Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
I didn’t finish Hellgate.
I did not finish the Beast Series.
But you know what….(ssshhh, don’t tell anyone)….I’m actually OK with that.
Rewind a few weeks. Following Masochist, I took a week off, and then started to ramp up the miles. And by “ramp up”, I mean I jumped right into a 50 mile week, followed by almost a 60 mile week. The legs felt great, the speed was there. But something wasn’t quite right.
The first sign was irritability, alternating with depression. I was REALLY short tempered the week before Thanksgiving. I took it out on my kids and my husband, and then myself. It was only a day or two before I recognized this as a tell-tale sign of overtraining.
So what did I do? I ran more.
The only relief I could find was by running. Long or fast. Whatever it took to get the endorphins flowing and to get a high. For the first time, I felt like an addict. And I’m not exaggerating or meaning that in a good way. I was chasing a buzz…but not with drugs or booze. And it was a problem.
The second sign was even more obvious. I got a nasty case of bronchitis over Thanksgiving. I was coughing up green junk. I sounded like a chain-smoker. The next week I got the flu. I laid on the couch, without any energy to do anything other than moan.
So what did I do? I ran more.
I used Hellgate as an excuse to hit the trails for a long trail run right after Thanksgiving.
And then a super-hilly tempo run the next day (I used my dog as an excuse for the fast miles). And then, once again, I left Richmond before dawn to run in the mountains. When I had the flu, I still managed a five or six mile run. Or 45 minutes on the elliptical. I needed to run. Hellgate cometh.
The third sign was panic and anxiety. Gripping my soul. Ripping my inside. Every day, several times a day, feeling like I was going to explode. I did – but not externally. Every panic attack – and there were at least a dozen – shut me down for several hours. I avoided people. I hid inside. And I ran.
The fourth sign was my body falling apart. It was almost comical. The week before Hellgate, I was cooking dinner. I turned towards the sink and almost fell to the floor. Something was wrong with my knee. For three days I had searing pain every time I crossed my legs or tried to turn. That, and the Hellgate taper, finally stopped the running. Last Wednesday, I went for my pre-race massage. But instead of loosening me up, I left with a jacked up neck and back. 48 hours of heat and Epsom salt baths helped a bit, but I still felt it when I left town on Friday.
Before leaving town, I walked to the bus stop to get the girls. I had in my pocket my “Promises to Keep” necklace from Jenny Nichols. I held it tight, in silent prayer. One more race. 66 miles. 18 hours. You NEED to do this. You NEED to finish it. A promise to yourself, your team, your family, your friends. Get a grip, girl. It’ll all be over soon.
And I was tired.
But I was also SOOOO excited for the weekend. My dear friend Terry was “borrowing” the girls Friday night for a sleepover and they were so excited that I had ZERO mommy-guilt about leaving town.
I picked up Bethany in Richmond, and then we headed to Charlottesville to fetch Sophie and AJW for the ride down to Camp Bethel. Pre-race was the usual fun time of catching up with friends and watching Horton hold court. Hellgate is really special…intimate and intimidating. The final race of the year, a chance to see trail friends one more time.
Everyone bantered on the way down. Sophie giving advice. Bethany describing the course. I was silent. There was NO way I was going to talk about the malaise that had overtaken me. Better to hold it in and hope things sorted themselves out on the trail.
Dinner was fun, the pre-race briefing entertaining. We retired to the bunks to get some sleep. I zoned out, but didn’t slumber. When the alarm sounded at 10, I questioned whether I should start. But I had Promises to Keep. I got up, got dressed, sucked it up and headed to the start line.
The anthem. A prayer. We were off.
The first few miles were good. After a week of not running I relaxed….get into your groove, girl. This is what you need. The legs felt solid. The breathing was easy. The internal tension eased. Its actually going to be OK. This is who you are. This is what you do.
We passed the first aid station, and turned onto the road. A runnable 4 mile climb up to Petits Gap. It felt easy. It felt good.
