"You cannot create experience. You must undergo it" Albert Camus
Step Three of my ultra tri goals for 2013 was a hopeful 100 miles of running at Dirty Girls 48hr Ultra in Mansfield Ontario. Contained in every footfall there was a lesson I needed to learn along this journey. This 8km/5mile loop that repeated itself endlessly into what seemed like forever, held more than promise of a finish, more than a hope of sense of accomplishment, more than the lingering sensation of the big open spaces in which I found myself.... they held the dirt that binds us together. they held the roots that bring us back to each other with a sense of connection that one has never paused long enough to think about. They send shivers into my soul with the likelihood of a future I never ever suspected of myself or of this life I was given. They contain, simply, every piece of me I've never known. ...
"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please" Mark Twain
The start line. Collected spirits all on a quest. Gathered likeminded folk in the morning sun. Oh morning sun, how I wish you'd get bored of shining down on me for a while. Alas I know you make the earth turn just as much as the moon. I will find reason to be grateful for you, even if it's just because you make those around me smile. Lighthearted we set off, cast amongst the trees and dirt for the next 47hrs59mins. Each moving into their own pace or shared rhythm along this trail. The earth rising up to greet each step. The language of runners in my ears. It rings true in my Salomon clade feet. My dear dedicated guide Jennifer calling out root, rock. stump as we went. Such a light footed runner herself i had to really tune into where she landed each step. There is no such thing as silence in the middle of your dream. There is no such thing as nothingness if you pay attention. Looping around slowly I learned I remembered some of this course. Up, down, around and around again. Step up, veer right, avoid the log sharing its most obtrusive end to all of us runners. I laugh momentarily as we climb a hill at my crawl pace. Ultrarunning; the only sport they still consider you a runner just for showing up. Earned obligation for effort. And we move forward through the day. The sun rising up above, higher and higher in the trees. It cast speckles on the path in front. It makes my trail invisible, it preplexes my every sense of right. I strive not to be frustrated over this wonderful sunny day. People see the sun as hope. I feel their hope as a reason to keep moving. So let there be sun. I stumble. My fault, I tried to run aside Jennifer so we might partake in a normal stroll down hill. It's ok, just a bunch of dirt on my knee, small scrap on my palm. If I escape this weekend with nothing more, I'd mark mysefl lucky. But wait I don't wish to escape. I'm filled with the urge to find mud and rool through it feverish for the ultra I crave to be. Looping continues... life continues... time ticks away...
"Some of the worlds greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible" Doug Larson
I am aware of how many times I hear the same runners passing by me. These are amazing people. They seem unstopppable in my minds eye. I hear them breathing before they reach us from behind. They are so zoned into their race. They know or seem to know that the place they must travel to is ahead, further down the tree lined trail. Up the next hill. I think surely the sun must go down. Surely there must be a darkness to this day. I bargain with Jennifer to lead the fifth loop so I might know for sure if I can find my way at night. The plan is to be fearless and atempt the darkness alone. The plan is nothing more than a whimsical thought of invincible in my head. And as the sun sets it sends the sparkles on the path in the opposite direction. All I see are shadows. I wonder if they are premonitions of the demons I'm sure to meet on my own in the night. I know they are waiting. I've been fighting them off for weeks. Big deep breathes, down to my toes to calm down. How is it possible to be surrounded by so many optimistic people at once? How did I get so lucky? We stop at the aid station one last time before I am to set off alone. All refueled and ready to go. Ready... What an odd suggestive that is. Who is ever ready to find out what exactly they are made of?
