Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My account of the Tenderfoot Boogie 50km Trail Race

Well, it is about time I wrote the imperfect account of the 50km trail run/race I participated in just a few weeks ago. The Tenderfoot Boogie. A lot of people have regarded me as some kind of hero for even considering running 50 kilometres, but honestly I don't see it that way. It is sad to say this, but I am being incredibly hard on myself for not crossing the finish line that day. I really did have this vision, these expectations, of how the run would go. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea how much I was really challenging myself mentally, physically and emotionally.

I didn't have lofty goals as to how the run would go. No, my goals were pretty simple: Just to finish, with a smile on my face and no injuries. The first leg of the journey was fairly uneventful. I was feeling good, taking my gels and electrolytes every 30 minutes; Running smart. It was overcast, so not too warm. I kept with my strategy to start running at the back of the pack, so as to maintain my own pace, and not get swept up in the adrenaline of the start. The first part of the run was so incredibly beautiful, especially going up alongside the Cheakamus Canyon. The view was absolutely amazing. When I was nearing the top, I heard a load rumbling under my feet ... I looked to the train tracks not far below me, and there was a massive train heading into a tunnel bored into solid rock. I had such a great feeling of BC, of Squamish, at that point ~ a real rush of a long ago forgotten feeling from my childhood.

After the Chance Creek Bridge aid station, the run became much harder than I thought it would be. The terrain was quite difficult, and so technical in some parts that even though I felt good enough physically to run it, I just wasn't able to. The distance between aid stations felt like forever, and I ran out of water long before I reached each one. I even took a wrong turn onto the highway, and ended up running on the pavement for longer than I was supposed to, against the grain of that Whistler to Squamish Saturday morning traffic.

As I was running the highway, along with reams of vehicles, there were lots of cyclists going by me. I ran on the highway in the hot sun for much too long, and ran out of water and electrolytes well before I got to the Brandywine Falls aid station. But at one point, a man was cycling towards me, and I was feeling tired. As he approached he looked right at me and said "Keep going, you can DO this!" It uplifted me more than he could know ~ whomever you are, I thank you. The trails leading from Brandywine Falls to Whistler were a treat for me ... the size of the cedars blew me away. The feeling of this place was ancient and held secrets I would like to know about.

When I got to the Function Junction aid station, I was frustrated and upset and I felt so done. It took me an hour longer than I thought it would to get there. I crouched down when I did get there and just started to cry. My friend's husband was there and talked me through my moment. I said "It's just so hard". He replied "Well, yeah, that's what it's all about". And I remembered about what running is to me. It has become a spiritual quest to discover my self-imposed limitations. And to let those limitations go. When I said I was done, he didn't give me encouragement like "You can do it". He let me know what I was up against next, should I choose to continue. 1300 metres in elevation. 8 kilometres to the next aid station. 8 more kilometres after that and I would be crossing the finish line. I felt completely defeated, done, emotionally exhausted ... but I said to him "I feel done, but I also feel like I have more gas in the tank". Looking back, I'm not sure if that was even me talking. So after 8 hours of running, sweating, swearing and crying, I decided to take on a little more. I just wanted to do my best. "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift". This quote, one of the many I taped to my gels, made me stop and weep. And so, I began making my way up this massive hill ... I have never been on any trail that was so tough. It just kept going up .. higher and higher and higher. I was still trying to notice the little things ... bits of quartz here and there, tiny mushrooms, the light and the darkness in the forest, that beautiful old forest.

After a long while I was just putting one foot in front of the other. "Run when you can, walk if you have to", as a good friend had said. It was so automatic, and I realize now that under normal circumstances, I would have been very concerned about the fact that the orange and black ribbons marking the route were becoming less and less obvious. In fact, I'm certain that fifteen or twenty minutes went by between markers at some point. I believe now that there must have been an invisible hand guiding my way. I did not get lost. At the time, I did not feel guidance. At the time, I felt as though I were left utterly alone to face this pain ... the physical pain, yes, but the mental and emotional pain most definitely. I am incredibly hard on myself. I kept trying to run through the pain, and getting very angry when the feelings persisted. As if I could have run through it. As if I could have blocked it out. Running brings up some strange feelings at times, and when you are running, you are forced to deal with your issues. They do not go away, and they do not cease. For those who use running to run away ... it won't last forever. And the longer and the further you run, the more those issues will come up. At least, they have for me.

As I went on, there were increasingly more short downhills .... I was horrified when my right knee started to feel tighter and tighter with each down. It became so frustrating to have this beautiful hill that I could run down, but not be able to because that tightness turned into a clicking in the knee, and then to pain. I tried to stretch out my hamstring, my calf, my quad, I tried pointing my toes, flexing, opening my hips ... anything to release the feeling so that I could give 'er down these hills, but nothing was working. I was crying, frustrated, angry and disappointed. I could still run the flats and the uphills, so I did. And then I came to the crest of the uphill I was running. It was the longest downhill I have ever seen. I was horrified, and I started to cry, again. I walked down that hill. I was angry. All I wanted was to run down that hill. All I wanted was for someone to come and help me, but there was no one there but me. I realize now that I can be quite dependant on others to save my ass sometimes. The princess in the tower. This time, I had to rescue my own self. I finally made it to the bottom of this hill and saw a road ... "Wishful thinking, Nicole, the aid station's probably not even there". But it was!! I felt so incredibly relieved and happy ... I ran for ten hours, by myself. I faced some demons out there ... demons that I created, expectations that I had of myself. I know that I absolutely, unequivocally gave it my best. And I think I trust myself so much more than I did before.

I didn't encounter the oneness, the Divine or the wholeness that I thought I would find out there. But I encountered a truth about myself through this suffering. And I busted some great myths I had about life, and about myself.

I don't know what else to tell you.