by Julie Koepke
I believe that we are all capable of so much more than we could ever imagine.
In August of this year, I signed up to run a new 100-mile race in Texas. To be specific, I signed up for the race the night before the race. On a whim. Like a crazy person. I think stress from full-time work and full-time school drove me to this extreme, where I started thinking how lovely it would be if I had a full-day break from worrying about work and deadlines. As a friend would comment later, “You were literally running away from your problems!”
The race didn’t start until noon on Saturday – the hottest time of the day, thus its title, the Habanero 100 – so I had plenty of time to pack a few items and drive up towards Houston that morning. Even standing around waiting for the race to begin, I was sweating. It was hot, and I was nervous that I had been incredibly cocky thinking I could just show up – without training for this race, without tapering, without thinking through a nutrition plan – and run one hundred miles in the heat of a Texas summer day.
When the clock hit noon, I started the first of 14 seven-plus-mile loops. The first ten loops were fairly uneventful, minus some horrendous chafing from my shirt, thanks to the high humidity. The heat was really getting to all of us runners, and people were beginning to drop out of the race, or drop down to a lower mileage. I was definitely slowing down, but I was committed to finishing, so I plodded along, eventually becoming one of only two runners – out of 28 starters – still in the hundred-mile race.
My first really low point in the race came in loop 11. It was the middle of the night, I was really slowing down, and the idea that I probably still had 9 or more hours of this started messing with my head. When I finally made it to the aid station on this loop, I just wanted to sit down and cry. I picked up a cup of ramen noodles and did a 1,000 yard stare into the darkness as I thought, “How on earth am I going to keep going?”
Somehow I completed that loop, and then two more. By the fourteenth and final loop, with the heat of day two at full blast, heat exhaustion had fully set in. I felt like my heart was racing, even though I was moving slowly – I mean really slowly. I felt dizzy and lightheaded, and I worried the entire loop that I would collapse on the trail and not be able to finish. My mind flashed to the self-talk Gordy Ansleigh says he used during his pioneering 100-mile finish of the Western States, and I applied it to my situation: “I don’t know if I can go 3 more miles. But I can take 1 more step.” I repeated that over and over to myself: 1 more step. 1 more step. I can’t tell you how thankful I was when I finally heard the finish line. I yelled out, and heard the waiting spectators shout back. I made it down the hill to the finish line, as the first and only finisher of the Habanero 100. I’m not the fastest; I’m not the strongest. But I believe, and this is my evidence, that we are capable of so much more than we can ever imagine, if we just keep moving forward, one step at a time.