I don’t have a camper van. I don’t live in the mountains. My ability to post aspirational tales about epic international travel and adventures is limited. Not only am I not a Hardrocker, or a UTMB-er, but I don’t pine wistfully about running either one because they are totally impractical to my life. For those that do these things, you inspire me too. I love eye-candy mountain running pictures as much as anyone.
But no, for better or worse, my life isn’t about all-day playtime on gnarly terrain, gathering wood to make my own fires or any such things. I guess you could say my life is pretty ‘standard.’ I’m a lawyer with a mortgage, car payments, and two wonderful boys that my husband and I would do just about anything for. And even though I’m not on the PTA, we both coach youth track in our community. I love being ‘Coach Caroline’ and helping the kids in our small valley channel their energy into something safe, welcoming and healthy.
Why do I mention these things? I mention them because in the midst of a life that is, I suppose, largely ordinary (not that I would trade it for anything), ultrarunning is my crazy. It definitely fits squarely outside the box of what people ‘like me’ do, but it’s my sanctuary and I don’t just love it, I need it. I need it to grow as a person, to balance me, to engage my mind and body, to connect me with the outdoors. Sure, I’m the Mom who shows up to school disheveled, make-up free and salty. Yes, even though my run was likely hours ago, I’m still wearing my running shoes because I’ve been trying to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before school pick-up. I’m totally comfortable with that, because it’s who I am. But now, on top of everything else, we’re opening a new business, and trying to find a way to pay for that, and it’s almost Christmas, and that adds additional layers that make my head spin and lose me sleep. Running is my solace, my outlet for all of that.
Heading into a race, all of these things matter. Most days I wish life were simpler. Especially right now, when we’re in the thick of it, I wish that I wasn’t quite so overwhelmed by it all. I tell myself that the running will help with that, and it does. Let me assure you, if I knew one thing for certain going into Brazos Bend 100, it was that I wasn’t going to DNF. No hundred miler has ever gone that smoothly for me, but I’ve always found a way to persist. This 100 miler was on a course I know and love, with an amazing group of people there to support me and cheer me on. Stress in my life was at something near an all-time high, but somehow my running leading up to the race was going fantastically. I felt super comfortable with my race plan. I was open to the possibility that this was going to be the day that I nailed 100 miles, just as I was open to the possibility that I wouldn’t. I was committed to go the distance. Even if I didn’t nail it, I had prepped for that too.
So, what went wrong? That’s a hard one to explain. If I had to guess, it would be this. When I was out there, it was clear that my body was trying to tell me something that my mind didn’t consciously acknowledge. Because ultimately, while running gives me sanity, running 100 miles is undeniably hard. In my state of mind, simply getting there became one more thing to try to squeeze in to an already packed schedule. The worm had turned, and instead of the race becoming outlet, it ended up feeling like one more insurmountable thing to do. At this moment in my life, I’d had enough, my body had had enough.
And yet, once I was there, I reasoned I had nothing better to do with my day than run. I kept waiting for the miles to click off, for flow to come, but they all felt forced and uncomfortable. I thought I needed to warm up from the 30 degree start time, but when I did, I found it wasn’t that. Give it time to find something sustainable, I reasoned, so I kept going. Now, 100 miles is a long way to fight against a rebelling body, so even though I knew my fitness was better than my body was willing to offer, I allowed myself to slow down a little. Alright, 8:30’s it is, I guess. Should be able to keep that going for a good long while, even if it’s not going to be an especially fast day. But no, then it was 8:45, 9:00, 9:30s. I could hardly understand what was happening when I looked at my watch. I don’t run that slow on my slowest post-race recovery days. I was less than 30 miles in. I fought back against those times because there is absolutely no reason on earth for me to be running that slow. But my back ached insufferably and my hamstrings cramped. I let it get to me. Deep down I knew that in that moment, I had crossed over from running as a release to running as a task. With only myself to blame for signing up for 100 miles in the midst of all that I have going on right now, it ended up feeling like simply one more thing I felt I had to do. This time, my body said no. And 32 miles later, my mind acquiesced.
Not finishing a race feels terrible, but I don’t regret it. This isn’t the end of the world. It’s just running! Running continues to be something that gives me great joy, and is endlessly rewarding across the spectrum, from the small ‘that-felt better-than-expected’ days to the big headlining ones. It continues to fulfill my hopes and dreams beyond anything I could ever have imagined. It is an essential, non-negotiable part of my being. I want to continue building fitness carefully and consistently. I have big, exciting goals for 2018! For now though, it’s time to start making this home feel a little more Christmas and a little less ‘we’re about to open a business’ with papers everywhere and boxes littering hallways and a garage filled with restaurant furniture. Let’s get this business open (finally!!), wrap up some time-intensive work projects in my other job, hug my kids, love my family. And yes, run.