Well, it's amazing but not only did I complete my first 50 mile event in 15 years but it did NOT take me the 17 hours I predicted - I actually did it in less time than the other two 50 milers I did. I can't believe that. Not bad for an old lady huh? And it was a trail run too! So there to any of you who say you're too old to do something. We can do what we really want to do. But like everything else I've been trying to explain since at least last fall (if not before), it's all about the feeling and the desire. When you set a goal you really HAVE to WANT it and have to put all the emotion into that you possibly can. A goal without the emotional desire is not going to get you there. That's why you have to take so much time to determine what your goal is and whose goal it really is - yours or someone else. I can tell you that this was MY goal! But once I had that goal I had to have a team to get me to reach it. There were a ton of people on that team - those that helped from afar with encouraging emails or text messages, my personal trainer, Dan, who helped me build the core muscles necessary to achieve this (and improve my balance enough so that my other goal was achieved too - I did NOT fall), the volunteers at the aid stations without whom I could not have gotten thru (not just because of the food/water but because of the encouragement they provided), the EMT who was at the start/finish who although I didn't need him was always a reassuring presence, the race director, Parvaneh who put this event on (and who has afforded me so many opportunities to go beyond my original goal of running another marathon (the 2012 New York City Marathon) after 11 years off running and thinking I would never run again) and who is ALWAYS there for everyone - even after running 100 miles herself last weekend, Niki Lake and Government Canyon State Park who allowed us to race on their trails, the other runners who always had a supportive word and smile and had more faith in me than I did, and especially three wonderful people - Renee and Greg Gillespie and Parvaneh (yes, the same one I mentioned above) for these three people got me to the finish line. I would NOT have gotten there without them - that is one thing I'm sure of. Maybe I completed my other two 50 milers 15 years ago alone but I wasn't as smart back then as I am now. I have learned to accept help even if I am not smart enough to ask for it (I would never have been brave enough to ask for them to pace me but they came up with that on their own and I am so eternally grateful - I only wish I could let them know just HOW much they meant to me).
Here's a few things that I learned on Saturday:
- I am very blessed for everything worked the way it was supposed to for me - the weather was perfect - it was just the right temp, not so much humidity, I didn't fall, the rain kept the sun from beating down and reducing my energy, but it didn't rain so much as to mess with my glasses except twice, the terrain was tolerable since I went with the group initially and then it was daylight, the wonderful race director allowed me to complete my last 10 miles on the pavement (Sunday's course) which meant I didn't have to negotiate the trail in the dark again, and as I said I had the support of everyone the entire day. I am sure there are other ways I was blessed but just don't remember them right now. Other significant blessings and "perfect" conditions for me were that I was migraine free (unusual in the last month and with the weather Saturday), my knees held out, my blister didn't show up til the last 5 miles and I was able to tolerate it - thank goodness for wool socks - Lord knows I stepped in enough puddles in the middle of the road (ask Parvaneh as my curse words broke the dark silence of the night).
- Being prepared is important but being able to be flexible is more important. I was prepared for the course because I had run it last week but what I wasn't prepared for was that I had run it in the reverse direction. Now this might have been a bigger problem had I run over it a ton of times and gotten to know every nook and cranny but I hadn't. So when I realized we were going in the opposite direction I was actually relieved because as I had been running it last week I thought that the other direction would be better because it wasn't such an uphill climb. And I got my wish but that's not the point. The point is that I was able to be flexible and rejoice in the difference. I had my headlamp and had spent a long time trying to find the best one and it sucked - bottom line - just plain sucked. But thanks to advice of my heroes again I also had flashlights that allowed me to traverse the route better. Prepare as best you can but also prepare for change and for the unexpected (such as mud and problems with glasses due to the rain). You'll be much better off.
- It's beneficial when you hurt in several places at once. It allows you to vary your focus - ha ha - seriously. If you only hurt in one place, then all your attention is on that one pain and it becomes magnified. When you have lots of aches and pains your attention is diverted and you become distracted (that's what my life savers, aka pacers, tried to - distract me).
- You have to accept help even when you don't ask for it - swallow your pride and allow people to help you - you'll get farther. This is probably the hardest lesson I learned because it's very hard for me to believe that other people who are much more experienced than me would want to help this old slow poke. But I was in such a state that I readily took any help I could get even though I felt badly that I was slowing them down and I know it was agonizing for them - they never really showed it so I was even more grateful.
