As I woke up early Saturday morning, my nerves getting the best of me, I got myself ready for my second attempt at a 50K (31.06 miles) trail race. Before leaving the hotel room, I fed my 8-month-old baby, kissed my husband goodbye and got one last look at my six children before heading to the start of the Bryce Canyon Ultras 50K race.
“You'd better finish this time, Mom,” echoed through my head as I stood huddled around the fire pit just minutes before the race.
Having not completed my first 50K — dropping out after 27 grueling miles — it didn’t matter to my kids that Mom completed 27 miles. To them, Mom didn’t finish.
Mom was a quitter.
Fueled with my determination to finish and to, more importantly, show my kids that hard things can be done, I began the race.
The first few miles were great, and I was moving along at an easy and steady pace. Wanting so badly to push my body faster, I heard the voice of my 4-year-old daughter saying, “Slow and steady wins the race” — a quote from one of her favorite books, "The Tortoise and the Hare." It was her sweet voice and the reserved energy that got me up and over the first few miles of hill climbs and switchbacks.
As I made my way down and through the red rock formations in Bryce Canyon, the beauty that surrounded me was breathtaking. I managed to snap a quick photo with my phone. Realizing what an awesome place I was in, I couldn’t wait to get back to my family to tell them about all I had seen.
It was that thought that got me through the next few miles.
Then came miles 15 to 25. After a short-lived downhill stretch, these miles consisted of a series of rolling hills, winding uphill climbs and unrunnable, sandy terrain. With the day also warming up, these were some of my toughest miles.
Finding myself alone for much of that time, my mind wandered, questioning if I was really cut out for this type of running. Digging deep, I found the words, “I want my family — I need my family” coming out of my mouth almost in a rhythmic form. Uttering these words with each breath pushed me to the final aid station at mile 25.
With just over six miles to go to the finish, the next four miles were smooth sailing downhill. I imagined my family at the finish area. I was no longer counting the miles to the finish, I was now counting the minutes. Approaching Mile 29, I was so close, I could almost feel their little arms around me.
As I hit that 29-mile mark, arrows and yellow flags pointed in a direction where I could not see a path. I was now navigating through weeds, sand and, once again, unrunnable terrain, back up the mountainside.
All of a sudden, what I thought was a near finish was not.
The words “You’d better finish this time, Mom” once again blared in my mind. I managed to push my way to the top of the mountain, past Mile 31, then Mile 32.
“Where is the finish? I want my family!”
Just then, a familiar face. It was my dad, standing with two of my kids and one of my brothers. It was not yet the finish, but I was close. I grabbed my oldest daughter’s hand and ran with her for a few minutes. “You’re almost there, Mom!”
With only a quarter-mile to go, I was hand-in-hand with two of my kids and then joined by two more, and we crossed the finish line together. And right at the finish was my husband holding our baby, and our 4-year-old daughter holding a bouquet of freshly picked flowers.
After running 33.08 miles through beautiful scenery and downright treacherous mountain terrain, I looked at my family and thought, “We did it.”
At that moment, I knew that it wasn’t I who had finished the race; it was we who had finished it. It was the voices of my children, and the visions and anticipation of smiles and hugs, that got me through it.
And I couldn’t have done it without them.
Arianne Brown is a mother of six who loves running the beautiful trails around Utah. For more articles by her, "like" her Facebook page by searching "A Mother's Write" or visit her blogs, timetofititin.com or thestoriesofyourlife.wordpress.com.