That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger.
Have you ever been caught in an especially tough race, training run or competitive/endurance event? Were you able to dig deep and persevere to the finish line? Did you have enough grit to keep that proverbial white flag from flying?
I have had races where everything fell into place... the weather was optimal, my energy was on-point, the race course wasn't especially hilly or difficult. And, there have been many other races that took more work than usual to stay on course (no pun intended). These were challenging races that forced me to tap into my "grit reserve."
Thankfully, these tough races have made me a much tougher runner...and stronger for the fight.
In no particular order:
DAM to DSM 2021 (recap HERE)
Most everyone knows this is my absolute favorite race (and I have run a lot of races). With the Covid crap of 2020, last year's race was postponed and, eventually had to go virtual. The 2021 event was postponed from its usual early summer date (the first Saturday after Memorial Day), but was held at the end of August. I had spent the past two months training for a marathon (that had recently just been cancelled), so I was in decent shape. I was so excited to be back on the D2D race course...but things didn't play out as I'd planned. Granted the day got really hot really soon, but that usually isn't a factor for me. Maybe I was feeling over confidant (after all I'd run this race 12 times prior)? Perhaps I was (arrogantly) expecting a PR (because I'd been training for a much longer distance). Or maybe it was just one of those days when things were not going to go my way. I had to walk numerous times, and I felt light-headed on occasion. I never felt like quitting, but I knew I had to take things much easier than I'd hoped.
The thing is, despite my frustration with the circumstances I'd been given, I still had immense joy in simply being there. I also was quite grateful that I had the ability to persevere and finish with a smile, even with one of my slowest D2D finish times.
Marine Corps Marathon (recap HERE)
This was an event that had long been on my bucket list. But Momma N wasn't letting it happen nicely. Race day blessed us with torrential rain for most of the morning, for myself that meant the first 19 miles. There was standing water in numerous places along the course (one such place it was knee-high for the length of a couple city blocks!). I had trained well, but I had not trained in torrential rain. Then, the rain stopped, the sun came out and the air got very humid (from all the rain, LOL). My feet were so sore from the wet socks (even SmartWool socks were no match for 3-1/2 hours of rain) and my clothing remained a heavy, saturated mess (nothing was evaporating with all that humidity). My legs grew tired from the extra effort it took to keep my sore feet moving.
But the course was so scenic. The crowd support was nonstop. And the Marines were most gracious. That finish line was like none other after the long, wet, tough morning I'd endured to get there. If I can look back on this with fond memories, I know I can truly find joy in the most unlikely places.
Cannonball Marathon (recap HERE)
A few years ago, I found myself in another frustrating situation as I made my way through a hilly and rather difficult 26.2-mile race course in Greensboro, NC. Unknown to us (I was with a few friends), this race course had hill after hill (and had not provided any pre-race information on the area or the route). The crowd support was practically non-existent, and the back half of the route had us on highways with minimal course markings. Although I made it to the finish line, it was tough (physically and mentally) battling all the frustrations of the race. Ultimately, though, I came out victorious and made it across the finish line.
Ironically, I can honestly look back at this marathon as a great experience. That's right. Even though I finished a good 30 minutes longer than I was hoping, the feeling of euphoria in conquering (instead of succumbing to) that race was like none other. I proved to myself, yet again, that I'm one tough cookie when I need to be.
Route 66 Marathon (recap HERE)
Another especially tough marathon was Route 66, a marathon famous for non-stop rolling hills through numerous scenic neighborhoods in Tulsa, OK. I knew this course would be hilly, and I knew there would probably be some wind. What took me by surprise on race day, though, was a strange hip/groin pain that persisted from the 2-mile mark all the way to the finish line. I spent most of the first 13 miles considering stopping at the 13.1 finish line. When I chose to keep going, I spent another five miles debating about turning around and going back to that finish line. Thankfully, I was well-trained (possibly over-trained), so my endurance was spot-on. I was able to run at a decent pace, but had to keep taking walk breaks due to the persistent pain.
It really was a fun and festive race course, so I'm glad I was able to push through all of the pain and frustration. I nearly cried at the finish line because I was so exhausted, yet proud, from the battle in getting there.
Fight for Air Climb-Chicago (recap HERE)
A favorite event I have done every year, since 2013, is the Fight for Air Climb (in Des Moines, IA). When I was offered the opportunity to do the Chicago Climb, I was all over it. So what if it involved the four Presidential Towers and encompassed a total of 180 flights of stairs (45 flights in each building)...I was up for the challenge! The Des Moines venue (at the time) only had 66 flights of stairs...so when I had finished the first Presidential Tower in Chicago, I really wondered if I'd be able to climb three more towers of equal height because my legs felt like over-cooked pasta and I was so out of breath.
I'm a strong believer in "go big or go home," though, so quitting was not an option. Each tower seemed more difficult than the previous ones, but I just kept climbing. I took periodic breaks on some of the landings, and I drank plenty of water. I finished all four towers with a time of 35:44, and felt like a champion when they handed me my finisher medal.
Christmas in July 12-Hour Ultra (recap HERE)
In 2015, a group of Facebook/blogging friends (and myself) met up and ran the CIJ 6-Hour ultra (recap HERE) in Lisle, IL, and decided to reconvene a year later and take on the 12-hour race (again, go big or go home LOL). The race began at 11:00 p.m. and ended at 11:00 a.m. the following morning. Yes, we ran all night long and most of the next morning as well. The course was a 1-mile loop around a lake. Some of those loops were run with others from the group. Many were run on my own. There were intermittent loops of walking. There were lots of laughs and chit-chatting. There also was total silence.
When the 12 hours had ended, I had 37 miles done, which is a 60K. Oddly, I never felt tired, but my mind did get a little loopy at times. That 1-mile route got repetitive, but was oddly comforting in that we knew there would be a spread of food and drink right before the timing mat (that would record our laps each time we crossed it). I was giddy with endorphins at the finish and didn't actually sleep until a good 12 hours later. Truth.
Flying Pigs Duathlon (recap HERE)
Always looking for a new adventure, I took on the challenge of a duathlon a few years ago. Why not? This took place in Washington, IA a few weeks after my 6-hour ultra (early August 2015). As if riding a borrowed bike wasn't scary enough, there also was the challenge of staying on said bike for 20 hilly miles (my longest ride ever at that point in time)...through the humid Iowa air (on a hot day) with several pig farms along the route.
The 5K run, before the ride, was a piece of cake, but the 1.5-mile run afterwards was like a death march. My legs did not want to move and I could barely lift my feet off the pavement. Several racers were walking; the ones who were attempting to run looked like zombies with no muscle control (myself included). But, my goal was a 2-hour finish, and I crossed the finish line in 1:58:28. Mission accomplished.
What all of these events have in common is the joy and pride in finishing a tough race. Sure, there's a great deal of satisfaction in running an "easier" race, but what is there to learn from it? Gritting it out in tough conditions, at least for me, is far more rewarding because nothing is taken for granted. Having to fight to the finish line makes it even more sweet when you finally reach it.