On Friday I headed out for a super fun weekend with friends for Behind the Rocks 50k in Moab, UT. The drive is long, about 6 hours, but we were leaving early and I thought I would have plenty of time to relax and recover from the drive Friday afternoon. It is the longest I have traveled by car since my injury. When we flew to Arizona in December, I spend an entire day in the hotel recovering before that 50k. Somehow I thought I could handle that long in the car, and an afternoon of recovery would be enough. Apparently I also thought I could handle sharing a hotel room with 4 other women, and going out to dinner in a loud restaurant. I’m not sure why I thought I could suddenly handle all of these things, in combination, when any of them separately would have been a lot for me. Oh denial.
That night, after my brain was entirely overstimulated, what came as no surprise was the fact that even with Ambien I couldn’t sleep. Saturday morning, I got my race gear together and took my overstimulated brain, that didn’t get sleep, down a very rough dirt road to the start of the race. Sure I wanted to vomit while I stood at the starting line, but I figured I would be fine once I got going. Then, because clearly I have a brain injury, instead of watching my pace, I decided I would just run along with my coach Cindy for a while, because it always makes sense to start a race at a pace you can’t possibly maintain, especially when you already feel terrible. This day was going well. Hey Coach, if you are reading this, next time you see me running along with you in a race please ask me what the hell I think I’m doing.
Before I go too far, let me say I was in no shape to stop and take any of the photos in this post, they are mostly from friends, unless otherwise stated.
The course starts out on some sandy jeep roads with bits of slickrock here and there. I started to feel better after the first 30 minutes, but it was brief. After the first aid station at mile 6, things start to get more interesting. There are some big drops – as in 3 or 4 foot rock faces that you basically have to jump off or “run” (aka controlled fall) down. They would probably be fun on a bike. Okay, they would completely freak me out on a bike, but I’m sure Josh would have fun on them. As we got out to the Rim Trail I realized things were getting even worse. The trail hugs the edge of a canyon, in spots it is a couple of feet or less from the edge.
Having the ground fall away on one side really messed with my balance. The trail in this section was super rocky, there was two-way traffic as the race leaders came back from the 2nd aid station, and I was getting pretty freaked out. I lost track of the number of times I was on my butt trying to ease myself off a ledge or boulder. Kane Creek Road could be seen at the bottom of the canyon, and I knew that is where the aid station was, which meant somehow we had to get all the way down there. When I finally got to the section of down-climb I’m pretty sure I said “You’ve got to be f-ing kidding me”. Coach Cindy and one of my training partners had told me there was a short scramble, but they didn’t mention it was on the edge of a cliff. Two very nice guys helped me get down the hardest section.
I made it to the 2nd aid station, drank some Coke, refilled water and stood there for a minute. I thought about quitting. I wanted to cry thinking about going back through that whole section. For some stupid reason I turned around and headed back out. Even if my brain had been fully functional I couldn’t have physically gone down the toughest section, or back up it, without help. Thank you to those folks who gave me a hand and a boost. Prior to my brain injury I would’ve thought that section was fun, I used to love that sort of scrambling. In this race I wasn’t alone in my fear. Several people in front of, and behind me, were also completely freaked out by that section. I finally made it off the Rim Trail, but the uphill continued to the 3rd aid station. The last 8 miles was on 4WD road, and should’ve been pretty easy. I was so mentally wrecked by that point that I had nothing left and I walked a lot, trying not to cry.
I finished in 6:59, which was a solid middle of the pack finish. My coach and friends were there waiting, but I couldn’t say anything, and went straight to the car, where I curled up in the back seat without even taking off my pack. My training partners, coach, and friends would say – but you did it! You pushed through! You were so brave to keep going! Because that is what ultrarunning is about, doing more than you think you can. I never thought that I couldn’t finish this race. What I knew was that I shouldn’t finish. What would have been brave was admitting I was in over my head and walking up to an aid station volunteer to tell them I was dropping and would need a ride back to the start. It would have been brave to say “I tried, and this is too much for me right now.” It would have been brave to say “I don’t need this finish. I don’t need the consequences of pushing through this suffering.” But I didn’t do any of those things. I pushed through, and I was miserable for almost the entire race. As a result, I will probably be digging myself out of this hole for days or weeks. It wasn’t worth it.
Recovery from brain injury involves constantly finding the edge, and pushing yourself a just little bit closer. You have to test those limits to move forward. But once you find that limit, you have to stop before you go plunging off the edge of the cliff. Pushing too far just leads to setbacks. This weekend was a big test, and it was one that I failed. In two weeks, I am supposed to head to the Grand Canyon to run from the south rim to the north rim and back. After this weekend I know between the 10+ hour drive and the proximity to the edge of a rather large canyon, it would be way too much for me to handle, and I’m glad I figured it out before I got there. One of the biggest realizations from this weekend was just how much Josh does to look out for me. He says I have a little forehead wrinkle that starts to bunch up when my brain is getting fatigued. He can see when I’m getting a little too close to the edge, and tells me to stop. It turns out that when he isn’t around I’m not very good at looking out for myself, and tend to go diving straight off the cliff.
When I first talked to Coach Cindy about training for a 100 miler while recovering from brain injury, she told me she was willing to take me on as client only if I was willing to stop if she told me to stop, or if Josh told me to stop. I guess at some point I need to learn to listen to myself as well, and be brave enough to quit.