- When you can't think well let others think for you and don't resist. For someone as independent as myself, allowing others to direct me was a novel event but one I did not resist. Whenever Renee told me "what are you planning to do at the aid station" that's immediately what my mind went to, not "who does she think she is telling me what to do" - LOL - that thought NEVER ever crossed my mind. In fact it was funny. Early on she told me to just think from aid station to aid station and later she said something about we were almost done with this loop - to which I replied "no, we still have to get to the other water stop" - when she balked, I said "you told me to just get from one aid station to the next" and that's what I was doing - see even after 30 years in the Navy as a cantankerous redhead I can still take orders - and follow them - something I was never very good at in the Navy and got me in a lot of trouble. Ha Ha.
- Keep your goal in the front of your mind at all times and have the reasons you want to achieve it right there. Think of positive things and remember that if you don't do it this time, then you won't step forward closer to your next goal (thank you for that one, Parvaneh, it's brilliant). One goal I had was to stay upright. I concentrated on that heavily during the first loop or two but then I seemed to forget it and that was pretty cool In the last several loops I forgot about the roots and I find that almost miraculous. I was very grateful but surprised when I remembered it. That's because my goals changed as the day went on. You start with a very large goal and then you break it down - as I mentioned above - getting from aid station to aid station and then even later it's just going forward. It was funny, there was an incline in the 40-45 mile loop and I bent over to stretch and as I came upright I realized I shouldn't have done that on an incline. It made me laugh and has nothing to do with goals but it brought a laugh and a smile to my face - a rarity at that point in the day. The point here is that you must create big goals and then baby goals and go for the baby goals to achieve the big goal. And pick something tangible that you can reach for. I focused for awhile on my "nemesis" - should have gotten a picture - and that helped me get through that loop until I found something else to focus on.
- Pain is temporary - both physical and mental. This is something that's hard to hold on to because it still doesn't make you feel very good when you're experiencing it but know that something will come along to make it better - such as my heros - Renee and Greg showed up at the perfect time for my mental stability. They got me through the primary hump and then of course Parvaneh "took me home" - what a trooper she was - Miss Speed Demon was willing to slow down and drag me along for all that time. Amazing trio who did everything in their power to help me through any pains I was having and I'm so grateful (I realize I must have said that about 400 times already and I'm probably not done yet either ).
- Keep pushing past the "downs" - you will get to another 'up'. But the caveat here is that it's not always easy unless you have help. And you need to be willing to accept help. I grew up learning to be independent and being told that you shouldn't rely on others to help you get things done etc. How wrong that teaching was. I have learned since Thanksgiving and especially since Christmas that you can lean on others and they don't even feel it because you are part of their experience and you are a part of theirs. They know you'll be there for them when they need it. On loop 3 (I think) when I was traversing miles 19-20 I was so "sure" I wasn't going to make it. But then out of the clear blue sky totally unexpected was Renee - my angel in disguise. She helped me down my "nemesis" and all seemed well from that point on. My despair and hopeless feeling was passed because I had someone else in my life to help me over the rough patches. How great a feeling is that. And it's not abuse when someone does it willingly and without being asked - it makes it so much more special. I have to tell you that I felt like the President or a Queen or something when I found out she was going to pace me and intended to do so. I had misinterpreted her facebook message to just mean that she'd be there to see me and yet she meant she was going to help me. What a beautiful glow that realization gave me. I felt special. And for awhile I felt I could do anything. And I did! But not alone - and you know what - that didn't diminish its value at all - in fact, I think it made it even more special!
- If you have to focus on the "bad", pick one bad thing and ignore the others. I found my "nemesis" as I called it early in the loop - a downhill with nice big rocks but they scared the you know what out of me and then even more so when they got slippery. So I focused on that primarily and forgot about the other obstacles - the other rocks and roots. Amazingly as the loops went by I forgot about the roots - good thing I missed them. Of course that was due to another great pointer from Renee - pick up my toes. I tried to remember that whenever I could.
The most important life lesson from this event, however, can be summed up in one word - KINDNESS - this whole day was really about kindness. The kindness and caring of everyone about everyone else. Even though each person was pursuing a goal of their own, traversing their own treacherous terrain (not really that treacherous though) and had their own endurance challenges but everyone was there for each other. There was always a smile, a "great job", "looking good", "keep up the great work" and you knew they really meant the spirit of it because they wanted you to succeed almost as much as they wanted themselves to (I said "almost" so I'm not in that Pollyanna world completely, ya know). That's what I've learned from this group in the past 6 weeks (and actually since Thanksgiving) - they are with you every step of the way and want you to succeed! You have no idea how important that is when you're just trying to put one foot in front of the other. The Kindness of the race director, the volunteers, the EMT, the spectators and the other runners was what got me through more than anything else - not my legs, not my will but their KINDNESS. Do not ever forget how important kindness is in your daily life. Make that your primary goal and you can't go wrong!