Spoiler alert: I didn’t finish the 50K.
Also note: On Friday I tripped over a chair in my apartment resulting in the chair landing on my right ankle and thus having to ice it for the entire day to keep the swelling down.
So, Saturday. What I did do was wake up at 5:00am. I drank some coffee and ate a bagel. My dad drove me to the start point where I picked up my race bib (#298). I dropped off one backpack at the bag drop and made sure I had enough water. We lined up for the race. I stood near the back because I didn’t want to hold anyone up.
The 50K started. The Ultra that I had been dreading and longing for had begun.
For the first while, the group was packed (as is any race). There was part where the route went under the highway so we had to walk alongside the river. A rope was slung to hold onto to manage to only get up to our ankles submerged, but I saw a few people try to sprint by. Some managed, some toppled over and came up completely drenched. While the forecast said it was supposed to just have a light drizzle later on in that day, that “drizzle” showed up early and as a decent rainfall. I fell behind the pack but kept going. Just one foot in front of the other.
When I reached Mount Finlayson, I looked up to see a wall of rocks that I would have to climb to get to the top. I couldn’t see any other runners (ahead of me or behind me). Seeing the rock wall, I was thrilled. Years of climbing over rocks to get close to the ocean, or just get higher on mountains for fun, was suddenly going to be put into use and I hadn’t even known it. I grasped the first rock and started climbing. It was still raining and the rocks were slimy.
About ¾ up the climb, I found myself facing a sheer rock face. It was only about 15 ft tall and had small spots I knew I could grip, but there was no way around it but up. I started to climb but partway up slid down. I landed on the ledge on my left ankle. The mountain side got to hear some vehement swearing as I quickly turned and climbed the sheet of rock successfully. I kept moving even faster (still carefully) but when I got to the top I realized now both ankles were weakened. I had no basis for balance and my stability was completely off. I was a few kilometres from the aid station so I kept going (what other choice did I have?).
That few kilometres was hard. I wavered back and forth about continuing. While my left ankle didn’t seem that bad, I had been using it for balance while keeping the weight off my right. Stepping down over rocks or tree branches always had been onto my left but now I couldn’t really tell how bad it was. I couldn’t switch and use my right because did know how bad it was.
I wanted to continue. I wanted so badly to continue. I had been dreaming of this and working towards cross-training. I was mad that it wasn’t the injuries that I had recently obtained that were stopping me (the eye pressure, the hamstring) or even my old injuries (the IT bands). It wasn’t that I didn’t have the endurance or the resolution to finish no matter how many hours it took. It wasn’t the fear or negativity that I could do it.
I wanted to continue to show that I could do it. That despite my epilepsy, I could complete an Ultra-Marathon. I wanted to continue because I was loving the climbing over rocks and down hillsides holding onto roots or wading through rivers. I wanted to complete it because I wanted to be there.
By the time I reached the aid station, my right foot was throbbing because of the need to put weight on it to offset my left foot. I was cranky but I knew what I had to do. I called my dad. I withdrew from the race and my dad came and picked me up. The aid station had perogies which made me feel a bit better but no amount of cheese-filled-potatoes could change that I felt like a failure. I just knew that if I had kept going, even just tried to go to the next aid station, these small injuries could become big injuries and I might not be able to run again.
Picking up my drop bag, a fellow handed me the headscarf and beer glass that was being given out. I told him that I had withdrawn, not finished. He pointed out to me “But you started”.
“But you started”. Even today, I am still feeling low about myself for not finishing. I had not even been at the first aid station before I knew I would have to withdraw. I have to keep reminding myself of that message. “But you started”.
I got up. That is not something that I could have done a few years ago.
I started. That is not something I would have been ready for you.
I withdrew. That took the awareness and responsibility of me to know that I needed to stop before making me worse.
There’s always next year.