“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us."
— Marianne Williamson, "A Return to Love."
MOAB — Sometimes what we fear is out there in the world waiting to disrupt, derail or shatter our lives.
But more often, we take care of the sabotage all by ourselves. As the sun disappeared from the Moab sky, I felt fear creeping into my heart.
I heard scary sounds. I saw sinister shadows. I felt stalked by some unknown, nefarious creature.
Why, I thought, on a day when I had to run 43 miles, did I find myself alone in the dark? I’d managed to find company almost the entire day, but now, when I felt most vulnerable, I had to run alone.
I tried to run faster, to catch my sister who was less than a mile ahead of me. But the blisters on the bottom of my feet sent shooting pains into my calves, and so I had to settle for a slow jog that kept me in front of the two participants a few minutes slower than me, and lagging just behind the closest runner ahead of me.
Frustration wrapped around me, like a suffocating blanket, and I struggled to escape.
For me, that nearly always involves distraction.
I thought of a conversation I’d had during one of the morning’s toughest stretches on of Day 4 of the Desert Rats Kokopelli 150-mile stage race. A couple of miles after leaving the first aid station (about 5½ miles into a 43-mile course), my sister pushed ahead as the course was a pretty relentless climb and that’s her strength.
Despite falling behind her, I felt pretty good, even as other runners passed me, until about three or four miles from the second aid station at about 17 or 18 miles — Onion Creek.
The midday heat was so stifling that I felt like I was baking from the inside out. I was just sinking into the most negative thoughts — Why are you bothering to do this when you’re not a real ultra runner? What makes you take on challenges you know you can’t complete? Why would you spend a week doing something so excruciating when what you really need is rest? — when I saw two men who’d been photographing the race.
Seeing them meant I was within a mile or two of the aid station. I walked past them and sat down in the pathetically patchy shade of a small tree. One of them, Glen Delman, who was the brother of the race director, began talking with me. I started walking again, and he walked with me.
Most of our conversation was enjoyable but unremarkable, but it was what he said to my sister that came back to me as I hobbled through the dark. When we arrived at the aid station, Glen said something to my sister about me not realizing how capable I was and that I continually underestimated myself.
In the dark, I wondered about the truth of that statement. When I agreed to run the stage race late last year, I only agreed because I wanted to spend time with my sister. She promised me it was an amazing experience.
I never considered whether or not it was something of which I was capable until after I got home from the Olympics and the reality of the race loomed. Then it seemed absolutely impossible to me.
So, instead of aiming to finish the entire race, like my sister sought to do, I kept my expectations modest. I told her I just wanted to finish the first day and start every other day. That would, I reasoned, keep disappointment at bay. You can't be disappointed with a goal you don't set.
Or at least I couldn't until last week.
Thursday, dubbed Expedition Day, was the fourth day of the race, and my sister had been looking forward to this stage for a year. She quit last year at Onion Creek. What bothered her wasn’t that she didn’t finish, but that she was confident she’d just given up, despite being capable of much more.
I didn’t want to say how much I wanted to finish. I’d been thinking about it for several days. The day before we started the Desert Rats race was Father’s Day, and I happened to see a video of little Lota Ward, an 11-year old boy I met four years ago when he and his family ran the XTERRA trail half marathon. Two months after I wrote about him and his fundraising efforts in the half marathon, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Four years later, he’s still fighting it.
His most recent brian surgery left him in a coma for more than week, but he woke up on Father’s Day and was able to mumble “Happy Father’s Day” on a short video posted by his family to their Facebook page.
I couldn’t get his droopy-eyed little face out of my mind. He’d trade me places without thinking about it, I told myself, as I struggled through the sand. If you make this cutoff, you can give him the dog tag we received for completing each stage.
A few weeks ago I desperately wanted to finish a race for myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a failure, that I was brave, that I could finish a race that seemed to have my number. On this day, I desperately wanted to finish for Lota. I wanted his fight to be mine, and I wanted my victory to be his.
And it was in thinking about him that I realized his challenge came from something he couldn’t control, but mine came from my own mind.
I wondered why I let fear bully me. Why do I give more credence to my fear and my doubt than I do my hopes and my desires?
I wondered why I have so much trouble being kind to myself.
I wondered why it’s so easy for me to believe in other people and their potential, but I cannot be as generous with my own dreams.
I wondered why I am more afraid of starting a race than I am of failing to finish.Comment on this story
So I whispered a promise to myself and to Lota as I limped through the dark. Every day will get my best effort. When I feel fear telling me not to bother, I will try harder just because I'm able to do so. When I feel doubt pushing excuses and equivocations out of my mouth, I will swallow them and speak to myself the way I would speak to someone else.
I ran-hop-limped as fast as I could, tears falling, gratitude rising. I will not lose another day to a boogeyman of my own making. I am going to get that tag for Lota and the finish for myself.
As I ran toward the finish line, listening to cheers from my fellow runners and camp staff, I whispered Lota’s mantra, “I got this. You got this. We got this.”