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you're headed" Lao Tzu
Faith in all it's multitude of colours, as mythical as they are to me, rain down. Into the forest. Each step a combination of hope and the wise words of guiding I remember in my head. Starting out at 48km this hill isn't one of the three I remember. They say there are two hills winners whine about. I didn't whine over any of them. But I'm absolutely postivie there were three in particular I swear consistently at. I cannot think of anything but a clock. It sits in front of me teasing with it's alluring ticking hands. Run faster. Move quicker. Ohhh you lost a minute there climbing that hill. Oops wrong direction honey, come back. I'll keep track for you. When I arrive at the 4km aid station I come in hooting and hollering..."I found you!!! I'm not lost!!!" I grab what I could and collect my reality nicely in my head. "If anyone asks, I was here!" and off into the Dirty boys confusion. This section of the course had tormented me all day. Too leaf covered, no specific trail to follow. Flagged for sure but in order to find the flags alone in the sun I actually bent down to grope the leaves. Yes yes there's one.. keep going girl... Moving on in the space where you may have been but as yet haven't found yourself. Let's go feet, time is not our friend here. 100 miles at the pace I had set would take approximately 44hrs. I'm optimistic and stubborn and sometimes a fool... however I knew taking all factors into play, this journey would take a long long time.
"Preserverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did" Newt Gingrich
Rounding out of the woods I have never been so excited to enter the camp ground. The sun was threatening a good night and I had made it. Thank goodness. The tent was still where I left it, the start finish line was still found just past all the trippable pillions. I stop to shout a hurray and then my daughter, Terese and I walk off again into the woods. This loop was meant as a recovery loop. Walk the transition into darkness. Share space with this beauitful girl I have come to know and be so proud of. Terese was brave enough to take her tired mom into the twilight and get us back to camp safely. My only parenting wisdom departed is this; if you ever want open communication with your children, show them your weakness and give them room to feel all the truth of that.
"People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkeness sets in, they true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within" Elisabeth Kubler Ross
Terese gets us back to camp. Back to Crew captain Nicole and her mom Donna. Thankful for knowing they were there to help. More than once just knowing I'd get a hug upon surviving another loop is all that got me through the last part of a loop. Terese heads to bed and I set off to do a couple of loops in the dark alone. Oh sweet darkness. Look at your shining reflective white flags. Look at how you glimmer your LED lights along the trail. I don't need to think. I plug in to some slow drowning coldplay and run. I run like there is a wind at my back and very nearly caught up with myself. That first night I only saw about three people. The start finish aid station kept me going with help from the tastiest soup I've ever had and the best slushies in the world. I ran my feet until they said you're crazy. I ran my nose into the furture while my soul got sleepy. Slowing as time went I began the fun slippery slope of hallucination. The last downhill after 7k there were fish, big tropical fish swimming down the hill beside me. Swimming away as if to say, come on girl, this is the way the fish go. Let the current take you home. I knew I'd need to sleep soon. I had hoped not to sleep the entire race. When I got back to Nicole she was ready to walk a loop with me. We trudged through the slow quiet groogy me I had become. She kept me on my feet and moving forward. And then her mom took a loop. Donna with no guding experience before and the zombie I had become wasn't making that easier for her. I remember stopping at the 4k aid station and sitting in the chair saying "ok I get a 3 minute nap now, make sure you wake me up in three minutes". Someone rubbed my back, I seem to recall, or maybe it was the fish. The sun had come up. Stupid sun. People had promised I'd find renewal in the daylight. They were right. I found a renewed sense of annoyance at the sun. Somewhere around here I was ready to give up on the whole thing. What was I thinking? a 100 miles? I needed sleep. if I sleep I won't have time to finish. And all time stood still.
I crashed on an air matress. Wallowing in the knowledge of what this rest would cost me. I could not sleep. I have never known such exhaustion as that moment when sleep would not come. That meant one thing to me. I was not done. All I could do was cry silent tears into the grass beneath me. So many people believed I could do this thing. Yet here I was ready to quit. Ready to define myself in this moment. My head was so so foggy. Details drifted in and out of focus. People seemed to come and go. The place where you can't remember your name, where your idenetity is blurred, where you've lost all grasp on reality, is exactly where the adventure starts. It's in this teeny tiny window where boundaries are lost and newness is possible. Words do not do justice to the gathering of spirits that came together to pull me out of this drudge I was in. Countless souls gave wisdoom, created a plan to help me see it through. With all courage gone, I stood again with nothing but stubborn to carry this next loop through. Jennifer tolerated my tears and brought humour so needed into our race. In that moment I was fully aware that nothing worth doing was worth attempting alone. Everyone needs a throng of caring supportive people to draw upon when in that dark moment. I have never seen such community as I did then.
