Where to begin? Where to End? I’m not sure. A dream was born within me a little over two years ago, and it was recognized last weekend. I had imagined that afterwords I would have some revelation, that I would feel some sense of joy and closure at accomplishing such a dream. Don’t get me wrong, the revelations and growing up that have happened over the past two years have been immense. The joy and happiness that filled me on the morning of Saturday September 12th 2015 is a feeling that I wish I could bottle up and save forever, re-living it over and over again. But the truth is, I sit here days later feeling confused, having trouble articulating and making sense of what I have acomplished. I know that this journey has impacted a piece of me forever, yet I struggle to comprehend the how and the when.
It all started for me September 7th 2013. I’m not sure how I ended up there but I found myself looking at the Superior 100 Facebook page following the progress of runners I didn’t even know in a race I didn’t even know. At this point in time I had run one 50 miler (and an easy one on carriage paths at that). Somehow watching the Facebook updates come in on day two I realized that a new goal had been planted in my mind. I wanted to run 100 miles through the Minnesota north country. 100 miles with 42,000 ft of elevation change over terrain classified as “Rugged, Relentless, Remote"
This won’t be a standard race report. How could I possibly sum up the last two years into one post? I couldn’t, I wouldn’t even try to. Instead this is a selection of moments, of lessons learned along the way.
Mindset Over Hindsight
It's Sept. 5 2014 around 10 p.m. in northern Minnesota. I look down, my headlamp illuminating my GPS watch: 14 hours, 62 miles, 11,000 feet of elevation gain and the same of loss. Im tired, sore, my stomach feels queazy. I reach down, my fingers fumbling for the cold metal safety pins holding my race bib to my shorts. I unpin them one by one. I was done.
At the time I was proud of myself. I had made it 62 miles, further than ever before. I tried to convince myself that it was ok. I proclaimed:
"it's okay to dream big, and it's okay to redefine failure and success. Victory (without a doubt) is crossing the finish line. Victory (with a capital "V") is also committing to the starting line. At the end of the day it doesn't matter if you come in first or last or don't even finish at all! What matters is that you toe the starting line with conviction and cary yourself with the type of spirit, grit, and passion that maybe just maybe has the possibility to inspire others or even yourself. If you are losing faith in human nature... go out and do something that makes you proud of yourself.”
As the days passed after Sept 5th 2014 I realized I wasn’t happy with myself. I felt like a failure. Not because I stopped at mile 62, but because I honestly couldn’t look myself in the mirror and say that I gave it everything that I had. I quit with gas left in the tank. Being perfect is not about coming in first place, its about your relationship with yourself and your crew. Being perfect is about being able to look your crew and yourself in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could’ve done. At the end of the day I realized that I couldn't look in a mirror and say this to myself, or to my parents who had flown out to Minnesota with me and spent the past 14 hours caring for me.
At the end of the day, my problem was I came to the starting line with the mindset that it was OK to quit, that it was OK as long as I made it further than I ever had before. In hindsight, my mindset was wrong.
Outlasting Your Old You
It’s Sept 12th 2015 around 4 AM in northern Minnesota. I exhale, the warmth of my breath in the 43 degree air is illuminated by my headlamp as I climb up Carlton Peak. 1,500 ft of what feels like bouldering on legs that have been carrying me forward for nearly 20 hours. I dig my trekking poles in, struggling to pull myself upward into the night sky, trying to take some of the strain off my left knee. Somewhere over the last few hours my left leg has seized up with cramps. No amount of stretching will loosen it, and my knee is swollen and won’t bend.
Quitting isn’t an option, it doesn’t even cross my mind. As we near the top I laugh to myself and I say out loud to my pacer Maggie “I’ve never been in this much pain.” I don’t think she replies, or if she does I’m too exhausted to process it and save the memory. It’s a weird feeling, I recognized that it was the worst pain that I had ever been in yet I was ok with it. Quitting was never an option.
I had been in pain for hours. Pain hits a point where its hard to say that it gets worse. Its just a state that your in. Yet over the past hours we were making progress forward. What once was 50 miles to go, was 50k to go, was a marathon to go, a half marathon to go...and so forth. It was a revelation that was so profound that I don’t even know how to express it. Pain was ok. Being uncomfortable was ok. Being up against the biggest challenge life had ever thrown at me was ok. In my mind I knew that all I had to do was outlast it. Could I take another 5 minutes of pain, how about another 5 minutes, and another 5 minutes? Of course I could, because I already had. All I had to do to get to the new me, to recognize my dream was outlast the pain, outlast the old me to get to the new me.
Chasing The Wrong Dream
I walked out of the final aid station at mile 96 alone. My pacer was somewhere back at the aid station stuffing her face with Pancakes (Apparently they were the best she had ever had). As I power hiked onward waiting to hear her footsteps fall in line behind mine tears began to run down my cheeks. I had 7 miles to go, but suddenly it dawned on me that despite the excruciating pain I was in, despite the fact that I could no longer run I didn't want the experience to end.
I remember thinking to myself that I had spent two years chasing a dream. Training run to training run, strength training session to stretching session. And over the past 20 some hours aid station to aid station. There were no more aid stations, no more checkpoints along the journey. As I walked down the trail it dawned on me that there was just 7 miles of trail left between me and a dream that was born two years ago.
So why was I crying? I don't think i'll ever know. Maybe its because it finally dawned on me that I was going to accomplish my goal. Or Maybe its because I realized that while it was important to finish my goal, I already had. Somewhere along the 3,000+ miles I had logged since my failed Superior attempt in 2014, the sacrifices of prioritizing training over friends and family, the early mornings and the constant fatigue I had felt for the past year that I had already accomplished my dream.
I'll never know but I can tell you that it was one of the most profound moments of my 30 year life. I'm not going to encourage you to go out and run 100 miles, but what I will say is everybody should have goals and dreams that at first seam impossible. Dreams that you will have to work at. Dreams that will lead to failure. But when you fail don't give up. Keep working towards it. I promise you, it will change your life forever.
As I reflect upon my experience over the past 2 years working on accomplishing this dream I've come to realize that this dream was a lot bigger than just myself. I couldn't have done it without all of the wonderful volunteers and spectators who are part of the Superior Fall Races Family, but there are a few special people I need to recognize as well.
Great moments are born out of great opportunities. And great opportunities are born out of perfection. Theres a small army that followed me around for 26 hours and 20 minutes that executed with complete perfection. They selflessley set me up and held me up to accomplish my dream. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In summary... i'm not really sure what I could say besides this: