Something happens to you when you spend 11 hours scrambling up and down hills, pushing yourself to do something that you've never done before. If you're lucky, you get to do with a fabulous friend, like I did. It took me about 28 miles to come to this realization, and when I did, it hit me like a ton of bricks (actually, given the landscape, a ton of rocks - big ugly freakin' rocks) and was possibly the most insightful and breathtakingly emotional event of a weekend filled with magic moments.
Back story: I have a steel plate in my left forearm, the remnant of a fall I took on vacation in Aspen, Colorado, 12 years ago. My oldest son was three years old, yet I still carried a lot of extra weight from that pregnancy. I had just been diagnosed with high blood pressure and while I walked with him to and from the park and such, I was not "active" per se. I was not an athlete by anyone's stretch of the imagination. The fall was a freak accident, in the parking lot of the Braille Trail along Independence Pass, where blind people successfully navigate. I dislocated my elbow and broke my radius, requiring a four-day hospital stay. The fall also scarred my psyche; I was not particularly active to begin with, and the fear that something bad might happen that is always in the back of our minds (more front and center with some people than others) grew in my head. It affected the activities I took on, the choices I made, and how I lived.
Back to this weekend: The second-to-last aid station is about 4.7 miles from the finish on the 50k route. When we entered this aid station the second time, my right knee had not been functioning for about 10 miles. I could not bend it on any downhills without it hurting. A lot. At one point Sarah asked me to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. I lied and said it was a 7. It was closer to a 9. But I knew that even though it hurt, that it didn't hurt enough to stop me. I was going to be an ultramarathoner this weekend if it killed me, and there are some nasty downhills on that course that made me believe that it just might. When we left that station and I had some food in me, I took some ibuprofen before setting off on the last leg of this journey. The sign said we had already gone 26.3 miles - further than I had ever traveled on my own energy (long courses notwithstanding!!). That alone gave me a burst of energy and enthusiasm that carried my along the last bit of the course.
We were woefully behind schedule because I had spent the last 10 miles basically dragging my right leg along behind me, or peg-legging like a pirate, and slowly picking my way down the steep embankments so the pain wouldn't be too bad. I couldn't run on flats because of the knee, either, although I could definitely still power-walk them. But it was maddening that we couldn't make up any time on these great flat jeep roads through pasture because not only was it this amazing stretch of runnable terrain, but we were losing daylight fast, and neither of us had headlamps. Neither of us expected to be out there until dark.
As the daylight changed into that gloaming light, where everything is still visible but fading quickly, we came upon what is apparently called the Lucky. It is nasty. It is ugly. It is an incline filled with rocks the size of my head. After 10 & half hours, it was the last thing we wanted to see. But I had been praying for more uphills, because uphills didn't hurt. Yeah, my calves were screaming by then and my glutes had filed for divorce from my body ten miles previous, but uphills were far more preferable to me than downhills. So we scrambled up this hill and for once in the whole day, we didn't talk much. We were both focused on getting to the finish before daylight went away. It was unspoken but there was a sense of urgency to every step. And about 2/3 of the way up that hill, I started to laugh. And cry.
I had promised I would do no crying during this race. I swore after NYC that I would never cry and be mad/sad/angry during a race again. And I kept to that. This cry, at mile 28 of my first ultra, as I picked my way up this ridiculous incline filled with rocks, was not an angry cry, or a sad cry or a "I can't do this" cry. It was a happy cry. It came with the realization that as I climbed that hill, as I kept on relentlessly moving forward with one good leg and darkness falling, that with every step I took, I was burying that 200-pound woman who fell on the Braille Trail. She no longer exists inside me. The girl who was afraid to take chances is gone.
And while I thought I was living, and I thought I was grabbing life until now - after all, I have done some pretty cool things in my 41 years on this earth - there had always been inside me this fear, this trepidation, that maybe something bad might happen. "You might turn an ankle," people said when I started trail running. "You fall on the streets," people said when I started trail running. They didn't say these things to discourage me, but because of their sense of caring and worry. Don't do anything too risky, so you don't put yourself in danger. But if you don't do anything too risky, then you never get the rewards.
I took a lot of risks this weekend. And you know what? I got all the rewards.