I’ve heard it so many times in the past, and about so many things.
“You can’t do that.”
Well, guess what.
It was December 21, at 1:32 P.M., and I just caught a sight of the finish line through the redwood trees. As I got closer and ran across the small meadow towards the arch that marked the end of my journey, people were cheering me on. I saw Tim in the timing tent throwing his arms up and heard him yelling my name. I was doing it. I was finishing a 35-kilometer race. I couldn’t believe it. I was smiling like I never have before, and choking down tears of joy.
When I ran under the arch, a volunteer handed me a medal while Tim was giving me a bear hug. I held onto him trying to get myself set in reality. This is happening. This is really happening. I had hard time believing it.
But let’s rewind a bit.
In the morning, my alarm woke me up from a not very good sleep. I was nervous – no, not nervous, almost panicking – the whole way to the race, as I’ve been for a few days before that. Feelings of absolute joy and absolute terror were switching so fast that most of the time, I didn’t even have the opportunity to figure out how I was actually feeling.
I helped with the set-up and felt quite okay, but when the time came for me to put on my running shoes, I became so nervous that I was actually light-headed.
I’ve got it. Shoes. Water. Don’t forget to put SNB on. You know you chafe like crazy…
Suddenly, I was standing at the start line, Tim counting down last five seconds before the gun would go off. I zoned out. I let everything go. Nothing mattered anymore. I was calm, collected and in my own world by the time he reached two.
“Go! Have a great race, great day out there!”
And so I went, went with the flow.
And then it all happened like the most natural thing in the world.
Somewhere on the course I met Jesse, our photographer. He gave me a hug. Everyone’s been giving me hugs since morning and I got once again reminded of how much this community means to me.
First aid station, I gulped down some potatoes and a piece of beef jerky. Even though I had breakfast in the morning, my stomach was growling since mile one.
“You see that? That is a hill. Pro tip: walk that shit.” I heard the voice of my good friend in the back of my mind. My race strategy was easy: just finish before the cut-off. Just try and go under 20-minute mile and it’s all gonna be perfect.
Hills and fallen trees – didn’t matter. By mile seven I still felt like if I’ve only just started.
Walk the uphills. Run the downhills. Do whatever you want to do on the flats.
This was my mantra. Somewhere halfway between the first and second aid station, the leaders in my distance passed me on their way back.
I smiled back at them while I was tripping out my hurting knee. I knew it would stop – and even if it didn’t I knew that I could keep going with it. It’s happened many times before.
The hill leading to the second aid station was pretty damn steep. For the first time since the beginning of the race, I wasn’t telling myself to slow down. When I finally saw the red tent, I called out, “food!” and a runner coming back from there laughed.
Up and down, down and up.
I’m halfway?! I couldn’t believe it. How was I already halfway? I knew I could do it. I knew it like I’ve never known anything in my life.
At mile 15, I was still feeling pretty damn awesome, even though I’ve never once in my life run that far. I was waiting for the wall to come and constantly reminding myself to save energy.
Last aid station.
“Five and a half to the end!” called out a volunteer as I was leaving. I didn’t eat anything. I just downed a cup of ginger ale and kept going. My finishing this thing was set. I knew it, it was clear that I was going to go through the finish line, no matter what.
Downhill, downhill… How am I still running?!” I could not comprehend that.
In the last three miles, a lot of 50-k runners started to catch up with me and passing me. Every single one of them called out words of encouragement.
“Keep it going!”
“Don’t slow down!”
“You’re doing awesome!”
“See you at the finish line, I’ll get you a beer!”
I couldn’t, once again, believe it. The trail running community is the most supportive group of people I’ve ever met, and once again, I couldn’t but feel how much it means to me.
At mile 21 I caught up to another woman running the 35K. I felt nothing less than gobsmacked. How was I still going – what more, going at a pace fast enough to catch up to someone so late in the race?
I called out words of encouragement as she let me pass. Now it was only uphill. Uphill and uphill. And then…
I caught a sight of the finish line through the redwood trees.
More people, more hugs…
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
“I made fresh quesadillas! Have some!”
Then more people came through the finish.
“Oh my, she just flew past me after the last aid station. There she is!” said a woman whom I talked shortly with on the trail to Tim. We hugged and talked a little.
I flew? That sounded a little bit like an overstatement but then I realized that yes, I ran those last miles pretty well. Damn!
“You can’t do this.“
“Well, I just did.“