Wow. How to adequately describe one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am not sure I can do it justice, to be honest, but I am going to try as I want this somewhere I can look back on.
Last year after my friend M did Peak(380 KILLER miles, mind you) I made a commitment to her- I would train for a year and help her get it done in 2014. I would come up and pace/crew/enter jobs here to get her through to the end. I made a plan to get in the best shape I could, get physically strong as I knew how hard the course would be, run as much as I could, and get on the mountain as often as I could. I had a few health glitches along the way, but for the most part I did what I set out to do. I wanted to be in top form so that whatever M needed from me, I could do it. I NEVER wanted to say *I can't*...and I didn't. We ran many a long run together in training, over hills, hills and more hills and throw a mountain in for good measure...*suck runs* we called them... I was able to run 130 miles up on that mountain with her on her journey to 400 miles. And the experience was life changing.
There are several parts of this story. First off...the runners. 5 runners started off on this journey and 3 made it to the end. What I witnessed on that mountain in those runners...I saw someone push on until he simply could not push further. I saw someone who spent YEARS getting ready for THIS moment, reach his goal. I watched someone push beyond everything to get to the finish. And I witnessed my sister-from-another-mother transcend from what she was to who she is. It was an extremely emotional experience as this type of thing is SO much more than a race. It is a pilgrimage. It is a journey. You go out on that mountain, on a course that is pretty intense and designed to break you...and break you it will. You are left with your raw self. You are sleep deprived, hungry, in pain and emotionally spent. Then it is just you and the trail. The support for this event, the pacers and crew...its a job everyone should be lucky enough to do. To watch your runner go out on that loop time and time again, when they just want to sleep, when it hurts, A LOT, the strength they showed....unreal. To watch other crews, well oiled machines that had everything down to a science, awesome. To see someone with no crew, who was starting to wane, and watch other runner's crews who were total strangers, jump in and help with whatever was needed- pacing, food, just giving selflessly...it was how life SHOULD be. The support was across the board. Always checking in with other crew to see how their runner was doing, to see if they needed anything, to offer support, or to just talk while we waited for our runners to come in. The people I met during this week...new friends...there was a bond formed. Out in that place, disconnected from the regular world, it was just people. And I have come to care very much for these people. They are a special family and I will always remember this time spent with them because you are instantly close...when you spend THAT much time with people, the walls come down very quickly. My life is richer with these people in it.
We had all kinds of times. There were some absolutely hilarious times, where we simply lost our minds and our senses and were foolish and silly and ridiculous and it was GLORIOUSLY fun. We could go on for an hour about the most insane things and laugh until our sides ached and we couldn't breathe. There were some incredibly profound times where we had revelations about ourselves and our lives that stopped us in our tracks, knowing that things would never be quite the same again. There were quiet times of simply going in to look around at what was in there. There was growth. There was release. There were quiet tears for what was and what is, and for the suffering. There were breakdowns and meltdowns. There were joyous moments and HUGE accomplishments. And we left it ALL out there.
The last year plus has not been an easy one for me. There have been numerous challenges in my life with my health and personal life that have thrown me off a cliff more than once. I have had my mountains to climb, and climb I did, even if it meant as soon as I got down the other side there was another one waiting. It was, and still is, challenging. But, if its worth it, its worth working for. Though I did not do NEARLY the running that these amazing people did, there were moments out there where my brain was simply quiet. There was nothing. It was breathing, moving....and that was it. That NEVER happens. It was simply quiet in my head. Those were probably some of the more powerful moments for me. I also had some pretty intense *come to Jesus* moments...I realized just how far I have come in my life. That I am a good person, worthy of good things. I CAN set my mind to doing something and succeed...and that is ok. Actually, its BETTER than ok its wonderful and I deserve that. Some harder stuff came out too...I realized that I had been using my illness as a crutch, an excuse. It was my built in failure mechanism. I could fail and it was ok because I was *sick*...I was creating more illness than was there by allowing that to be part of who I was. Because of my own issues of never being good enough, or never allowing myself TO succeed, I simply accepted the fact I was a failure and I could live with that. So, races in particular, as well as other things in my life, I KNEW or I thought, if I failed, which I probably would, I could always use my illness as an excuse. It was a cop-out. A WAY out. That really hit me like a ton of bricks, and literally stopped me dead on the trail. I simply did not believe in myself enough to think I *could* do it(whatever *it* was) so I blamed the illness. How many times have I actually given that illness power over me? Over my life? I am certainly stronger than it is, I have proven that time and time again. When you know better, you do better and now I know...and I am taking that power back. I am more than an illness and will no longer be defined by it.
I realized just how strong I am while I was out there. When we got down to the last day, it was VERY emotional. I was about to watch one of my most dearest friends in the whole world conquer her mountain. And, I was about to conquer my own. I left M at the summit of her 2nd to last lap as she needed time to be with herself. I ran down that mountain crying. It was my breaking point. I truly needed to leave it ALL on that mountain. I got to the bottom, and knew I just wasn't done. I had so much left inside me that I did not want to bring home. I needed to let it all go. With an egg sandwich in my hand and sobbing like a fool, I did one more lap...and I left it all there. ALL of it. I knew when I finished that last stretch I was not leaving as the person who arrived there. And that was a good thing.
After changing I got settled to wait for M to finish her last miles. I watched several other runners finish up the 100 and 200 mile runs knowing that they too would be going home different people. And there she was...with the most beautiful smile on her face. She had done it. She had met her goal...and so much more. It was amazing. I am SO incredibly grateful that she allowed me to be there for this journey with her. I am honored to have been able to witness that 400 mile transformation. I will always cherish the times we had out there on those trails, times we shared with others and the times we had alone...some of the best times of my life. This was SUCH a gift and a blessing. I am so very grateful for it.