It would have been a good day for anything else. I could have spent the day ticking off the endless overwhelming tasks of the self-employed. Or considering we’re eight months into the pandemic; it would have been a good day to whimper in a ball on my bed under the weight of existence watching anything on Netflix to numb the fear of uncertainty.
Instead, on a chilly gray Saturday November 14th in the year two-thousand twenty, in a year where everything is fucking weird and hard… I chose my own little (big) adventure. Turned out to be one of the fucking weirdest hardest easiest things I’ve ever done.
I woke up at 4am. For someone whose pandemic schedule means waking up around 8am, four in the “morning” is not a thing. Pretty sure this was my entry into another dimension of weirdness.
4:58am – I walked out my door with a hot burrito in my pocket and steaming tea in my mug. In the black of night I stopped to gawk at a great horned owl looking like a fluffy kitty in a tree. Then it took off, and I could see every fantasy legend creature inspired by the unfolding of those wings.
7:02am – I set a new personal record – 10 miles before sunrise (well, almost, 9.77). My GI tract was also striving for a personal record, but that’s not one I relish. Between the river and downtown construction a fox stopped me in my tracks. Beautiful storybook fox galloping towards me in the street. It seemed to roll its eyes and shrug as it trotted by the humans “exercising” on an early “weekend” morning. What absurd animals we are.
By mile 19 I was fighting hard against dread and anxiety. It was too early to feel that bad. “Why legs, why? How could you give out so soon? What was wrong with your training? You are making me look bad!” And “Why gut, why? How on this day, of all days could you be so active? What did I do to you to deserve this? You are an embarrassment!”
11:17am I had run and walked just over half way, 23.17 miles. I had thrown in the towel on striving for my “A” goal time. I sat, stretched, drank, and socialized in the snow for 25 minutes.
I had crawled out of my misery around 1pm. With the help of phone calls with Will, two pep-talking podcasts, and leaning into my own experience, I settled into a form of contentment. Just because I wasn’t moving as fast as I had wanted to did not make this a failure. Just because my legs did not feel as good as I had expected did not mean they were doomed. Wishing for a different reality was agony. Accepting what I had to work with gave me some peace.
Fighting to not fall into the pit of despair was as exhausting as the physical moving.
But I knew that if I allowed my mind to spiral out of control it would take my body down with it.
Every time a whimper would bubble up and the “disappointment of what ifs?” tugged at my mind, I could see Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own yelling,
“There’s no crying in baseball!”
And I would tell myself, “It’s ok if you need to cry when this is over. It’s ok to be disappointed tomorrow. You can list all the things to do differently later. But RIGHT NOW you have to hold it together. The purpose of this was to learn, and you’re learning. You’re doing it, and that’s all that’s needed right now.”
4:11pm I had 3 miles to get to my last refuel stop and then Will would meet me in the last 6 miles. I felt almost giddy. Did I feel good? I could not possibly have felt good. I had just stopped “feeling” the discomforts. I could assess that nothing was injured, I was still in control of my form. I was fine! And fine felt miraculously great.
It was the home stretch I needed to not think about. I knew from my Ironman in 2015, that “almost there” was a dangerous thought that allows you to let down your guard. In this case the home stretch was still nine miles and over three hours more of moving. Thinking “I’m fine, I could do this forever!” is sometimes the only way to stay upright and moving at all. I couldn’t be “almost there” until I could see my front step. With that mindset, and an emotional turbo boost those three hours went surprisingly fast.
7:21pm Fucking forty-five point three nine miles in FOURTEEN HOURS and nineteen minutes from when I had walked out my front door, I was home.
I took a shower (careful to not injure myself there, because I’ve done that before), put things away (wait, no that’s fantasy, it’s been a week and I still haven’t put that shit away), and then got in bed with the pile of Chinese food that was delivered at 7:30 (because I’m brilliant like that), and we watched Toy Story Four (so sweet and funny!) while Will brought me things in bed because my legs though “done” meant forever.
So what was fucking weird? Mostly what also made it fucking easy:
- Quitting was so available. Could call Will at any point and just say “Come pick me up.”
- It was all familiar territory. Felt like having an adventure in my own backyard.
- Calling Will at least five times. What a lovely novelty to be so much less lonely! And him joining me for the last 5 miles? What a fucking treat! Could that not be more fun?
- FRIENDS EVERYWHERE! If you thought aid stations were oasis beacons before, just imagine if they were your close friends who 100% understood what you were doing. You know the race volunteers who clap half heartedly and seem confused as to why you’re doing this thing and what the fuck they are really doing there? This was the perfect opposite of that. Also friends tracking me just to show up on my route to cheer me on. You know when there are fans in the empty middle of a race course and you try to pretend that they are saying your name instead of the guy behind you? This was not that. Never once had to pretend to feel loved.
- BEST FOOD EVER. Had to eat. Never felt like eating. The energy chews I brought were a chore. After a resupply stop, I’d walk away with a special bit of real food from my lovely support crew. I’d put one of the morsels of goodness into my mouth and the heavens parted, angels sang, every cell in my body thanked me, and I was convinced that it was the most tasty thing I’d ever eaten. No race could ever provide such perfect noms.
My support crew tracked my progress in real time and were able to heat up food, drink, and be there to buoy my spirits through the use of our Garmin InReach Mini.
It was also undeniably fucking hard because:
- Firsts are HARD. It doesn’t matter if it’s a first 5k, first triathlon, first backpacking trip, first bike tour. If it’s a first, it’s HARD. You can be super experienced at a lot of different things, but if it’s the FIRST time you’ve done THAT THING, there’s just so much newness to overcome. Physically, mentally, emotionally, logistically, don’t underestimate the power of a first.
- The SAME thing for a long time is hard. I’ve done long things (triathlons, winter camping etc) but never the SAME thing. That was a lot of walking and running. And I know running is different than walking, but not as different as biking is, or paddling is, or shoveling snow is.
- 45 miles is a long way. 14 hours is a long time. Sure, compared to multi-year expeditions this was tiny. But this was plenty big enough to be real fucking hard for me right now.
Articles I’ll be working on:
WHY KYM WHY? Why the fuck would you do such a thing?
Milestones to Arrowhead 135.
Tips for creating your own athletic challenges.