feels so much better to be in it together than alone.
What a crazy wild ride we had in Big Bear, California.