“You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are.”
Those words greeted the racers at about mile marker 20-21 of the 26-mile off-road trail challenge – the Megatransect (a.k.a. “MEGA”) - in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. How true the prose rung in my ears realizing at that very point, I was going to finish my very first marathon – not a flat, hardtop, easy 26 miles like normal folks do – but a 5,500 elevation gain, rocky path marathon. And here’s the kicker: I didn’t do any run-hike-specific training for which makes for a noteworthy blog post and a little sharing of life’s lessons on human spirit and the wonderful bodies we occupy. Yes, we all are truly stronger than we think we are.
I finished the Transylvania Epic in 2011 – a 7-day mountain bike stage race in Rothrock State Forest that took 8 months of training to prepare for riding for about 30 hours in 7 days. My life revolved around training and preparing for that thing. We were physically ready and yes, we finished it. It was something we were very proud of completing. After that, I wanted another challenge equally hard and I picked an off-road marathon. I blogged about it here saying if I can get in on registration, it was meant to be. If I didn’t, oh well. Low and behold, I got in and the race sold out in 90 minutes. That meant it was time to start training – again.
Just like preparing for 7 days of mountain biking, I devised a training plan with a couple key races to help build distance and endurance. The first big race was the 16-mile Hyner Challenge in April. During February and March, I slowly added mileage like all the textbooks say, and come Hyner race day, I finished – but not without stress. I ached the last 4 miles and prayed I could finish. My body was crying for me to stop. I bloggedabout the aftermath here thinking I simply wasn’t cut out for long-distance running. A few weeks later, I bagged the 18-mile Rothrock thinking my body can’t take the pounding stress. Summer went by and I assumed I wasn’t doing the Mega. It really bothered me there were no transfers or refunds – especially since SO many folks couldn’t get registered and wanted to be part of it. In August, a friend of mine (and his wife) decided to do a 27 mile hike without much training. I thought, “huh, if he can do it, I can too, right?” He finished with a couple weekends of long hikes prior to the 27 mile day. But life got in the way for me and I never was able to get out and do some long training hikes as planned, and I continued to ask myself, “Can I hike 26 miles without training AT ALL for it?”. Two weeks prior to the Mega, I picked up the inspirational saying book a co-worker gave me for retirement and turned to a page that said, “I will stop doing things the same old way just because I like to play it safe. I will be daring and courageous and refuse to allow fear to control my actions.” At that moment, I decided to change the “Can I?” attitude of doing the Mega to, “I can.” I decided to race, see how far I get and be satisfied with whatever happens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not much of a couch-potato and didn’t go into this thing unfit. I life weights, do a little biking, run about 4-5 miles twice a week and do a LOT of organic gardening. I garden for hours on end: walking, lifting, pulling, stooping, and digging for up to 6 hours straight. I often wondered if this “exercise” would benefit me someday. I believe it just did. Those 6-8ish hours a day of being on my feet paid off.
Race day: nervous as all hell having virtually no trail running training and was still a little fearful I couldn’t do it. The inspirational side of me said, “just savor every second and soak up the beauty of this mountain. Smell it. Look at it, and just enjoy the journey every step of the way.” And that’s exactly what I did for the next 10 hours. From the moment the race director said “go” until the sprint to the finish line at just under 10 hours, I simply savored each rock, every conversation with fellow racers, and thanked all the volunteers. I felt bad for folks in pain and immediately thanked my lucky stars for my generally pain free body. I watched people go down steep trails backward to avoid the excruciating knee pain going forward. I thanked my lucky stars again. I listened to folks “complain” about the “horrible” trails and immediately thought how magnificent Mother Nature was to create such beauty. I stood in awe at a majestic mountain reflecting in a lake and nearly cried. I watched folks wobble, fall, and crawl over boulders as I hopped from boulder and boulder with perfect balance and once again, thanking those lucky stars. Town folk lined the streets and cheered us on. One particular family had hand-made signs out “You can do it!” “Face the challenge head-on.” The young gal had pompoms and was cheering for us. It was heart-warming. She especially liked the gentleman dressed as a football player carrying the football for the race.
And I teared up. I was about to finish something I never, in a million years, expected I could do. I started running. I was SO excited to be SO close to the finish I couldn’t contain myself. The only pain my lucky stars threw me was a tiny blister that flared up AFTER I started running those last 4 miles. I ran through it. The finish line was in sight and the clock said 9:57. I cheered and jumped in delight that I made it under 10 hours. The crowd clapped and yelled too. It was a moment almost as exciting as popping the cork on the champagne bottle to finish 7 days of mountain biking. Definitely two of the most rewarding moments in life I’ll never forget.
The human body is strong, very strong. The only thing that holds it back is your brain and the fear you feed it. Human spirit is equally powerful. Again, the failure is only what your thoughts say it can’t do. Follow your heart and instincts folks… don’t let your thoughts get in the way.