Late last year, I was pacing the leader of a 100-mile race when we went off course at mile 75. I had joined her at mile 68 and she was naturally tired and feeling a lot of fatigue and pain, but she was still cruising in the twilight about 12 hours into the race. She was no longer focused on just securing the win – she was now after a PR and the course record of just under 19 hours, something she had trained extremely hard for in the prior months.
She was about 15 minutes ahead of these goals when she yelled back to me at the aid station where I was chatting with the volunteers, “Come on Karl, we gotta go.”
I caught up to her in the now pitch darkness. She was transitioning into the last phase of the race, with a long downhill ahead of her, and I could tell she was getting her first whiffs of the barn. She surged around a corner and accelerated into the downhill. I scurried to catch up to her and remember saying something like, “Wow, that turn was not very well marked and there aren’t even confidence ribbons here.” It was an out-andback course, and she was certain that this was the way.
After another five minutes of fast downhill pavement, during which I coached her to run faster as the best way to protect her aching quads, she said: “This doesn’t seem right; it’s too steep and there are no marks on the road this time.” I saw old white arrows on the pavement, and used those to encourage her to keep going. I needed time to think and push back the waves of panic suddenly coursing through my gut. She stopped abruptly and we went back about 500 yards, before I convinced her that surely this was the right way. And so back down into the darkness we plunged.
We got to the bottom, about a mile and a half off course, before I finally admitted that we were off course and turned around – with the steepest uphill of the race now facing us, and Erika’s PR and course record goals off the table. And probably first place, too.
I was devastated for her and so angry with myself for letting this happen. The rage was building inside me as we started hiking back up in dark silence. I was about to unleash a torrent of venom, when Erika said something like: “Oh well, these things happen, and I just need to learn from this. And heck, we get to spend more time together out here.” I was floored, and awed, by her attitude.
She was right, and I felt blessed to be there with her. As the uphill hiking continued on and on, Erika did get sad and shed a few tears, but she never went negative or blamed anyone else, not even me, her pacer, whose most essential duty and role is to keep his runner on the course.
When I wasn’t berating myself, I realized how fortunate I was to bear witness to her awesome show of character and strength. I realized then, in the clearest way ever, how truly fortunate I am to be in her life.
We got back onto the course and Erika took off down the real trail. She dug deep into those places that you only go when you are racing the last miles of a 100. She pushed her hardest for every step until crossing the finish line, first woman in 19:24.
Attitude is so powerful, and it is something that we all control. It drives us to work hard and train for big goals. It allows us to dig deep and overcome huge challenges and pain. And it’s the best resource for overcoming the disappointments that inevitably come into all of our lives.
A strong and positive attitude is something that all ultrarunners have, especially Ultrarunners of the Year David Laney and Magdalena Boulet. Learn more about them, and the Performances of the Year, starting on page 26. Tropical John Medinger’s UROY column is the best ever this year.
Also in this issue, we introduce four wonderful new columnists – John Trent, Travis Macy, Cory Reese and Matt Laye. Don’t miss our two great gear reviews – one to get you into the right pair of shoes and our running legwear review to keep you warm and comfortable through the winter and spring months.
This issue provides great winter-time reading as you make plans and commence your training for a great year ahead. May your every run be a great one.