“C’mon. Come with me.”
“You got this girl.”
“Here we go, stick with me.”
As I struggled, the women who passed me encouraged me upward. As much as I wanted to rally with their words, my body was just not having it. About four miles into the Loon Mountain Race (the USA Mountain Championship Race for 2018) I overheated, felt extremely dehydrated and doubled over onto my knees as a wave of nausea rose in my stomach. I stopped. Shuffled forward. Stopped again. My face felt so hot.
A teammate came up from behind me and asked if I was OK? “No. I’m not,” I admitted to Maureen with an honesty that surprised me. Usually if I’m struggling in a race I brush it off: “I’m OK. I’m fine. Thanks,” is what I say and I push forward. But not this time.
This was not the mental collapse of my DNF at Pineland: up until that point my mental game had been strong positive mantras and reframing from the minute I started to feel off in mile two had kept me motivated. This was my body deciding today was not my day, despite all the positive thoughts I couldn’t control this uncontrollable.
I sucked down the few ounces of water she had in her bottle. Up ahead I could see a few women flag down a course marshal and point back in my direction. He drove his ATV down to where we were and Maureen refilled her bottle which I promptly dranied, drinking a liter right there, still thirsty for more. I felt a little better and resolved to finish. Maureen, who was out for a last tune up run before the Vermont 100 said she’d stick with me.
We had 3/4 of a mile to go before the next aid station, which on paper doesn’t seem that far, but there was some steep climbing separating me from more water. We continued upward. At that point it was even more clear that the race I had hoped for was far beyond my reach: I just wanted to finish and snag a score for “Mountain Goat Status” which allows me to bypass the lottery and get into the Mt. Washington Auto Road Race for 2019. We reached the next aid station and I dumped cup after cup of cold water overhead. Maureen soaked her Buff in cold water and put that around my neck another friend ran to look for ice. Feeling better we set out for the final downhill and then the unrelenting climb up Upper Walking Boss and the 45% grade. I could run again, but there was no more “push” in my body. I was content to move forward and shout encouragement to the women who were charging down the hill on either side of me.
Once we hit “The Boss” we laughed at the ridiculousness of the grade and encouraged everyone around us to keep pushing. As we crested the the hill with the finish just out of sight the cheers from the crowd on either side of the course carried us upward. With some encouragement from Maureen and with whatever I had left I put in a little push to get across the line at a run.
I finished well over 100 places behind where I thought I was capable of finishing, which means I was passed by over a 100 women. I’m as competitive as they come and there’s a part of me that cringes at that result. It isn’t what I trained for. But some races aren’t about displaying the best of your fitness, sometimes there’s a deeper lesson.
Competition and kindness aren’t mutually exclusive, which couldn’t have been proven more true than by Desi Linden’s performance at the Boston Marathon or by the encouragement and camaraderie I felt out on the course on Sunday. Loon Mountain Race is as unforgiving a course as they come, whether you’re vying for a spot on the USA Mountain Running Team or power hiking your way to the top, the difficulty is unrelenting. There’s something about mutual suffering that brings out the best in us, both strength and kindness. And it was on full display as woman after woman passed me and tried to help me along with their words of encouragement. Surrounded by a record breaking number of female registrants thanks to an initiative from Trail Sisters and Acidotic Racing, I felt a deeper sense of community the further back in the field I slipped.
I didn’t get to display my fitness or prove that “I belong,” but maybe the lesson from Sunday wasn’t about what I could prove about myself, but what running could prove to me: there is a greater sense of belonging in this community that is rooted in kindness.
Have you ever struggled in a race and been the recipient of another person’s kindness?
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