“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”
The Rolling Stones
Yesterday I completed the last 15 K of my YES Endurance Race journey. Adam and I had both been sick all week, so I was terrified that I would not be able to finish (although I told Adam I would drag myself across the finish line if I had to). Reducing the mileage was not an option. I wanted to complete the longest distance offered. Anything else would not feel like a challenge. I had been training for weeks, and I didn’t want to sell myself short. Unfortunately, the day before the race my throat was ON FIRE. I had taken decongestants all day to try to relieve the sinus pressure. That night I had nightmares about not being able to compete (and by compete I mean finish, as I have no delusions about my skill level at running).
When I awoke on the morning of race day, I was relieved to find I was feeling a little better. Adam and I both got up early, took our decongestants, and had some hot tea to soothe or throats before heading out. The weather for the race was beautiful, but a bit hot. Luckily the humidity had broke! It was not as crowded as at some of the other venues, but there was still a good turn out. I was one of 7 women who had signed up for the 15 K option. I recognized a few familiar faces, as the race has developed bit of a cult following.
After a few minutes idle chit-chat, all the runners approached the start line, and soon we were off. My body fought me the entire fist 5K, but I continued to force myself to run. However, by the time I hit the steep hills my legs were giving out. I wondered if I could survive 10 K let alone 15! I kept reminding myself that “what goes up must come down” and that this stretch of hills had to end eventually. I knew getting downhill would give my legs a chance to recover, and that (with any luck) the course would get easier. Still, it was one thing to think it and another to force my achy, virus ridden body to do it.
It’s funny something as simple as a cold can really affect your running performance. I was aware that the 15 K would be a struggle for me, having done a few lengthy runs on my own without hills as tough as the YES series offers. Yet, I did not expect for my symptoms to affect my running as much as they did. Frankly, it took almost all the fun out of it. As much as I tried to find my rhythm and enjoy the scenery, my body felt like it was burning up, and I was having trouble breathing. I sincerely wanted to quit- which is actually not unusual for me. It generally happens at about mile 4 when I hit the first “wall”. I had experienced it enough to expect it and to know that I would feel better if I push through it. However, this was not my typical 4 mile wall; this was like hitting the wall for the whole first half of the race.
When I caught up to Adam, I could see that he was as miserable as I was. This initially made me feel a little better; but when I lost him a short distance later where the course split, I became concerned that he was sicker than he looked. I wondered if he had opted for the 10 K path instead of the 15. Then, as I had hoped, the course got slightly easier. The hills were less steep, and I could finally feel my body settling into a rhythm. I was still miserable, exhausted, and my legs felt like lead, but I wanted to finish. I thought about how far I’d come, not just in the current race, but through the series. I had already covered so many miles. I knew that if I wanted to conquer the marathon in Oct. that I was going to have to get used to pushing my body through fatigue and exhaustion. I couldn’t stomach the idea of quitting, no matter how enticing it seemed at the moment. Besides, it was a long walk back to the start and would take significantly longer than just running and getting it over with. Plus, I really wanted that finisher medal!
By the time I hit 10 K, I was pondering whether to take another shot blok or hold out a little longer when my body gave me the answer. Too tired to lift my feet over the rocks, I tripped and fell flat on my face. It took me a minute to get myself up and going again. I so badly wanted to be finished. I was desperately hoping there were no more steep hills ahead, as I was convinced they would be the end of me. I was also terrified that I would lose the trail again, as I had already managed to get off track once and had to double back. However, the further I ran, the more attainable the finished seemed. Then before I knew it, I saw the familiar path back to the start, followed by a cheering crowd. I sailed out the woods to the finish, elated to have found it at last. When I looked I at my time, I didn’t believe it. I was certain I missed a loop to the course. Then the race organizer announced that I had won the female ultra point series (they tally the number of people you beat and multiply it by the number of races- I won mostly owing to the fact that I was the only female to race all 4). I was in disbelief, and then overwhelmed by dread. I didn’t see any of the women that had been ahead of me. I must have missed a loop. I didn’t want to watch the other finishers, afraid I would see them and confirm my fear. I was so terrified of being disqualified. I didn’t even care about the ultra title. I just wanted to be counted as a finisher so I could get the medal I worked for so hard.
They never came. A few people finished after me, but not the ones I’d been following. The last of the group was Adam. He got loud applause, as a rumor had already been spread through the crowd that he was running with the flu. I wondered if someone had seen him throw up on the course to arrive at that conclusion. I knew he had to be sick not to have been way ahead of me. We stayed briefly for the award ceremony, but I never got the medal. I wish I could say this didn’t bother me; but, in truth, I was devastated. Once I got into the car, I cried (I’d like to think this was in large part due to a combination of PMS and exhaustion). I felt cheated. I pushed myself through pain and misery, through four races for a total of 46 kilometers and felt like I had nothing to show for it. Sure, I had the experiences; but I wanted something tangible that I could put in a frame and look at on a bad day to remind myself of what I achieved. Adam tried to reassure me that they would probably send it in the mail. Despite the fact that this made complete logical sense, I didn’t believe him. I thought to myself how silly it was that I would rather have a cheap medal than prize money and free race entry to an exotic race in Ireland. Then I thought about the Rolling Stones lyrics about how “you can’t always get what you want…you get what you need”. I realized that maybe, even though I really wanted a medal, what I needed was the experience of another challenge. I was slightly discouraged at the idea of a 100 K race. However, when I got home and looked it up online, I saw that they have a 50 K option, and that 2 nights lodging and a shuttle from the airport are included in the registration fee. I wondered if this was part of the “free entry”. Perhaps there is a trip to Ireland in my future…