Like most self-sabotage, mine was unintentional.
I began to suspect I’d overcommitted for an endeavor for which I was underprepared when I read the Facebook post of a friend who confidently proclaimed how much he “respected” the distance he was about to undertake in the 21st Squaw Peak 50-mile race.
Squaw Peak had been my first (and only) DNF — did not finish. I’d been looking forward to redemption for a year. But in the days leading up to Saturday’s race, I started to question whether or not, as my friend said, I respected the distance.
My life in the last month could be illustrated by the way I approach a buffet. Something about the phrase “all you can eat” transforms me from a pretty discerning diner into someone who will load anything and everything onto her plate. The problem is, as my dad is fond of pointing out, my eyes are much bigger than my stomach.
I planned this week buffet style. Why say no when you can cram one more dumpling onto the plate?
Some of what I took on was avoidable. Some of it was not. The real torture is in deciding where I went wrong and how to correct it.
My plan was to write about redemption this weekend, about not letting failure define you and about how disappointment can be erased with perseverance.
Instead, I’m writing about failure — again.
My buffet-style attitude earned me my second DNF, and this time it could have cost me a lot more than a little humiliation.
My trouble begins with my inability to commit to a set training plan. The one thing I love about my job is that it’s unpredictable. No day is the same, and that suits my desire to follow my heart.
But that doesn’t work for most things. Because I fly by the seat of my pants, sometimes my training is adequate and sometimes it is woefully lacking. It means my priorities shift. Some days, training moves so far down the list, it competes with cleaning toilets.
I also had some serious family health issues this spring, and some days felt like ultra-emotional races. Only there isn’t a finish line for some things, and that makes management key to retaining (or reclaiming) mental, physical and emotional health.
And then there is my inability to say no. I worked too much, stayed up too late and overextended myself in the week leading up to the race. One of my daughters graduated and the other had a birthday, both of which required celebrations worthy of those milestones. That meant more stress and less sleep, but also lots and lots of great memories and unique joy.
I think (at least today) that my biggest failure was being unable to choose between keeping my Ragnar Relay streak alive or my desire for redemption at Squaw Peak. When I found out the Wasatch Back had moved to the same weekend as Squaw Peak, I panicked. I’ve run Wasatch Back every year since it started. I will admit I’ve gotten lazy about the streak, and the last couple of years, I didn’t bother to even find a team until a few months before. But this was my biggest issue yet.
Instead of choosing, I opted for the buffet. I could do both if I could find a team that needed a runner and would let me run my legs on Friday. Then I could run Squaw Peak on Saturday, and in my mind, enjoy the greatest weekend of athletic accomplishments in my very underachieving life.
My friend found me the perfect team — Get a Whiff of This — which had runner 1 undergo an unexpected surgery that limited her to walking or a slow jog. So they offered me her first two legs — 6.5 and 8.6 miles, respectively.
Running 15 miles the day before you run 50 is not ideal. Running them Ragnar Relay style, well, that’s a special kind of stupid.
Friday started with a 2 a.m. wake-up call and a lot of driving, sitting, running and trying to figure out what I should eat that wouldn't make me sick during a run, but would offer me energy for the next day’s run. Let me say that I don’t regret agreeing to run with “Get a Whiff of This” at all. I had a blast, made some new friends and enjoyed every minute of the experience — including two beautiful runs I’ve never done before.
But two consecutive mornings of waking up at 2 a.m. after a week of too much work, lots of mom commitments and not enough sleep, well, it took its toll. And while I knew it would make redemption harder, I had no idea how much harder.
I have never "hit the wall" that endurance athletes try so hard to avoid. I’ve pushed myself to some pretty tough extremes, and while my ability to finish was sometimes in doubt, my health and safety was never an issue.
Saturday afternoon on blazing hot dirt trail I met my wall. I slammed into it and more than 24 hours later, I’m still feeling the effects.
I started Squaw Peak about 45 minutes early with two friends and tired legs. But, like most runners, I’ve run races, including marathons, on tired legs. My goal was to finish, not win, so I was convinced I could "muscle through" the inevitable pain.
