I circled the date on the calendar. It was the perfect choice. The weekend after my 51st birthday. One year to the day after I had been whisked away in an ambulance, thinking that was perhaps my last day on earth.
This was the day for an ultra run. Fifty-One miles of running to reflect on the 51 years I’ve spent here. Time to pause, and be thankful for the beautiful people who have helped shape me. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and teachers. Time to consider the obstacles that have been overcome, the mistakes that I’ve made, the people I’ve hurt, and the lessons I’ve learned. Time to celebrate. Time to praise. Time to dream.
I’ve been preparing for this day for several months. Training intently. I’ve clicked off the miles, one after another, many in extreme weather conditions, or traversing rugged terrain. I’ve been healthy, and injury-free. I’ve been mindful of my nutrition, and trying to get more rest. All for the circled date. The ultra run.
To those that have inquired, I’ve shared the specifics of this plan. I posted it in my running goals for the year. It wasn’t a boast (I’ve run this distance a handful of times before), but rather just part of keeping my goals public – a strategy that provides a little motivation when all other reserves seem to have been drained away.
Oh, the best laid plans…
Last night, I checked the forecast one last time, then set out all my gear. I’ve been hydrating, carbo-loading, and banana-downing (yuck!), all to prepare for today. I went to bed earlier than normal, and woke several times during the night, eager to get started. When the clock got reasonably close to sounding the alarm, I shut it off and jumped in the shower.
After sending a few friends best wishes on their own running endeavors for today, I went out to start my run an hour before my partners in the local run club would arrive. It was going to be a long day, and I wanted to get started.
Experience told me that this run would take about 10 hours.
I was done in less than one.
Somewhere around mile 4, my achilles started knotting up. This happened a few years ago, and the injury wound up sabotaging the following 12 months of my running calendar. For the next several minutes, I ran carefully, hoping the tightness would go away. I stopped a few times, massaging the area, and stretching along the road in all my neon orange morning glory. The tightness morphed into pain, and walking soon became difficult. I went home to get a roller, and change shoes, hoping to salvage the run, but the pain steadily increased.
It was time to pray.
I chose my words carefully, because as much as I had invested in this personal challenge, I knew it was not very important in the grander scheme of things. I wasn’t going to play the blame game. My emotions ran the gamut of frustration to embarrassment. I imagined the training adjustments required to try this again in the coming months, between the other events that I am already preparing for. And I thought about how embarrassed I would feel telling my friends that I had fallen short of my target. The goal that many were cheering for me to accomplish.
The term “epic failure” ran through my mind, but I knew I would never allow my students to view themselves in this light. I thought about my all-time favorite quote by Theodore Roosevelt. About daring greatly. Getting in the arena. Striving valiantly.
And I had peace.
My run was a failure; today.
But I wasn’t.
I had dared greatly, and came up short.
So my prayer became a question. A request. And a statement of gratitude.
I’m saddened that the quest was cut short. Or postponed. I’m not quite sure what the lesson was, or even if there was one.
But I’m grateful for the journey.
The ultra run went kaput. I was stopped way closer to the starting line, than the finish line. But I had dared greatly. I was knocked down, but not before I had entered the race. Now it’s time to rest and recover. To lick the wounds and move on. To prepare for the next venture. To pause and reflect, and then get back in the arena.
Because the journey is wonderful. There are hills and valleys. Starting lines, and finish lines. Leg muscles and heart muscles. When one muscle tightens, another may strengthen from the experience. When one area goes kaput, another area is learning, growing, adapting, and preparing for the next hill.
The next challenge.
The next sunrise.