When a “Finish” is Not a Finish

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by Barbara Olmer

The San Juans hold a special place in my heart. It was the natural place for me to go for some healing after having miscarried what was to be our third child just one month prior. The Silverton Double Dirty 30 presented the perfect opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage, spend some time on the trail and be humbled by my surroundings. For once I had no agenda, no goals of time or even distance. I wanted to participate and find inner peace. For me, that meant experiencing the pain of the last month and accepting the events without questioning the Divine Dr’s. (God’s) plan for me. I had to let go and allow myself to feel and be in the present moment. For someone that has for 40 years of my life always chased the future, this was a monumental task and honestly took more mental energy than to finish a 100k run. Maybe that’s why I didn’t finish, but maybe not.

I could have run the last ten miles in the dark and cold. I could have depleted my body and stripped it to the core but was this necessary given all I want is to be pregnant again and all my body has gone through in recent months? I tossed the medal and the finish out the window and opted for the car ride back to the hotel with 52 miles in the bank…a mere ten miles would have gotten me to the finish line. It would have meant being an inaugural participant and finisher of the Silverton Double 30 in epic conditions (snow, cold, mud and wind), most of it at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Sounds intriguing, right? For the first time, it was not. I accepted that my mental focus was elsewhere and dismissed the importance of the finish line. I had “finished” what I set out to do and for me that was a milestone – a milestone many that know me closely have probably been waiting for.

Photo: Barbara Olmer

Photo: Barbara Olmer

Days followed and questions followed about how my run went and whether I finished. Honest as I am, I admittedly said I did not finish the full 60 miles and I was met with disappointment from many. I felt a slap in the face, beaten down. I had finished, most just had no idea what a finish meant this time around even though most knew my tragic events of the last month.

This has inspired me to write about the various reasons we run and challenge anyone reading to acknowledge and accept that a finish is not always about crossing the finish line and receiving a buckle, or in this case a medal. This likely holds true for both men and for women, or more specifically the primary caretaker in a family that involves children, which is still most often women. So, it is quite likely this article may resonate more with women. As caretakers, we must meet many specifications; we must function in all types of situations. We work when sick, we are up when we want to sleep, we think and coordinate life’s many activities, we reason, we negotiate to provide the best for our family, and we love unconditionally. We are tired; we often grieve in silence or harbor our sorrows and doubts alone for fear of being seen as weak. We smile when we feel like screaming, we sing when we feel like crying, we laugh when afraid and most of all we fight for what we believe in. We have the strength to get on with life as both past and recent events have taught me. We don’t crumble in the face of adversity; at least outwardly it appears as though we have not lost our marbles. All of this takes energy and strength and we often forget what the value of these qualities really embodies and means to those around us.

Photo: Criss Furman Photography

Photo: Criss Furman Photography

What does this mean in the realm of ultra-running and this particular race in Silverton? Well, probably it means something different for every one of us but for me it was a reminder that as much as we may want to participate in ultra-running events at our best all the time, the demands of our daily life will sometime shift our priorities –  sometimes intentionally (as with this run) but sometimes also unintentionally. I would argue that women wish to participate at the same level and intensity as men but the scarcity of resources for the many roles we play as caretakers leads us back to our primal instincts, which is to fulfill our role and protect our bodies from anything that might get in the way.

For me, the last ten miles could potentially have gotten in the way of my true goals – another child. The night was cold and blustery at 13,000 feet. My water bladder froze three miles into the 13-mile stretch. Although I had two pairs of gloves on, my fingers became numb and I was no longer able to nourish and fuel my body. My blood sugar tanked and I became nauseated as a result. Could I have finished? Sure. Had you asked me prior to the events of last month and the miscarriage I had to endure, I probably would have responded differently and pushed through. Not this time. I ran the race I wanted to run, a personal journey of self-exploration. I finished it in 52 miles instead of 62.

Photo: Howie Stern

Photo: Howie Stern

A recent article in Ultrarunning magazine ended with a question: “Which is better – a baby or a belt buckle?” I can’t speak for others but I can say for myself the baby and this journey was far more important than the finisher’s medal in this case. This personal journey has been 40 years in the making as opposed to a few months of training. Hopefully I will come out ahead and the Divine Dr. will grant us another child.

I challenge all of us to choose our races wisely. We need purpose for each one to endure the long distances but our purpose does not always have to be about crossing the finish line.

Photo: Barbara Olmer

Photo: Barbara Olmer

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1 Comment

  1. Paula Adams on

    I’m so sorry for your loss. And I applaud your making the decision that made sense to you even when it might not make sense to others. I pray that you get the desires of your heart. There are plenty of races to come that you will finish!