Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you up. Start here. ~Cheryl Strayed
I had lots of ideas about what running my first ultra-marathon, 50 miles at Nanny Goat, would be like. But what I never could have anticipated was that my life would be changed forever after crossing my finish line. The funny thing is, life still seems the same. I’m listening to the Bon Iver station on Pandora, I’m sweeping the kitchen floor (taking a break to make a feeble attempt at starting this post) while my 15 month old blows raspberries by my feet and my 5-year-old twins are running back and forth upstairs acting out Star Wars. I’m watching the clock, calculating the time I have to fold about 6 loads of laundry before we have to pick up my oldest daughter from school. It’s all the same.
But it’s not.
All along it was a fever
A cold sweat hot-headed believer
I thought I was living life, and I was, but now it’s as if I see things without the foggy lens I had been wearing. I walked away from Nanny Goat learning the biggest lesson: Focus on the people who love you, care about you and want the best for you. Whether they are family, friends, or strangers. And every negative, judgmental, unsupportive person in your life–well, their opinions of you don’t matter. Not one little bit. To say I feel free and light is an understatement.
I threw my hands in the air, said, “Show me something,”
He said, “If you dare, come a little closer.”
I felt the energy of Nanny Goat the moment I walked onto the farm. Because that’s where Nanny Goat takes place, on a gorgeous horse ranch; it’s a one mile loop of dirt, mud, grass, paved road, and gravel. And the people are unlike any I’ve ever met before–they welcomed me, a complete stranger and newbie to ultras, with hellos and warm smiles. And when I told someone I was ‘only running 50 miles’, knowing there were plenty of people tackling 100, she responded with, ‘Don’t say only. You’re not only running 50 miles. You are running FIFTY miles!’ That sums up the people at Nanny Goat, encouraging and kind and strong beyond belief.
It feels so silly to say it, but it’s my truth: This whole thing has changed my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the right words and I guess I don’t care if people think it’s silly, because in the end, it is just running. But something happened that I can’t quite articulate yet–like I died a million times out there and was born again, only to die and be born again over and over. Because when the pain became all consuming and I thought I didn’t have anything else to give, I would suddenly feel a tiny bit of strength come back. Not strength in my legs or muscles…but a strength in my mind and heart. And it was like a dim light that would grow brighter and brighter until I felt alive and running again. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Never ran a race as hard as this before. And I guess in some strange way, I want to do it again. And again.
How do you even begin to thank a group of strangers for changing your life?
Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now, tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know.
I went into this race naive: I thought, it wouldn’t feel any worse than the weekend I did a training run of 27 miles on a Saturday and 27 miles on a Sunday. I was wrong, so wrong, and now, I can laugh at my innocence.
I made lots of mistakes.
I didn’t let myself relax and embrace the miles. Instead, when it got tough, there were times I resisted and struggled in my pain. I got too caught up in my pace. But I think that is also just so much of my personality. Setting goals within goals within goals. I refused to let myself walk the first half of the race–if I had opened my eyes I would have realized that was a mistake as most of the other runners incorporated walking from the get go, I stopped taking nutrition because I was hit with nausea and an inability to eat anything after mile 35, I had a knee pain that took my breath away and forced me to walk parts of the course, and I’m pretty sure I stopped too many times at my aid station to wet my head with a sponge instead of at least doing that while walking.
Because I lost all sense of time out there, it was such an unexpected surprise to learn after I finished, I crossed the finish line in 10 hours and 23 minutes! A gift, because I was hurting so badly, and that finish time, the finish line, and everything that I learned about myself; about the support of friends and family, about this ultra community–it was worth every ounce of pain. Every single ounce.
Not really sure how to feel about it.
It takes me all the way.
Here’s what happened to me at Nanny Goat: I ran, I laughed, I smiled, I walked, I limped, I sobbed in pain, and at a certain point I was barely holding on by a thread. I turned into a cracked version of me–if you held a magnifying glass to my heart you would see it was shattered into a million pieces and the only thing that was holding it together was hope.
Hope that I would somehow finish the race. That hope was made up of family that was there running with me and keeping my head up, my husband and children at home sending me pictures and video messages that picked me up when I felt like I had nothing left to give, friends and family sending out such positive energy with their encouraging words and prayers, my coach who believed in me more than I believed in myself, seeing the other runners giving it their all–no matter what their distance or pace was.
Miles are miles. And when I finished? My cracked heart was welded together–stronger than before. Because as usual, running changes the heart more than any other body part.
The last two miles is when my mind went back to a good place. I let it go dark for too long. It was in those last 2 miles that I thought–Wait. Maybe I can go for 100k.
It was a fleeting thought because when I hit mile 49, I knew I wanted to end it. I tried to soak in every detail in that last mile.
The smells, the people I had seen over and over–the guy dressed up in a jester costume, the barefoot runner who was steady and sure, the man who reminded me of my brother who walked the whole way–one step at a time but so determined, the 76 year old man, the men dressed in pink drinking beer the entire race, the speed walker who never once lost her groove and was in such a zone I wanted to get in her head, the orange trees that provided shade and a weird sense of comfort for me, the orange cone of death that everyone talked about before the race and I wondered at the time–how could an orange cone be so bad?
And after running around it 50 times I realized it was that cone that messed up my knee, seeing my friend Robin and her sweet boy John and getting to hug her–finally!! The angel that sat in the barn cheering every single runner, every single mile as we ran through, the smell of the BBQ that would make me turn green, the lady wearing a shirt with words on the back that said Jesus Loves You and when I would forget about His love, I’d see her shirt and thank God she was there to remind me, the screen that flashed our miles every time we went through the barn and the lady who manned that station with an encouraging smile every time I ran by, the runner who seemed to be floating every time I saw her with a relaxed smile…so much more.
Crossing the finish line, well, I wish I could bottle it up and keep it in my pocket. It’s not like a road race where hundreds and thousands gather at the finish line. In this race, it’s just you celebrating your own victory. It’s simply beautiful. My family was there–2 brothers and my 2 cousins who stayed the whole time and two new runner friends who were tackling 100 miles stopped their racing to be there for me—I crossed the line (where ever it was, I never could figure out exactly when we crossed to the next mile) with relief and joy. Then I burst into tears and fell into hugs, lots of hugs. Steve, the race director, grabbed me in a big hug and let me cry my eyes out.
These people are just so different than any other group I’ve ever known. And I want more. And maybe that’s how I can thank them. By going back to run with my new friends at Nanny Goat and pushing myself to an even farther distance. This time, smiling more and worrying less.
Song credit: Stay, Jasmine Thompson