The 24hr racers had taken to the trail. It pepped things up a bit and we covered more distance. More familar feet in front and behind. More random hugs on the trail by friends to push me on. Aid station optimism offered gummy bears and cookies. A kind heart said "you will find your feet, once you stop looking for them dear" I couldn't make sense of this. I snuck peeks up at the sky as we climbed the bastard of a hill in the middle. The clouds gone and full sun seemed to dare all my hatered for light. There is no place for anger in 100 miles. At lesat not in my 100 miles. Oh heavens... I haven't given up. The wash out on the hill threatened to comsume my every last wakeful thought. I stood on the hill half way up unable to move. Unable to think. Unable to breathe. The sleep I had begged for finally had come. We crawled back to camp and I finally agreed to nap. One hour I begged, just one hour. I woke up and called my coach. I said I keep going but time is too short. I can't walk 6 more loops to finish this. I heard the reassuring do what you can safely. Be smart. Bravery is meanlingless without intricate balance of stubbornness and belief. I had gotten this far on the belief others had in me. Not belief in myself. That is after all, what I had come in search of. I fear others belief in me almost as much as I seek to create it. It carries responsibility like heavy leaves after the settling of dew. I needed to find a way to remove my ego from this race. I needed to stop assuming i was on the trail, and instead of how I am inherently part of it and it of me. I needed to remember there was a difference between finding yourself and constantly engaging in the serarch for your best you.
"I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be" Douglas Adams
Around this time I looked down to find shoes on my feet again. Hello Speedcross. How I love you. And looked up to find Cathy who had come to run some loops with me. We walked a loop and talked about committing to nothing more than this loop and seeing where that put me after. Terese joined us for the next loop which was a walk run. She wanted to see Nicole off on her 12 hour race which meant we had to hurry. My dear daughter, inspiring me to run again. I can't tell her how grateful I am for that. We arrrived at the start just in time to give hugs and see the 12 hrs off. One more loop with Cathy and then I was in the dark alone again. The start of this loop put me at 136k. Stefan saw me pulled me aside in the cabin at the start line. He simply said "it's time for you to go". I said "it is?" and he nodded. Handing me a cup full of food, I turned and didn't look back. Anger may not carry a role in my 100 miles, but fear definitly did. I wasn't tired now. I was genuinely terrified that I had come this close and wouldn't get to the end. My head could possibily have done math to save my life. I knew I needed 3 more lops. I knew it was dark. I knew I had to run. Someone told me to run. So I did. Plugged back into my music, ignored the ground under the headlamp and just ran. For the first time the entire race I actually passed some other runner. Of course giddy over that I took a wrong turn again and lost the trail temporarily. I had help the second half of this loop from another runner Sharon, whom I'd never met. This cemented my belief in the community of ultra running. The trees seemed to hug the trail embracing us all, as we came back into the camp.
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircae" Martin Luther King Jr.
Must stop segregating pains. Must stop thinking my knee hurts, my toes hurt. After a time the neural feedback loop creates the awareness of the whole person, pain at this point being a big part. Jennifer paced the next loop. I was completely intoxicated on sleeplessness at this point. I had no awareness that there was anything going on around me. I felt my baby toe blister explode around 3km into this loop. When we pulled up to the aid station I flopped into the chair in front of Kinga and was offered a cookie. I remmeber holding Roger's hand like a birthing mother and wailing so loudly the raccons ran away. I remember spitting my cookie out and staring at the sky and breathing in all the stars I had missed up until now. Each glimmering a hope of finsh. Each gathering strength to keep moving. And some vague recollection that I knew there was time left. I do not have any memory of 4k to 8k of this second last loop. Except fish. My fish pushing me along the current. The last loop was entirely walking. Again I lost all control of myself and fell asleep walking. I was giggling about my five year asking me if I was going to win this time? Since I never do? What would I tell him? Tempt yourself with greatness even if you feel you have no right. I tripped over inaginary roots. I found every footprint every racer had made along this two day soul searching final task of my summer. Jennifer and I planned a big finish, her cartwheeling and me somersaulting over the line. And tears, so many many tears. Tears for accomplishment, for survival, for finding faith after losing it. And giggles for being done. Done and sitting in the wet grass with Diane the race director who had a buckle for me. My first 100 mile buckle in just under 44 hours. All I could think of was.... I should buy pants.
