Beating The Funk

I sat slumped over on a pile of rocks on top of Mount Antero, dehydrated and hangry in the mid-August heat. I was about halfway through my month-long tour of all the Colorado fourteeners. That morning, I had summited Tabeguache Peak and Mount Shavano from Browns Creek, not exactly on top form, but in good spirits nonetheless.

While Mount Antero is by no means a very inspiring peak, since it is road accessible nearly to the top, heavily mined, and crowded with incessant ATV traffic, I did not expect to have quite as dramatic of a meltdown as I did.

The previous day I had biked 110 miles from Lake City, stopping at about 12,000 feet on the northwest side of Mount Antero just after sunset. I felt good about my progress, reaching familiar terrain in the Sawatch and getting some respite from a week of relentless storms in the San Juan Mountains. However, I did not sleep that well, as I was too tired to seek out decent shelter, laying my sleeping bag down in a windy, cold, and exposed camp spot.

I slept fitfully, waking up stiff, sore and for the first time on the Tour, unmotivated. I thought that the familiarity of the terrain would be a welcome change, that I could coast on autopilot around these hills. Instead, I felt every inch of the grind, stumbling around the peaks with apathy, eventually reaching the summit of Mount Antero, broken.

From my perch, I only had a couple thousand feet of easy downhill back to my bike, which was stocked with food and water. Yet, the bait of nourishment and hydration provided little to no motivation to get me moving.

Physically, I was extremely depleted, not just from the morning jaunt, but from the sheer accumulation of volume from the past two weeks of peak bagging and riding. Nothing too surprising really, but more troubling was my complete lack of mental acuity.

This was not your typical bonk, a state I can usually work through with a little rationalizing and a quick intake of sugar. I ate a Snickers, downed the last of my water, but instead of getting going, I sat there festering over a comment a guy on an ATV made on the way up.

“Hey man–sorry for the noise pollution!!” he had yelled.

Sorry for the noise pollution? I thought to myself adding a number of expletives to the question.

I think he meant to be genuinely apologetic, but all I could muster in response was a dismissive grunt. My mostly unfounded irritation was a reflection of my overall state of mind at the time–drained, overwhelmed, and just generally annoyed at everything.

My mom had told me before the trip that whatever happened, I should strive to never lose my sense of humor. Her comment was not implying that everything should be fun all the time, but more just to keep perspective and stay lighthearted when faced with challenging moments.

But, here I was letting the exhaustion take over, cultivating a growing ball of rage inside of me.

I hated this foreign feeling, but despite my best efforts, I could not shake the negativity.

I took a deep breath, and told myself out loud to just focus and be nice.

I bumbled my way back down the road to the bike. I took two big swigs of water from my bottle, then unhooked my food bag from the tree. I laid down in the grass, ate half a Clif bar, and placed the rest on my chest as I closed my eyes to nap for a few minutes. Just as I was dozing off, a bird swooped down and snatched the remainder of the bar right off my chest. I opened my eyes, startled, and watched it struggle to fly off with such a large chunk of food. I observed the scene with amusement, too tired to intervene. The bird was soon joined by others, all battling to get a piece of the bar.

In a split second, this little guy had broken up all the tension in my mind. I laughed, closed my eyes again, and dozed off, relieved. Everything was going to be just fine.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have any stories about negativity creeping into your mind during a run, race, or adventure, and how you were able to chase it away?
  • Or how about an instance where an external circumstance was able to improve your negative attitude?

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 3 comments

  1. Eric Coppock

    I’m real curious if i’m just weird. (yep, go ahead!) I hear so many stories of fighting through the low points in a long outing/race, and getting that bounce-back or second wind or whatever-it-is later. I all my years of doing endurance sports, I have never experienced it myself. An ultra is always a downward spiral for me; things slowly or not-so-slowly fall apart as the miles tick by. Sometimes I make it and sometimes I don’t, but the only way anything has ever gotten better is by stopping.

    N of 1, but does anybody else identify with this?

  2. Joe Grant

    Eric, avian larceny isn’t always easy to come by :)

    It seems maybe the issue is not giving yourself enough time to experience a bounce-back. If the only way things get better is by stopping, then how long does it take for you to get better once you’ve stopped? What steps did you take to make yourself feel better once stopped? In shorter ultras it may not be possible to stop long enough to experience a come-back, but in a 100 for example, stopping for 2 hours mid-race to rest, change socks, eat, or do whatever is needed to feel better, might be sufficient to get a second wind (even if it’s just a shift in perspective as to how you approach the second half of the race).

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