8 steps to my first DNS

Originally posted September 2014 on RunPrettyFar.com

“Didn’t you learn anything from that last blog you wrote?” she asked as we hiked up Squak Mountain, both mellow about our recovery & relax pace. Caught off guard by her sensible reasoning, I started to argue. “Yah, well, sure, but I just want one more hit of adrenaline, one more chance to feel hard core before I sink into the winter slump.” “But what if it doesn’t work?” she asked. “What if like last time you just end up feeling empty?”

Jess and I were debating whether I should run Plain 100, the last race I was signed up for this summer. The Plain 100 is Washington’s underground trouble maker of a race. No aid stations, no markings, no water, no food, no help. But you DO get single track rutted into deep V’s from constant motorcycle use, cinder blocks buried in the trail, lung-choking dust, desert like exposure, and soul breaking climbs. I had planned to run only if I was able to train on the course and properly learn the navigation, but raging wildfires had closed the area all summer. Most of the course had finally just been re-opened.

“Ok, if you insist”, she said, “we can go and I’ll teach you the tricky parts…but why don’t you wait until next year to actually run it? When a little time and rest makes you actually want to do it, not just because you’re looking for a high?”

The next Friday the alarm went off at 3 am, so I could leave the house at 4am, so I could be at our carpool spot in Monroe at 5am, so we could be at the trailhead at 7am. The things we do for running. We headed out with full packs to run the first loop of the Plain course, about 40miles.

It was a perfect ultra-running day. Great views and easy conversation. Hard enough to be rewarding, but over just as we were starting to feel tired. Followed by a hamburger at the diner and a restful sleep. After a day on the course, I felt infinitely more confident about the navigation and, knowing me, Jess was sure I would be running the race next weekend. But I still couldn’t decide…


With only one week until the start, I spent each of those remaining days perseverating about whether or not to run. Usually my big aha’s come while in motion, but last week I learned quite a lot just from thinking about running, no long miles necessary.

 #1: 100 milers ARE hard. Don’t underestimate that.

I tend to seriously mitigate this one. Like most pursuits, I rushed toward the 100 miler with fear and excitement and wouldn’t rest until I had completed one. And another. And then very quickly (if quietly) proclaimed it ‘no big deal’. Well, not exactly NBD, but somewhere along the way I lost the proper respect for the hurt a 100miler puts on your body and started signing up for them like easy fun runs. Which they are / can be…but they are no joke either. Mangled feet, swollen tree trunk legs, the beginnings of a UTI….these are just a few of my common day after complaints, not even considering the mental exercise of going into the 100m vacuum, which brings me to #2…

#2: Hard things are only fun when life doesn’t feel so hard.

What kind of weirdos choose to do really hard, punishing things for their weekend hobby? Ultrarunners, that’s who. And a lot of times, pushing our body and brain into this discomfort zone is just the escape we want from real life. It’s a challenging, sexy adventure that doesn’t involve email or spreadsheets. Or marital disputes or mowing the lawn. It’s the perfect painful get-a-way. Unless your life feels so stressful that the idea of doing one more stressful thing on the weekend feels, well, just plain stressful.

I’m not sure when that fun/not fun line appears. But you know when you’ve crossed it. With the fragile mental state I’m in right now – feeling lots of pressure about the new store, my future, finances, the to-do list that I can’t seem to get out in front of – the idea of doing one more hard thing (with people watching the results, that takes all weekend, creates a huge, stinky mess of laundry, and leaves me walking like a wounded elephant) just didn’t feel fun.

#3: Pride (ego) goeth before a fall.

“But everyone knows I’m running it. And if I finish, everyone will congratulate me. But if I don’t, it will be embarrassing.” Ouch. Admitting to those ego driven thoughts is painful. But I know I’m not the only one who has had them.

