I was 45 miles into my race, a grueling 50 mile trail race through the hills and over the ridges of some of interior Alaska’s beautiful wilderness. I was slowly forcing my body up the last climb, just shy of 500 vertical feet and a half of a mile from the top of the ridgeline when I took a pause. I hurt, I was dizzy, weak and I was cramping badly in my right leg and this was when the wheels fell off. This is ultra marathon trail running when things go the wrong way and it is actually quite normal, we’ve all been there before and are able to sympathize with some one when it happens to them and extremely happy when it doesn’t happen to ourselves.
Mile 40 aid station, I arrived a bit beat up and dealing with a nagging cramp in my right hamstring but still in wonderful spirits, I was having fun! It was cool out and I felt that I was hydrating properly so from the aid station I continued on down the winter trail, crossed the waist deep stream which was very refreshing and headed to the swamp and mud of the winter trail for the next mile and a half. As I approached the 42 mile aid station and check point I was still pretty fresh aside for the cramping, a little light-headed and a hint of nausea but all in all in good spirits. I made the cutoff time with over an hour and a half to spare so I rested a bit at the aid station and tried to eat and drink stuff. Somethings made me even more nauseous so I drank a bit of ginger ale to no avail.
Walking out of the aid station I knew I had only 8 miles left to run and 2 of those miles were going to be a nightmare, so I began slowly running again to get it over with. Fast forward one mile and there I am standing on the side of the trail half way up a steep climb puking up my life story. The cramping was unrelenting and I could barely use my leg. Later on as I was standing there in the trees staring up towards the ridgeline half a mile away and 500 feet above me, I knew I had failed and that my day was done. It took a moment to resign myself to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be finishing this race, a finish line that was tantalizingly close but still hours away.
My decision to withdraw was a heavy one to make, but in retrospect it was the right choice since I was alone with no support and the chance of something risking my health was a high possibility. Not putting other people at risk in the event of my need of a rescue was the final straw, I am not a greedy man and to force people to come for me would have been very irresponsible of me. When we fail, when we reach that precise moment that we surrender for what ever the reason is that is the time we must reflect on who we are. Those choices we make, to continue and carry on risking everything on pride or ego, maybe just being stubborn can have a high price tag down the road.
Failure is an education that we learn so much from, more so than ever not failing in the first place. If we never fail how are we going to know what it is like, how it feels to not finish or what our body goes through to reach the breaking point? Failure teaches us about ourselves and our bodies, how far we can push it until enough is enough like running a car until the gas tank is dry. You’ll never know how far you can drive until the last drop of gas is spent, truly. We learn so much about ourselves, our mindset, our heart and will and we learn about what our body does in these situations so now in the future we’ll see the signs and know if this or that will happen.
Failure teaches us so much about how to be prepared for next time, what we do right and what we’ve done wrong. Failure becomes a yard stick for success and like any tool the information gained is invaluable for preparation for the next big race. The only true failure is if you don’t think about and remember how and what caused the failure previously, learning is growing and growing will lead you to the finish line.
In the following days after the race I did some research only to discover that it wasn’t that I was dehydrated and not taking in enough fluids and nutrition, but in fact I was suffering from Hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is the result of taking in too much fluids thus diluting my electrolyte and sodium levels with symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, muscle spasms, cramping, nausea, vomiting. All symptoms of dehydration as well, and under the conditions and stress of an ultra marathon the mistake would be easy to make. Failure was a learning experience for me and what I have taken away from that education will be invaluable to me as I prepare for my next big races.