I meant to write up a race report for this year’s Hellgate. Like every year, I was having deep emotions and introspection in the race as well as in the minutes and days post-race. But life and sleep got in the way, and now, a few weeks later, that moment has faded.
To be clear, the lessons haven’t faded. The friendships haven’t faded. The experience hasn’t faded. But as life’s daily tasks continued to take hold, the energy to revisit the story gets buried surprisingly quick. And just like that, we’re on to the next thing.
I also meant to write up a race report of my FKT on the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park in October. That was something. Probably the hardest thing I’ve done and one of the most powerful experiences of friendship I’ve had. And Shenandoah, oh Shenandoah. But, as it can, that moment passed too.
I should’ve done a report on the Barkley Fall Classic in September while we’re at it. That started my packed fall racing schedule, with four races each four weeks apart. What an epic adventure with two close friends. It was the quintessential road trip/race experience and did not fall short in the stories and experiences we shared. I should’ve captured it and wrote it all down, but I didn’t.
This brain of mine whirls with stories and perspectives gained on a daily basis. I am truly grateful to be able to run, and I’m grateful that through the years I’ve learned that you can run in the mountains and you don’t even need trails. I’ve never left a race without what feels like significant perspective on my life and I always want to share that. But alas, life.
Back to Hellgate. As I was running down those last 3 miles, on what ironically ended up being a beautiful day, I should’ve been happy. I was in 7th place! My 6th top ten at Hellgate! I was gonna get a hooded puffy jacket!! But despite all this, I was just in too much pain. The awesomeness had all run out. Your awesomeness will always run out at Hellgate.
The night’s steady rain and freezing rain had taken its toll and my body was a wreck. Why can’t I just have an easy race where everything goes well and feels great?! Why does it always have to be so hard?
Those last three miles are typically where I swear off any more competitive running each year, but this year, I meant it! I just can’t do this anymore. It hurts too bad. How can I possibly go through this again? I really meant it. No more racing.
But alas, life.
Not to sound cliché, but it is amazing how a few days of rest and reflecting will put you right back into the boat. How can I do better next year?
And so, instead of yet another race report, I’ve just been reflecting on the why. Why should I go through that again? I mean, racing – pushing yourself hard, all day (and night). It hurts, bad! So, why??
After three weeks of post-Hellgate/Christmas/New Year’s pondering, I’ve come up with three reasons that we do this stuff.
1) For the personal challenge!
At 43 years old, I know that my fastest days are almost behind me. Almost! Yeah, I plan on running into my golden years – that’s a huge life goal of mine – however realizing that your fastest days are about to come to an end is a sobering reality. At what point do you give in? When exactly do you stop expecting more from yourself? How much of what you hear about performance and aging is actually true vs. just matching where we start to get mentally and emotionally as we age. Who the hell says I can’t PR at Hellgate next year? I’ve got a whole year to prepare!!
As much as it’s getting harder and harder to wake up at 4:30am and harder and harder to sustain hard race efforts mentally, I just don’t think I want to give up that fight just yet. Shoot, I don’t want to give up that fight ever. As I just witnessed my friend Sophie Speidel tackle a local FKT at the age of 57. She went out and gave it her all and isn’t using her age as an excuse. Dang. I guess I’ll sleep when I’m dead. In the meantime, coffee and racing.
As much as I had a hard time at Hellgate, there were people who quit and slept in cars for hours, and then un-quit, got out of those cars, and finished the race. Dang. That is toughness. There were people who were hypothermic wearing trash bags for jackets, who finished. Dang. I guess it’s not really easy for most people.
Hellgate is the perfect race for bonding through our suffering. It’s always so hard and we hardly have energy to properly congratulate each other at the finish. But there is deep community built in overcoming the shared challenge, and the Hellgate Family is a special example of this meaning. Hellgate simultaneously crushes and sustains my spirit.
To more personal challenge in 2020!
2) To experience nature!
It’s funny, because Hellgate isn’t really a race you do to “experience nature”. Most of it is in the dark. And I laughed this year as I climbed the last climb of the race on a beautiful day that it was too bad there’s not more wildlife on the course (in 7 years of Hellgate, I’m not sure I’ve even seen a squirrel…) My only rationale was that it is just too miserable on the course for wildlife to be there.
But experiencing nature is a huge reason we do this. How else can you cover so much ground on foot through the mountains? Ultrarunning!! I’ve had so many incredible wildlife and scenic viewing in my relatively short career of ultrarunning – from the Bighorn Mountains to just staring in awe at a local Barred Owl. Nature is always amazing and I do feel bad for people who don’t choose to or who aren’t able to spend more time in it.
Even at Hellgate on a freezing, rainy night, we are experiencing the awesomeness of nature. Sometimes the simple act of being outside for hours at a time lets us know that we are not in control of most things. That freezing rain, that delayed sunrise because of the fog, that never-ending climb up to Bobblet’s Gap – nature! And what a privilege to experience it.
To more deeply experiencing nature in 2020!
3) For the personal relationships!
I may have not documented the details of my fall races, but I experienced all of them with friends and our relationships have grown and deepened because of them. Memories and experiences are great, but they are much less meaningful without someone to share them with. You know that great Brandi Carlile song, The Story?:
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to…
The training, the planning, the events, and the aftermath – these are all community activities and my relationships with the people in my life involved with these have grown and deepened, and I’m not sure there is anything more rewarding.
How would I feel about those Barkley briars if I hadn’t experienced all of them right next to Frank? Would that Great Horned Owl breaking the silence of a moonlight night on the AT below Hawksbill mountain have been as special if Dubova hadn’t been right there with me to hear it while crewing me for 24 hours? And would Hellgate be Hellgate if Chris Roberts, Jordan Chang, and I didn’t once again catch each other and try our best to beat the others for the closing 20 miles? All of this barely scratches the surface of the experiences and interactions I had with new and old friends, centered around running, but growing something much more important than that.
I would be nothing without Michelle and my close circle, and I am a better person for every new interaction I have with new and old friends. I am most grateful to running for the gift of these relationships.
To deeper friendships in 2020!
And so, onward. Slowly at first, to let the body and spirit recover, but always with the next challenge ahead, always in the mountains, and always surrounded by my people.