Around mile 6 things started to turn. Like someone turning down the volume, the energy left my body. I came into the aid station, called out my number, and ran right through. Get me outta there before I see any crew I know. Get me the hell away from warm cars and a ride home.
Just past the aid station, the course turned to the right. I stopped at the stop sign, put my hands on my knees. And I cried. Deep, gulping sobs. 7.5 miles into Hellgate and I knew I was done. I had a choice to make. Go back to the light and the warmth and the cars, or head into the woods and into the night.
I chose the woods. I ran into the darkness.
I remember parts of the next two hours. A thin ribbon of single-track and a train of headlamps behind me. Convincing myself that I just had the Demons on my back – a mental low spot that would be over as soon as the calories kicked in. Taking my jacket off, burning up. Two minutes later, putting it back on because I was freezing cold (Later, I’d remember the flushed cheeks and burning face from dinner and realize that I’d had a fever….I brushed off the 99-degree reading earlier that day as “close enough to normal”). Watching some guy puke off the side of the trail, feeling sorry for him…10 minutes later being that runner. Dry-heaving, doubled over.
The endless, brutal, BEAUTIFUL climb up to Camping Gap. Stars up ahead. Headlamps up the trail. So thankful to be out in the darkness. Then turning into the wind, chilled to the bone, convinced I’d never be warm again.
About two miles before Camping Gap (aid station #3), I decided I was done. For the health of my body and the health of my brain, I needed to stop running. It was not a hard decision. It was not a long process. And though I am not a religious person, I knew without a doubt that God was telling me to stop. It was OK. It was the right thing to do.
So I did. I pulled into Camping Gap, told them I was dropping and sat by the fire. A warm cup of broth found its way to me, and I was done.
Relief came. Jenny joined me by the fire not long after, and we laughed and commiserated. Sweet Brenton drove us to the next aid station, and Grattan lent us his car to drive back to Camp Bethel. I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept like the dead for three or four hours. When I awoke, I stumbled out to the main room. Horton had just arrived and I tearily apologized for dropping. I got a hug and a “Girl, you look HORRIBLE!” and I felt better. Not physically, but emotionally. It would be OK.
And I was there on the couch for the rest of the day. Cheering when Ryan crossed the line in a course record time. Coming to life to see John Anderson finish in 5th place. And then Bethany, 2nd female. Nebs and Kyle and Marc – all sub 14. Jeff and Dan not far behind. Alexis finishing strong to secure the Beast win – I am so happy for her! Sophie with her 9th finish and grandmasters title. Siobhan and John Leonardis, finishing the Beast together. What an incredible day.
Throughout the day the fever and malaise came and went. I’d rally for a bit and then feel wasted. We finally left the camp to drive home, and I was in bed a little after 9pm. And except for breakfast this morning and dinner tonight, that’s where I’ve been. Utterly fatigued. So weak. No energy. The thought of running a mile, much less another ultra, seemed impossible.
Until about an hour ago. I perked up a bit, and started to feel human. I thought about Catawba. And running into the Spring. Maybe Promise Land?? This is who I am, this is what I do.
But I NEED some time off. Two solid weeks of ZERO running, and then a month to reassess. Spending time with my babies. Soaking in their childhood. If 2014 was about pushing myself to the limits, then 2015 is going to be about regrouping. Getting strong in body and mind. Letting go of numbers and paces and rankings. Back to the love. Back to my roots.
Those Promises to Keep? Turns out, they weren’t promises to finish a race. Nor to run a certain time. In the end, the promise I made was to my daughters. I told them that running was good, that running was healthy. That it made me a stronger person and a better mom. At 2 Am on Saturday morning, I was breaking that promise to them. I was running away from the true meaning of the trail.
I finish this year very, very grateful. For the support of my family. For my fantastic teammates (you all have inspired me and motivated me all year!!). For the fellowship of my trail friends. For the beauty and majesty of Nature. Its been an amazing year, with so many more highs than lows. Life is good.