"We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem" Douglas Adams.
Every moment of my enitre race was made possible through the efforts of a huge helpful group of people. Half way up the biggest bugger of a hill, Jennifer played this song. I honestly feel, it sums up ultrarunning/ultrarunners perfectly. Have a listen....
Corb Lund "Truck Got Stuck"
(And I don't mean this in a bad way at all... just in a we take care of each other kind of way... )
Shout out Thank you's to Jennifer, Nicole, Donna, Terese, Dian, Henri, Cathy, Stefan, Kinga, Sharon, Erin and a million nameless runners and volunteers. Thanks for reading and sharing in my blind girl adventures this summer. More to come, I promise, after all the chaffing, blisters and horrid suntan lines fade.
Thoughts from my enduring Coach, Steve Mertz;
Rhonda told me about her goals last year, and thinking she needed a coach. I agreed. She needed a coach. The goals she chose (13k swim, 500k bike and 100 mile run) were very aggressive. But, I knew she was stubborn and determined. So, I started coaching her. We went through many issues together getting the training she needed. From no pool access, to the frozen winters to, just life in general.
But when it came time to toe into the water, she was more than ready for that swim. She had done the training better than I could have hoped, and she crushed the swim. Then came the bike, where again she had put in the training, and again, she completed this goal (not without some issues, but she completed it.) Two down, one left!
100 mile run. That is not a joke. It's long. It's painful. It's mentally unnerving. We kept in touch through out, and around 3pm Saturday she was hitting a wall. I called her up and we chatted about making sure she do what she can smartly and stay healthy. And after that all I saw was her ticking off mileage until she hit the 100mile mark in just under 44 hours. Truly amazing!
She truly has shown her Beast Mode through out all of this and I cannot wait to help her reach her next goals!
Head Coach - Beast Mode Coaching
For every piece of the glue that kept me on track for the last year I owe it entirely to Steve. He is kind hearted and of full belief in my outlandish and startling goals. I wouldn't have known where to start with such training for three very different endurance events. And I would have lost it completely while coping with major life changes at the same time. Steve kept things realistic and on task. We worked well to maintain focus and keep what little remained of my head, in the game. Huge huge thank you to Beast Mode Coaching for walking me through this.
So many many people helped with this journey. My other major puzzle piece was connection with Salomon Toronto. They too seemed to think me capable of this three big goals I'd set and I was ushered into the Salomon world as a Flight Crew Member. I cannot tell you how proud I am to wear their gear. I trained with all my favorites as we got closer and closer to the events. My Missions carried me through road runs, my Speedcross got me through the trail adventures, including 100 miles at Dirty. The hydration pack that got me through was the Skin Pro 3- the perfect size for me. I did occasionally train with the larger Advanced Skin 12 as I used to run to my swim lesson and then home again, or the 30 some km home from work after a shift. This kept all I could possibly need and more all with me as I went. The s-lab compression skort is my absolute favorite. It also got me through the 100 miles as I never doubted the help it gave to keep my quads from over fatiguing. Gotta say... the buff, the visor.. all just made the happy in me come out to play. And the arm sleeves I intermixed with my knee socks as one was good for colder weather. My running could not have been more comfortable knowing that Salomon had my back (and feet, and legs and arms....) Being a Flight Crew Member means knowing the team a bit too. I couldn't ask for a better support network for my adventures. I'm constantly amazed and inspired by their endeavors. Being surrounded by such indelible people makes me want to try harder everyday. I can't wait to know them better and to learn all they will stand still to teach me. Huge buckets of gratitude to Scott Burger at Salomon Toronto for believing in the part of me I wanted so badly to believe in myself. Cheers Salomon, YOU ROCK!!!