How do you know when it’s time to pull the plug? What is it that you’re holding onto when you make the choice to keep going? What exactly are you fighting for? Why does it matter to you?
These are the questions I was grappling with while running the Kettle Moraine 100 this past weekend, but the direct parallels between running the race I was in and coming to a crossroads in my thirteen year marriage were omnipresent in my mind.
A few weeks ago, David Horton (who at 71 years old just celebrated 50 years of marriage with his wife, Nancy, and is currently biking his way across the US in the Trans America Bike Race) texted me and asked me how I was doing physically and mentally after SCAR. I told him that physically I was feeling good, but mentally struggling with some life stuff that I’d fill him in about in person. He responded, “You don’t NEED to do a 100 miler unless you know for sure you’re ready.” Maybe in the back of my mind I knew he was onto something. With a Barkley Marathons finish, two Hardrock wins, and many other ultrarunning feats under his belt, the guy knows a thing or two about running hundred milers. Not wanting to overthink it, I kind of shrugged it off and reasoned with myself, well, how does anyone really know if they’re ready to run a hundred miles?
When my husband and I exchanged vows at the ages of 22 and 23, we were unabashedly in love and hungry to take on the world together. Marriage is a big big big thing, bigger than all the hundred milers of the world combined. We were ready… as far as we could fathom at the time. Besides, how does anyone really know if they’re ready for marriage?
When signing up for a race, you’re essentially saying, “Here’s what I want, this is what I intend to do.” But do you truly understand what you’re signing up for and what that could mean? What is your goal or intention worth to you, and what is your reason behind it? How much discomfort are you willing to endure? How many storms can you weather? How much mud are you willing to slop through? How many bug bites can you stand? What if you can’t be the fastest or the bestest version of yourself, or even worse, you can’t be the most perfect? What if you have to sit in a chair for 30 minutes or more before reviving yourself enough to get up again and keep going? What if it means you have to walk it in? What if it means you’re not as tough as you thought you were?
You’ve likely heard me tell this story before, but all the same: I wasn’t even halfway finished with the Appalachian Trail when my goal of setting a record slipped out of reach. I had reached a crossroads and had a decision to make. The thought of not reaching Katahdin was absolutely devastating to me. My own pride might have kept me from continuing on, because why continue on such a difficult journey without getting the shiny title of Record Holder? I had a million personal reasons to keep going, however, and that made it meaningful enough for me to continue on. I was on a personal mission and nothing was going to stop me unless something catastrophic happened. I was committed through the end. The rewards from that experience are a gift that have kept on giving, starting with a shaky, tearful moment of awe and disbelief, alone and 2,193 miles away my starting point in Georgia, resting briefly on the summit of Katahdin.
52 miles into the Kettle Moraine 100, I came to yet another crossroads while sitting on a chair (the tempting, dreaded “chaïr“) in the shade in 90 degree heat at an aid station, sipping an iced coke after having puked relentlessly in the woods forty minutes prior, trying to decide whether or not I should keep going. I wanted to stop and was ready to stop. Looking back I was showing some pretty clear symptoms of heatstroke. But I nearly kept going because I would have been so embarrassed to quit my first 100. I hated to think I was the kind of person who would just… stop. Wasn’t getting to that finish line worth fighting for? Isn’t love worth fighting for? In the end, walking another 48 miles to save face was not a good enough reason to me to keep going. In some really really hard and honest conversations with my husband three weeks prior, we concluded that staying together for the sake of portraying a conventional marriage, at the expense of living inauthentically and unhappily, was not enough of a reason to keep going. I accepted an aid station volunteer’s kind offer to give me a ride to the next aid station over, where I would be reunited with my crew.
My long weekend away in Wisconsin coincided with my husband’s move out of our condo in Portland. I was grateful to have something else to turn my focus toward, as well as having the support and presence of my dad Rodney and my friend Adrienne during a strange, difficult, and emotional time.
Back in Portland after my return flight, I stepped off the light rail and walked through my residential neighborhood, bracing myself for the strangeness and sadness to continue as it would mark the first night of my life living alone; quite an unfamiliar feeling in a very familiar setting. It was a beautiful, summery evening.
Thanks for reading. At first, I began to write a straight-up recap of Kettle Moraine, but it didn’t feel right. If you’re curious about the play-by-play, I may still write one up and have it live on my website and will link to it next week if so.
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