Sometime late last fall, when I was still in the joyful post-race haze of having done the Goatz 50K in Omaha, Nebraska as well as a fantastic half-marathon on Thanksgiving, I decided to sign up for the inaugural "Quest for the Crest" 50K in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. The race promised very challenging, technical trails up to the top of a mountain crest three times; a range that is home to the tallest peaks east of the Mississippi and some of the most magnificent views in the southeast. Another promise made by the race director: This would be THE hardest 50K in the world.
Well, of course, I thought. Everyone wants to believe their baby is the best. The same goes for race directors and the events they plan and coordinate. Or personal trainers and the workout routines they design...
In the following months of studying topographical maps and taking the time to run in upstate SC on trails that might mimic what I would be in store for, I realized that this was not just another mountain race, but that I'd actually probably lose or break a limb, as the race director kept taunting us with updates like:
"I am so sure that you won't do this that I will be giving $500 to anyone who breaks 6 hours on the 50k"
"This should be one of the most technical runs you've ever done. If not then you must live in British Columbia."
-and my personal favorite-
"50kers, coming down Colberts Ridge it will be insanely dangerous. The first 2 miles is sketchy at best, wet rocks and roots. Seriously a fall could kill you. Please butt slide when you don't feel safe." (this would be the 2nd descent coming down off the crest)
Doubt is the cloud that stops your brain from being able to communicate with your body. I knew this, but it took a lot of self-talk and pumping up to get over that mental hurdle and stop worrying about whether or not I'd make the time cut-offs: 3.5 hours for 7 miles (yes, that is truly how long the director thought it would take many of us), 7.5 hours at mile 19, then 12 hours at mile 26.5. Just seeing those time estimations alone made it hard to swallow. That is a LOT of time hiking and crawling up rocks and negotiating our way down ankle-breaking descents. And you better believe that some of us needed every last minute to do it all.
But I had to stop doubting and start doing. Simple as that. I was still a bundle of nerves when I walked up to the starting line (the street sign at the bottom of a dead-end country road that lead up to our first trail), but the only thoughts I allowed to creep into my head were the visualizations of me cresting that damn mountain - all three times - and crossing the finish.
"I know it sucks. It sucks, but you have to do it."
"Let this be the hardest thing you'll do today. Then you can come back and do something harder tomorrow because you've already done the hardest thing you could do."
"Don't think. Just move."
What I've seen happen to some people, and what has happened to myself on many a training run, is that our heads often get in the way of what our bodies can do. As soon as you allow yourself to question what you are capable of doing, you are giving yourself an out. The option stands there to simply stop because you don't think you can do more or go further, and that's that.
Whether you are in the middle of a challenging workout, getting up the nerve to work out for the first time ever, or standing on top of a mountain knowing you have to run down and then hike up AGAIN, you absolutely can not give yourself the option to give up. From the start, you need to envision the finish. You lock onto that feeling of success and elation that you will surely have once you reach your goal, and you hold on to that for dear life. Because THAT, my friends, is what will pull you through.
And I'll also tell you this: I sure as hell am going to do it again. Not because I like hobbling backwards down stairs or discovering all the new places I didn't realize I needed to apply BodyGlide (shoulder blades, if you wear a hydration vest in a tank top, FYI), but because there is no other way for me to see the beauty of this world without climbing those peaks. Because I wouldn't know my limits if I didn't push myself to find them. Because the hardest thing I've ever done in my life is actually that which I have not yet done.
Thank you for reading and sharing this journey with me. I know the only way for me to help others improve their lives is if I am continuously working toward something myself. I know that I am not yet everything I can be, because each new accomplishment opens the door to try something new, and that is what I hope to do for many people to come. Whatever your mountain is, it is up to YOU to decide to reach the summit. Break away from fear and doubt to free yourself so you can not only get to the top, but look onward toward even higher peaks.