Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Life's Aid Stations

Ultrarunning events, particularly those of 50 or more miles, are often compared to life. Runners begin their journey prepared - with fresh legs, energy, and all of the tools for however they define success. Some runners simply hope to complete the journey and feel good about themselves and their accomplishment(s) while others strive to be the best. All motivations are equally valid and are up to the individual to define, accept, and ultimately be satisfied with.

Many runners will begin the event way too fast and suffer significantly or be forced to end the event early. Others will take a more methodical and conservative pace which results in an overall better experience, often times better results, and increases their likelihood of making it the entire distance. It's critical for runners to take care of their nutrition and bodies. Seemingly minor problems such as blisters can develop into much larger problems as the race progresses. There are always highs and lows. A runner can feel like they can't go on at mile 60 but feel strong at mile 70. Regardless of how the race is run, the athlete's body will slow at the end and be wrecked by the finish. And while the pain is significant, the journey along the way is what makes the effort worth while.

My year in running has thus far been defined as the year I've focused primarily on long distance trail events, having completed a 100k mountain run in northern California and more recently, a 50 miler here in Wisconsin. One of my most memorable take aways from these events is how generously the aid station volunteers cared for the runners. I've run plenty of road events where aid stations were identified as a mere place to maybe grab a very quick swig of water before carrying on in an expeditious pace. In difficult 50ks and 50+ mile ultras, they are much more. Unless the runner is going to cary a significant volume of calories and hydration, they are absolutely required for completion.

These volunteers give up a full day or more of their time to ensure runners stay safe and maximize their chances of reaching their goal of completing the event at task. They bake (sometimes quesadillas or pancakes!), set up tents, lay out several different nutrient dense food options, they repair blisters, touch other people's sweaty stuff, fill packs with ice, provide encouragement, deal with those who are moody due to glucose deprivation or lack of sleep, and clean up the mess when it's all over. They are unselfish angels whose character contribute to the culture and spirit of ultra distance running.

This week has been one of the most difficult of my life. I've felt anger I've never felt I was capable of feeling, sadness that left me wondering how I could possibly continue moving forward, sleepless nights wondering what the future will hold.

I've always had an ever-changing network of friends I could count on to have a good time with but never had much of anyone I'd feel comfortable confiding in. Fear of being judged or shamed has always kept me from getting close enough to anyone in order to share my darkest, deepest, rawest emotions with. I haven't had the confidence to make myself vulnerable, fearing I'd be perceived as crazy or carrying too much drama. After all, who wants to be friends with a downer?

This week, in my broken state, I was so desperate to make myself feel better that I found the courage to talk to people I trust but have never been vulnerable with. I came to them in a raw state. With some I cried. I talked about my fears, my pain, my mistakes. I've been a ragged runner, exhausted, beat down, on the verge of quitting, and unable to see the finish line. These friends and family members have listened, loved, and given me strength. They've been my life aid station volunteers, and I'm so grateful for them.