It was the last leg of the race. The finish line, with all the rest and reprieve it had to offer, was minutes away. My body felt tired, my muscles exhausted from the last 49 miles and hours of sweat and adrenaline.
I rounded the corner where the teenage girls hosting the final aid station cheered, offered water and yelled after me, “One more mile! You’re almost there!”…Their voices washed over me and I was filled with a combination of calm and excitement. I picked up my feet, quickening my worn out shuffle to a steady trot. My lips curved slightly up as my smile returned and the anticipation of my complimentary lunch and beer inspired my feet to continue on.
Then, the song changed on my iPod.
For the duration of the race, I had lucked out with a pretty incredible mix of music popping up on my playlist; only having to skip one or two songs when the mood didn’t fit.
I had kept a steady clip on the 10k, pacing to the beat and motivating with steady bass lines. The road bike section of the race was accompanied by the perfect mix of get-me-up-this-hill tracks and feel-the-wind-on-my-face songs.
Due to the high level of technical turns and terrain combined with my low level of experience in the mountain bike section, I refrained from listening to any music so as to avoid distraction or worse. I did, however, distract myself from the terror I felt while whizzing down steep descents, hovering above my seat with my eyes frantically scanning for any upcoming obstacles that threatened my safety, by singing/screaming “Here’s my number, so call me maybe”. I know that song will forever conjure the memory of clenched teeth, white knuckles, and exhilarating fright that was my fifth mountain biking experience, ever.
In the last mile of the Glacier Challenge, when all I wanted to do alternated between jumping for joy and collapsing on the grass, a heart-wrenching, breath-taking, devastating ballad began to play. Immediately, all of the exhaustion and hunger and dehydration caught up to me, and my sight began to blur. I could feel my cheeks burning and my nose start to clog. All I wanted to do was cry - to let loose and flail my arms out in a dramatic sob.
Crying, however, is not conducive to running; or should I say, breathing.
As my eyes brimmed with tears, my breathing quickened and my chest heaved. As if 49 miles weren’t difficult enough, now my lungs were tightening in a vise and all I could get were little fluttering whimpers.
I knew this would not work.
I flapped my hands in the air, wiped my eyes and grunted in my best tough-girl fashion, willing the tears to stop. Seconds later I was fine, rolling my eyes at how ridiculous I must have looked.
I jogged on through the final mile. My feet felt light, my energy renewed, and as the end approached, I sprinted across the finish line. There were people everywhere, cheering and clapping, and I scanned their faces for that of my best friend. When I finally spotted her, my chest began to tighten again. In a panic, I weaved through the crowd towards her, while desperately trying to control my breathing. I wouldn’t let myself cry again, not in this sea of competitors and spectators.
I ran into her arms, just as my jaw began to tighten and lips began to quiver, and her cheers and screams of congratulations let my tears subside again.
It sounds silly to me now, that a song and a race would make me want to cry, though the reality is setting in. I can look back and realize the full range of emotions I experienced and overcame in the five and a half hours in took me to complete the 50 mile race.
For the majority of the race my smile hurt my cheeks, and I spat out bugs that were trapped in my gaping grin. Then there were moments that I felt levels of predatory determination, eyes set on the back of the racer in front of me. The panic and anger in my eyes during the mountain bike section, mixed with “I missed you so bad. I missed you so, so bad” would have scared off any challenger.
Now, days later, I still feel exhausted. It isn’t my muscles that need replenishing as much as my spirit. My energy is sapped, and I feel the effects of the rollercoaster I just completed.
I know now that the tears I so desperately wanted to both shed and conceal were driven by the overwhelming pride I felt over my accomplishment. Preceding the race, I felt a level of nervousness that I have never felt before, and thus the pride and satisfaction at the end surpassed my expectations.
I raced hard, not to win, but to complete a goal I set for myself. I raced for the experience - for the ride.