Each day in March, I’m participating in the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You can visit their site here. This is my slice for Day 21.
Running uphill at mile 6, my legs were sore. It felt like I was dragging limbs of firewood.
“Uh-oh.” I normally didn’t experience such heavy legs until well after mile 20. I knew this was going to be a long day.
Several months earlier, I had stumbled across an article on motivation in a running magazine. One of the ideas offered was to “Take the chance to inspire yourself”. I had already completed a few marathons, and decided that running a 50-mile ‘ultramarathon’ would be personally mind-blowing. Over the long winter months that followed, my weekly mileage steadily increased, including weekends of back-to-back 25+ mile runs. I even threw in a 50-mile training run, just to make sure I was ready for the big event.
In the final days before the race, the students at my school created a tiny notebook of quotes to carry along the miles, accessing whenever I need a little pep in my step. There were reminders to never quit. There were inspirational running quotes. There were tons of well-wishes. My students believed in me. Somehow, my attempt to run 50 miles had really galvanized them. They were pulling for me to have a great day.
Brimming with excitement and nerves, I barely slept 2 hrs the night before the race. It didn’t matter, because I was ready. I had a plan for my pacing. I had prepared for my hydration. I thought through all my nutrition supplies. I was motivated, inspired, and determined. My legs, mind, and heart, were ready for every one of the 50 miles that awaited.
But I didn’t anticipate the hills.
There were relentless climbs. Unyielding descents. One after another, after another. So by mile 6, with my legs dying, I knew I was in for a long day.
By mile 19, I was in tears.
My calves were locking, my quads were knotted, and I had frequent back spasms. I was walking more than I was running. Pulling out that little book of quotes, I imagined the faces of the students who were cheering for me back home. But no rush of motivation came. No words of inspiration resonated within me. Instead, the internal critic began harassing me. I felt like a failure. Wiping my eyes, I tried to cling on to the words of Theodore Roosevelt who said “It’s not the critic who counts, but the man in the arena.” I knew I was pushing way out of my comfort zone, and that failure was acceptable when one dares greatly.
But I was about to fail greatly.
I was going to let all those kids down.
Reaching for my cell phone, I called one of my colleagues. I could barely control my voice. Through intermittent sobs, I relayed just how much pain I was in, and what an abject failure I felt like, devastated to be such a disappointment to my students.
My colleague was re-assuring that the students were proud of me for the challenge I had undertaken, and wouldn’t think any less of me if I had to pull out of the race, even though I was still 31 miles short of the finish line. Then she asked me if I could go any further.
If I could run one more mile.
When your legs are screaming, and your back is aching, and your inner critic is telling you what a failure you are; 31 more miles is a daunting task. But one more mile is manageable. So I ambled forward.
One more mile.
Running over tree roots and scree, concentrating on every footfall, I pushed forward.
One more mile.
Embracing the pain as part of the process, I strained ahead.
One more mile.
Understanding I was sore, but not injured, I continued putting one leg in front of another.
One more mile.
And as the one-more-miles accrued, I started to believe again. Letting go of the fear of failure, I believed in my training. I believed in my plans. I believed in myself.
Crossing through one of the final water stations, a few volunteers shouted that I was in danger of not earning a belt buckle (the ultramarathon’s version of a race medal) if I didn’t finish the race in the allotted time. And I was angry. Because who needed a stupid buckle? All I cared about was finishing. And nothing was going to stop me from crossing that finish line. I just had to keep chugging forward, one mile at a time. That would be my reward – the knowledge of knowing I had completed the race.
But heck, if I was so close to earning a prize, (albeit a buckle that would languish in my closet for years to come), I might as well run a little faster.
So I dug in, and reached deeper inside, finding a level of resolve that I didn’t realize was in me.
Those last few one-more-miles were some of the most painfully wonderful moments of my life. I found that audacious goals require audacious stamina. I found that sometimes the hills in life are relentless, but that I can face them undaunted. I found that I will go any distance to model integrity, grit, and stamina for my students. I found confidence that comes from accepting that failure isn’t a sentence of death, but a setback in life. And in all of this, I found that I had inspired my students, my friends, my family, and myself, one more mile at a time.