Pre-race reports have become a necessary “detox” for my brain as it prepares for what is about to happen.
What is about to happen is, well, a lot.
I am neither ignorant nor ungrateful to all who have brought me to this point. From a sponsor standpoint, La Sportiva went out of their way to ensure I had everything I needed to train and get here. Gnarly Nutrition answered every sporadic “oh, no, I’m out of whey, it’s late and I have a big training day tomorrow…” text – and not only took care of all my needs, but often did training runs with me. Cass at Momentum Athlete encouraged me to drain my tank in strength training, to push my boundaries physically, to be strong as a whole. Trail And Ultra Running (TAUR) reaching out to fill the gaps with any gear I needed.
But there has been more support than that. Help with plane tickets, gifts of food during training, people literally just showing up on days they knew I was doing mountain repeats. Tokens, little notes, comments on Strava, Instagram, Facebook. Encouragement, friendship. People telling me that I inspire them, and the little inward smile that brings, because I do not see myself as inspirational…But I see such a joy in the brief human connection as we look at each other, see each other. The inspiration that it brings to me share something, even if just a memory or photo, with someone. I take motivation from watching other people do their thing – to push their limits – and the glow they have as they do what they think they could not do. The look of accomplishment when they do the things they knew they could do, but did not want to do.
While training, I watched people with great satisfaction as they grew. Their first Grandeur double, their second. Their improvements became my improvements. Their excitement became mine. Your excitement became as my own.
I am not so presumptuous as to make claim that I will finish. Even the most experienced vets do not make such a claim. The essence of Barkley is to attempt something that is on the limits of human capability. Something that very well may not be possible…and to try it anyway. To work so hard, just to see. The only way to know what you’re capable of is to try something that may be too much.
A Barkley finish seems to entail 3 primary things: physical ability, navigation, and mental strength.
I know that I am well-trained, and the confidence in my training is something I will reflect on frequently. I feel like I’ve done all I could do without pushing into over-training. I did weeks nearing 50,000ft of vertical gain, I did 24 hours of mountain repeats amidst a major training cycle, followed by the roughest week of training 5 days later. I feel strong, capable. This new-found “confidence” bears with it a companion – fear of pain. I know now how much pain I can tolerate, how I can grovel on when my body is done. I remember literally crawling up to the summit Grandeur on all fours, wasted. Throwing up when I was done. I know that I can do more than I physically can bear, and that is an unfortunate thought.
Navigation is without a doubt where I am the weakest. I can set my bearing and go, but my experience drawing a triangle and using a compass as a sole means of navigation is limited. While I’m told an ability to read and memorize terrain and map skills are more important than compass skills, excluding time in dense fog or poor weather, I know that navigation is a major factor for me and “latching” onto a vet to memorize, make notes, and ‘practice’ the route with compass for at least a lap or two is more than crucial.
Mental strength—here is an interesting one for me of late. Life has not been kind to me the last year, and I’ve dealt with more “hard things” than I could ever imagine, all in such a short time span. I wish I could say I handled it all in stride, but I didn’t. I broke down. I cried. I cried on repeats on West Grandeur. I cried at work. I sporadically cried all the time… and I am not one who cries, not at sad movies or books, not in physical pain, not often at all. I felt like I couldn’t keep myself together. I felt broken, and still do.
Broken and defeated are not the same emotion. When I was down and didn’t have legs to stand on, others were not only my crutches, they helped to carry me emotionally. There is a mass of mental strength in knowing others are with you, even when they are not physically present. All the stresses of life won’t be “out there.” It will be me, my memories of those who have loved and supported me. There is strength in watching oneself take energy from seeing glimpse of sunlight above the pit they are in, and use it to climb out. I’ve discovered that I am strong enough to do the things that I don’t want to do. It matches the brief look of despair I see on the faces of experienced 100 mile racers as they toe the line. They know what is required of them, they know that they are strong enough, and it is a sullen confidence in the awaiting suffering.
A friend posted on Facebook the quote “before something great happens, everything must fall apart.”
Perhaps the “great” is that I finish Barkley and become the first female finisher. Perhaps the great is that I don’t. Perhaps instead I discover all the beauty in terror and pain, and a rejuvenation in my thought that suffering, and the power to overcome it, is perhaps the greatest resource a person can have. Perhaps it is both. Either way, I will discover what it is I am or am not capable of. And I offer great thanks for all who have, and continue to, provide encouragement.
Regardless of what is “out there,” I am ready. Bring it.
…And to Stephen, whom after giving me a pep talk, said to his daughter “Do you think that girl who made you Dad’s coffee will be the first woman to finish Barkley? I do. I bet she will.” Thanks for always believing I could do anything. This ones for you, with a Tahoe 200 hat in your honor, you’ll be with me.