What a sad little state of affairs when we start making decisions based on: shoulds and everyone else and what ifs; feeling trapped and desperate for one more stroke of success or fearful of failure. Great decisions are made when you can’t possibly conceive of doing anything else, when your heart is singing toward the direction you are destined to go.

#4: Get a Grip – It’s just running.

Tuesday morning my neighbor said to me, “Now why do you look so serious and all scrunched up in the face?” I sat down by him and said, “Randy, I’ve got a problem.” “Talk to me!” he bellowed and put his head in his hands signaling he was ready to listen. I proceeded to explain my case; should I or should I not run this epic race I was signed up for?

He yanked his eyes up at me and yelled in his over the top, mock horror and disbelief, “Are you tellin’ me that’s all you got? That’s your big problem? You come back to me when you’ve really got something on your wagon! Class dismissed!”

Score: Randy 1, Jenn 0.

Really, Jenn? Are you seriously writing an entire blog on your decision making process of whether or not to run a 100miler. And did you actually spend an entire week trying to decide whether or not to run? Yep, I did. Lesson learned. Running is for fun. Do it, enjoy it, love it…. don’t make it into a struggle, a dilemma, a hardship. Cause it’s not. Life is full of enough heavy things without turning your joyful passion into one of them.

#5: Friends make life better.

Wednesday night, my good friend Angel and her husband Tim asked if they could swing by the office/shop to chat. I’m still getting used to interacting with real, live people during my ‘work day’ and probably said something about being stressed and busy (yikes, awful). But Angel is incorrigible and before I knew it we were 2 lemon drops in at happy hour across the street. Talking, laughing, advising each other on life. I leaned in when my thoughtful friend gave her opinion on whether I should run my race. Then we went and shot the silliest photos ever of our new His & Hers ‘Mountains Are Calling’ tee. I snorted and giggled and went to bed feeling so much happier thanks to good friends.

#6: Real decisions happen first thing in the morning.

Impulses happen at night, after a bottle of the wine, when you find yourself feeling ballsy on ultrasignup.com. But reality happens at 6am. When the first wash of light hits your eyes and your body naturally arches in a good morning stretch and your brain is empty and unbiased. That fleeting moment and whatever singular feeling accompanies it. That impulse is real and to be trusted. Perhaps we can’t always follow it immediately… if it’s dread about going to work you still have to get dressed and go. But if you wake up to that feeling day after day? It’s probably time to look for a new job. The morning sun does not lie.

Only lately have I realized how important that first, unfiltered awareness is. Thursday morning I woke up and, before my thinking brain could turn on, I realized I simply didn’t want to run 100miles. I just didn’t wanna. And no one cares if I do or I don’t. I don’t want to be stressed about the possibility of failure. And I really don’t want the pressure of a clock tick-tocking behind me all weekend. I just want a break.

Ahh, what freedom.

#7: Debating is weight. Decisions are freedom.

Ok, I stole this nugget from the awesome book I am reading, Re-Work, but the wisdom is really too good to not pass along. Every moment we spend in the decision making zone is a moment we lose, weighted down and wasted. Agonizing, perseverating, endlessly debating over something that looking back six months in the rear view mirror will most likely be irrelevant. Chances are, inside, we know the answer instantly and the entire farce of pretending otherwise is time-sucking and energy-sapping. Decide and move forward already.

#8: We’re alive and the sun is shining. Amen.

I’m only starting to understand how deep the connection is, for me, between letting go and life looking up. When I squeeze my stresses tight and hold my fears close, like a protective wrap of doom and intensity….life feels pretty dark. I can’t do this, I can’t make it all work, no one understands and I am in this alone. Oh my, what dramatic crap.

When I let go, open up, free up, give up…I walk outside and suddenly notice the pocket of blue in the sky, the bird chirping down the street, the sun hitting my arm, the stranger smiling at me in the grocery store. The world is wonderfully full of wonder and it is ours to take part in, every day, whether we go running…or in this case, not.

{Sunday evening in the park….after an easy, relaxing weekend.}

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