The Race

Where are you?
Where are you willing to go?
Where are you willing to go to achieve your goal?

As I stood on the line of the Stone Cat 50 Mile in Ipswich, Massachusetts a few weekends ago, the residue of my DNF at UTMB in early September still lingered. It’s hard to pinpoint what was internally stirring. It did not seem to be doubt, but rather fear. I do not like to dwell, as I know that the strongest have emerged through their sufferings. I want to be strong, and I want to be courageous, even if it requires emotional and physical scares. I pulled myself back and tried to focus on the moment and concentrate on demonstrating to myself what I am capable of. I had already taken several steps by training, putting on a bib, and putting myself on the line. I had set what I felt was an ambitious yet obtainable goal. I hoped to run around seven hours flat. Before I knew it, my rumination was interrupted, the race began, and my instincts took over.

How much?
How much do you have to give?
How much do you have to give in this moment?

After several miles, I decided to stop following the male in front of me and pass. I’ve done this before and then regretted putting myself in the position of being the route finder and pacesetter. Nonetheless, seeing the open trail in front of me made me feel more at ease. I recognized that my newfound freedom of uninhabited trail could be altered with little to no notice. With the twisty nature of the singletrack, I could see headlamps chasing not far behind, while there were also a few not too far off in the foreground as well. I heard voices spread through the darkness, and I wondered how close they were. I told myself it did not matter what others were doing. I needed to focus on myself.

The first lap of this four-lap course was mostly completed in the dark and I looped through in just under 1 hour and 47 minutes, before stopping briefly to crew myself. Mentally, I knew the second lap would be telling. I had to run honest in each moment. I had to find the balance of remaining patient while also not allowing myself to become lazy or complacent. I continually checked in with myself to see if my pace was in line with how my body was feeling. I accepted a slower pace when my energy dipped, but worked diligently to remedy the issue so I could return to a quicker tempo. I wanted there to be no slips in execution today, no excuses, just a demonstration of what I was capable of on that given day. I finished up my second lap and was surprised to see my split was right on from the first. If I keep this pace, I would finish around 7:08, but running closer to seven hours was still not out of the picture.

Can you?
Can you give a little?
Can you give a little more?

After again crewing for myself, I headed out for my third lap. The spring in my step seemed to be diminished. I felt like I was working harder and I felt that it showed. My feet were aching in ways they do not normally and my calves and quads tightened. I knew it was just normal pain and reminded myself that it should hurt. I have learned over the years the different types of pain that come with ultrarunning. There is pain that one should expect in such an endeavor and pain that indicates damage and injury. Luckily it was just the type of pain that lets me know I am alive and challenging myself.

My watch vibrated, alerting me of my last-mile split, a 9:10. It was a wake-up call, a reminder that my goal of seven hours was slipping away. Yes, I am alive, but slowing! I increased my cadence, took in some calories, and told myself that I was not willing to let myself take the easy way out by running comfortably.

Are you willing?
Are you willing to go there?
Are you willing to go there and able to?

As time seemed to be standing still and in the same moment slipping away, I slapped my quads with my hands and told them that it was time to wake up and move. As I came into the lap area, I was excited to know that I only had one more time around. The race clock showed 5:25 and change, so despite my efforts I had slowed. To my surprise, I didn’t panic or get upset. I toyed with the idea of letting up. I had a comfortable-enough lead over the second-place female that I could run a more leisurely last lap. This thought was fleeting; it was the easy way out. Every ounce of me remained committed to executing to the best of my abilities on this day.

I could see a male competitor in front of me and worked to slowly diminish the gap. We shared conversation, and the prospect of moving into the third position overall gave me fuel. I felt invigorated and energized despite the fatigue and discomfort. My pace quickened and I was once again alone. Within a few minutes the excitement still existed, but it was no longer masking the fatigue. As the course turned uphill, my intent was to remain running. I had already run this hill three times, what was once more?

How much do you have to give in this moment right now?
Can you give a little more and then some?
Are you willing to go there and able to commit?

It seemed so simple, just get up the hill and then run a few more rolling miles into the finish. I am reminded that what is simple in one moment is not always simple in another. Less than halfway up the hill, my legs literally ceased. I went from a run to trying to catch my tittering body from tipping over. I laughed, while also cringing. I questioned if my race was going to end right here, as I swayed in all directions like an overly intoxicated person. Without rational thought, I shifted the weight of my tanked body uphill. I was not going to accept anything but forward progress.

I tolerated a few walking strides as I sipped on my electrolyte drink. It was comical how bad my legs felt, they were rebelling and in some ways I didn’t blame them. It did not matter that my legs were hurting. It didn’t mater that my stomach was feeling queasy. It didn’t matter that I was covered in a layer of salt. What mattered was that I was committed to giving everything I could to run my best race.

I focused my thoughts and energy on getting my legs turning over again. With each moment, I built internal momentum and my speed increased. I felt like an airplane headed down the runway for takeoff. Slow to get going, but then I was flying. When I crossed the line, my time read 7:16:55. No, I had not run the time that I had hoped for. Honestly it didn’t matter to me. I put on a bib and I toed the line. During the race, I gave what I could in each moment and I accepted the pain as part of the process. I don’t have regrets; instead I felt good about my effort and felt proud of my time.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When was the last time you had a race or a run after which you felt like you had given it all you could?
  • When was the last time you asked yourself if you could give a little more, even when you were already giving so much?
Aliza Lapierre

finds peace and a sense of belonging while trail running. Her passion began by exploring the trails in her home state of Vermont and has been regenerated by exploration across the world. She continually works to redefine her perceived boundaries, while trying to inspire others to explore their capabilities as well.

There are 3 comments

  1. Mike Austin

    Nice work Aliza. Great writing and way to come back strong after a down race. The fear that lingers is definitely a mental hurdle that I have struggled with.

  2. Dennis

    Great article, I think many of us can relate to what Aliza describes.

    I had a similar experience this year. After concentrating on alpine trail races between 50 and 100k in the last years, I wanted to see if I can manage to run a city marathon in under 3 hours (old PB from 2011 was 3:19). Unfortunately, 2-3 months before the race I had a minor injury and was not able to do the long runs as I wanted to. I was tempted to cancel the race but decided in the end to go for it, knowing that the brain is the strongest muscle and deciding to give it everything I have got and see how far I come.

    I was on 2:59 pace until 32k into the marathon when the hammer came, and it came big time. It was the first time that I actually thought about DNF, despite having raced in ultra trails for 10 hours+ in much worse conditions. The thought of my first DNF and my kids at the finish line kept me going, and I finished with a PB of 3:15 still. But I was quite depressed afterwards. It took me months to start realizing that this was not a failure, and that giving all you have got and fighting through the pain is maybe more important than a number on the watch.

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