I’m not a competitive person, as a matter of fact I founded a trail running club around the premise that experiences always trumps time, that speed comes second to the enjoyment that one gets from the feeling of crushing dirt underfoot.
90% of the time I race I run by these rules. I’ve been known to stop and take in a view, snap a photo, or drop back to run with somebody i’m having a particularly enlightening conversation with. But I have a confession, sometimes I’m a fraud.
Its a beautiful Sunday on the Shawangunk Ridge. I wipe my face with a bandana tied around my wrist removing layers of sweat and salt that been steadily growing since the temperatures have reached the upper 70’s. The aid station captain hands me back two full bottles and says “Your in 4th. Your 2 minutes behind 3rd and 10 behind 2nd.”
I slide the bottles into the front of my hydration pack and I start running down the trail. Each step sends shooting pain through my hip flexors. I’ve practiced running uphill too much, the 17% grade descent around mile 36 destroyed my legs and my left ab is burning (it would later turn out to be a Kidney infection).
I’m at mile 42 which means I’m 8 miles from the finish line. I glance at my watch: 5 hours 25 minutes it reads. I laugh to myself. The night before I was going over my estimated arrivals at aid stations with my crew. Two years prior I had run a 7:03, the year before with a knee injury I hobbled my way to a 9:13 finish.
The night before the race in a discussion with my crew they had said “We’ll have more time than the first year. You won't be running that fast again.” And then the morning of the race I was talking with Todd the race director about the expected heat and he said “Just take it easy, today doesn’t need to be another 7 hour day.”
All day I had been running ahead of my estimated 8 hour schedule. I actually missed my crew at mile 24 and stubbornly ran off without re-filling my water bottles which led to an uncomfortable 3 mile stretch with empty bottles and a temper tantrum over my missed bottle of coconut water (Mike thanks for listening to me vent)!
Anyways, back to the moment. I glance at my watch: 5 hours 25 minutes it reads. I laugh to myself. 8 miles to go. If I can run it in under 1 hour and 38 minutes I can snag a new PR. This is where I get competitive. This is where the pressure I put on myself is my own worst enemy.
The devil is in the details that I tend to overlook. There’s a chip on my shoulder, a voice in my head that comes out that tells me that I’m not strong enough, brave enough, and that being successful is something I don’t deserve.
I let the voice take over for a moment and I slow to a walk. I take five steps. Theres a fight going on in my head that I can’t even describe. My body is saying “This hurts, lets walk” and its also saying “I’m not broken, theres energy left lets go.” My head is saying “Your too weak Dylan. You won’t PR. Just take it easy, accept defeat” and its also saying “Lets go. Its time to show what we’ve got. All that hard work we’ve put in, its so we can be a champion in this moment”.
To be honest I don't remember what happened but 4 miles later I found myself flying down the the side of the ridge at a 7:20 pace with two songs on repeat in my iPod.
I wish i could remember what happened in those 5 steps that I walked at mile 43. Time stopped and there was a battle royale between mind, body and the potential of what was possible. With each stride the devil on my shoulder attacked, and I attacked back. Imaginary blood was spilled, lives were lost and gained and my dusty shoes trampled a devil who dared challenge me.
5 steps later I was running and 4 miles later my mind and awareness found its way back to my body.
I ended up crossing the finish line in 6 hours, 33 minutes and 22 seconds. A 30 minute Personal Record. I've written about Rock The Ridge two times before, and its a very special race for me.
So what did I learn this time? I'm not sure. Maybe I learned that hard work pays off, or that I can beat that chip on my shoulder. Maybe it's ok to have a bit of competition in you. Maybe its good to challenge yourself, to want to do your best. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face not because I came in 3rd, but because I did the very best that I could. At the end of the day all we can give is all we have to give, and there is something very satisfying in that.
Plus a big shout out to my amazing Crew (and thanks to my Coach Michele Yates for kicking my butt)
And a big shout out to all my Teammates and friends who also Rocked The Ridge and for all the epic smiles and high fives along the way!
- Shoes: Hoka Challenger ATR
- 7 gu gels
- 1 cliff bar mini
- 1 slice of homemade pumpkin bread
- 2 fig newtons
- 2 half PB&J sandwiches
- 6 Endurolytes
- 1 glass of coke
- 1 aleve