It seem so naïve to assume I was familiar with all the ways a race can inflict pain.
So I struggled, I strained and I kept moving. I thought about people who inspire me, people I love and how I would celebrate conquering two races in one weekend. As I struggled up the one section of the race that is on the road (about four miles up Hobble Creek Canyon), I started to panic.
I wasn’t moving fast enough. I started to pray, to beg, to beat myself up for all the mistakes I’d made en route to this precarious spot. I begged for stamina I didn’t deserve, for endurance I hadn’t earned.
When I arrived at aid station seven, I had an hour to traverse 3.8 miles of rocky, dirt trail that would take me up and over to the Little Valley aid station. If I made it there by 2:30 p.m., I could take as long as I needed to finish the last 17 miles.
So I pushed through the aid station without stopping. The beginning of the trail was flooded with runoff, and instead of trying to jump across on rocks and logs, I just splashed through it, nearly falling several times on the slick rocks.
I knew I should eat, but I told myself I could eat after checking out of aid station eight.
I pushed myself as fast as I could go and refused to look at the time. I saw a man running the other direction looking for his nephew who hadn’t checked in at the aid station in the time expected. He told me I had 1.8 miles to go and 20 minutes to do it. That’s a big ask on a good day for me.
Still, I did the only thing I could — pushed ahead.
I saw a man sitting in the shade, and I stopped to ask if he was OK. As soon as I started talking to him, my head started to spin. I sat down, thinking the heat was getting to me. Then I thought maybe not eating at the last aid station was a mistake, so I took out an apple slice and took two small bites.
The nausea was immediate and overwhelming. I excused myself from the conversation, which was about how disappointing it would be to not make the cutoff after working so hard to get to mile 33, and I puked. There wasn’t much to expel from my body, but the action was violent and I was seeing double afterward. So as he left, I sat in the shade hoping some deep, slow breaths (thank you, yoga) would help me recover.
I opened my eyes and I was still nauseated and dizzy. I moved forward anyway. I’d brought hiking poles because I was worried about my back strength on the steepest climbs. Turns out, I needed those poles just to make it to the aid station.
It took me more than an hour to walk that last mile and a half. During that time I wrestled a lot of demons, while, as odd as this sounds, feeling really grateful for just how many amazing adventures I’ve been able to have because I've been blessed with relatively good health.
I thought about laying down almost every step, even giving in twice, both times, sitting in insect-infested grass while trying to cool my body and clear my mind. In a few really tough moments, I could understand, maybe just a shred, how easy it would be to succumb to Mother Nature.
Even as I knew it was best to keep moving, I was also finding it difficult to resist the pull of every shady spot along the route. I could not run, and I could not eat. I could barely walk, and I am still sick more than 24 hours later.
It was not my finest hour, but it was in those worst hours that I experience some of the awesomeness of others. From the stranger who walked the final half mile with me and then gave me (and two others) a ride to the start line to the people who’ve offered me nothing but support as I wade through the worst kind of self-inflicted pain — regret.
I am deeply disappointed.
But I am also so grateful for what I did experience this weekend — the kindness of strangers, new friendships, milestones with my girls, spectacular scenery, the wonders of a healthy body and, ultimately, a better understanding of myself.
I read recently that one needs to be frustrated, disappointed and even embarrassed in order to grow. All I can say is that my dream weekend delivered on all three of those counts, so bring on the growth!
I remember reading a quote a few years ago, and forgive me that I cannot find it to quote it verbatim and give credit to the author, but it said something like, "it isn’t summiting the mountain that transforms the man, it’s the climb."
And while I know this to be true with every cell in my exhausted body, I also know that sometimes the summit matters. Sometimes not reaching the finish line is, objectively, a failure. And not to acknowledge that is not only dishonest, it only makes that failure more debilitating.
I failed this year. But I’ll be back for you next year, Squaw Peak. And next time, I will respect the distance.