Weakest Link

I was very worried about this stage race because I was the most undertrained of the group I usually run with every year. Two of them had big races in March and I hadn’t done a run longer than 15 miles since…November maybe? I did get myself up to 3 consecutive double-digit days, so I thought I’d be okay, but that was the BARE MINIMUM, and what I didn’t factor in was and I had done it on the ROAD no on TRAILS so it wasn’t quite as equivalent as I had hoped. Trails beat you up worse and in different ways. I didn’t have enough trail miles going into this weekend.

I was definitely the one everyone was waiting on for most of Day 1 and Day 2, but I found myself growing through a very reflective journey about that. Colleen and Chelsea know me better than I know myself, and we’ve all had our bad days and this is part of being a team, you accept the weakest moments of the others because everyone has weak moments at some point. I actually found myself making very big strides from feeling very guilty on Friday to acceptance by the end of Saturday.

But after Saturday’s race I had some toe issue. I periodically get blisters under my toenails. I’ve lost so many toenails to this ailment, I have lost count. Usually I can pop the blister under to relieve the pressure, but I just could not get to it Saturday night. So I knew Sunday was going to be worse than the other days.

I decided I needed to be as strong as possible on the ups and flats because the downhills were going to REALLY HURT. And this worked okay for about 9 miles. We had Kara running with us on Saturday so she and Colleen would run a little further ahead and wait while Chelsea stayed with me. It’s funny, Chelsea could tell I didn’t want to lead but she also knew she’d leave me so she was doing a great job of sneakily kinda looking back and checking on me and guessing when I’d need walk breaks so I never go too far behind but I also never had to holler, “Marco!” which is the sign I was falling too far behind to see anyone. It was impressive because I was able to stay “caught up” without feeling like anyone was waiting on me, EVEN THOUGH SHE TOTALLY WAS.

This was working for 9 miles. It was not pretty, but it was working.

And then we were going up one particular long stretch of up and my legs were SO TIRED at this point that I just kept stubbing my toe on stuff. Usually not a big deal, we all do it a million times, but when your toe is already swollen and in pain? It’s a catastrophe. I just kept falling further and further behind and I had to let the ONLY guy behind us pass me which put me in DEAD LAST place and I was going back and forth between sobbing (and I mean SOBBING) from pain to trying NOT to sob because it turns out it is REALLY HARD to regulate your heart rate when you’re crying so I was in pain and WANTING to cry but trying not to WHICH IS HARD WHEN YOU ARE IN PAIN. Then the sweeper caught up with me and while we weren’t close to cut-off territory, it still rubbed me poorly because A) I didn’t want anyone to see me cry and B) I didn’t want to be dead last.

I finally made it to the top of the trail and I just kinda hid my face behind my hat and talked to my girl gang in my “I’m crying” voice and we pushed to the last 3 miles.

But jeezus, it just kept getting uglier. There were more downhills which – at this point – just made me sob. I couldn’t stop crying they hurt so bad. So then I’d be back to trying to regulate my breathing because my crying was making my heart race and I SWEAR, you guys. Crying while running is like sprinting, you get SO OUT OF BREATH.

The last .6 mile of the 3 days is up a pretty treacherous and steep trail and we all just kinda knew, Kim is going to fall back and I just did my best, stopping and crying, and they waited for me at the top. Once we got to the top we could almost see the finish line and I told the girls I was probably not going to be able to run…or NOT cry, so we waited until the last possible and then started running it in and y’all? I have never sobbed that hard at a race…EVER…I just pulled my hat down over my face (I’m an ugly crier) and crossed that finish-line (didn’t even grab my medal) and ran up to the top of the amphitheater where I could cry alone and away from everyone.

Oh, and I took my shoes off. THANK GOD.

There were many other stories of laughter and joy, too. But I wanted to write about this one first because when I was lying in bed reflecting on the day last night, I was thinking about how I had kept referring to myself as the weakest link. And that was definitely true, but the weakest link is just that: The link that could handle the least amount of weight. But the links around that one still make it able to handle more than it could if it were not in the chain. Alone? I couldn’t have finished yesterday. I do not doubt for one second that I would have quit if I had been by myself. The pain was just too much weight for me to carry. But my girls, they were strong enough to divide the weight so I didn’t have to shoulder it all. Honestly, I never even considered quitting. They helped shoulder so much of my burden that I never imagined not finishing. Not even once…I never broke.