Thursday, September 18, 2008

(I don't) know when to quit

The photo at left is a shot from the finish line of the Mohican 100 mile. You can see the deep tiredness in my eyes and face, a culmination of a lack of sleep combined with muscle groups that faded many hours before.

There's something about making the finish that means everything to me. It's a completeness of being, bringing closure to an epic journey you started over a full day before.

But, I also realize that my tenacity and strong will have been a burden to others. Those who crew me at races watch as I melt down, come unglued, and struggle to put one foot in front of the other. They have loved me and cared for me and knew that the best possible solution was for me to stop and call it quits.

That seldom happened.

There was the time my shin was throbbing and inflamed, where every step brought pain. So instead of dropping, I kept shoving backs of ice into the front of my tube sock, and death marched 40 miles to the finish.

On other occasions it has been my feet. It seems I seldom make it past 75 miles before blisters and deep bruising strip away any semblance of an enjoyable finish. For the most part I soldier on, take the finisher's buckle and then suffer through a week or 10 days of excruciating pain, barley able to put weight on the stumps that used to be appendages at the end of my legs.

I'm not saying any of this is right or good. It's just who I am. Quitting is not a viable option. I have two 100-mile DNFs in my ultra career. One was at Superior Trail in northern Minnesota. I had no business being at that race and it was a foolish and misguided attempt. The other DNF came at Mohican in 2004. I was attempting to coach another runner through the race, fell off my own pace by over three hours, then became hypothermic at the Covered Bridge aid station at mile 64. I still regret that drop. I could have regrouped and put a finish back together.

Bottom line, they don't make quitters buckles, but maybe they should. A quitter should be acknowledged as well as a finisher. We all need to embrace the demons that go along with failing the assignment.

But it's also good to be gentle with one's self and understand that some things are not meant to be.

That's something I can work on going forward.

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