24 September 2013

Frenzied and (a little bit) Fearful

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering...”  
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Bear 100 elvation profile
The pre-race jitters have arrived. As of yesterday, my ability to nap is gone as my brain churns over details of the race. The anticipation of 20+ hours of suffering is hard to ignore. I told my Facebook community that I feel like I'm looking forward to a 30-hour natural labor. There is a similar ambivalence to childbirth of wanting to get on with things, being fearful of the upcoming pain and expecting great joy when it's all over.

I know that it won't be a sufferfest in its entirety. At the pace I hike/run, I can enjoy the first 30-50 miles, based on prior experience. It's the second, unknown 50 miles that I anticipate to be very challenging. I expect to hit the 52 mile aid station in the early evening, when darkness falls and my vision is reduced to the beam of a headlamp. Normally, I enjoy running at night but I've not done so with 50 miles on my legs. I may need to search deep in my soul for continued joy in the journey. 

 "Time to dare and endure.” - Winston Churchill

I want to keep the perspective that I'm incredibly fortunate to have legs that work and to take part in a well-supported mountain adventure with like minded folks. As I enjoy this sliver of God's creation I'll do so with prayers of gratitude, supplication and praise going up. As God gives me my next breath and keeps me alive (Job 12:10), He gives my legs the means to move forward.

As I rely on God's help, I'm also very determined to keep moving until I finish or I'm told to stop. Steve Pero said that if I'm pulled for missing a cutoff, I am to politely say thank you and enjoy my rest. Good advice from a wise man who knows what it's like to DNF (Did Not Finish) and maintains a proper perspective on it. If I'm not fast enough to finish within the cutoffs then I'll keep working on my speed and try again next year. 

I really have no idea what my limits are and these running events are ways of testing them. Failure is simply a tool to help me improve the next time around. There is great peace in the knowledge that failure says nothing about my significance as a person or athlete. As a follower of Jesus, my worth is rooted in being a forgiven sinner, well-loved by the one who I've offended who has promised me a deliriously happy eternity. And this has nothing to do with my performance -- it's all grace, that is, unmerited favor. Praise God.

"I've not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."
- Thomas Edison

My curiosity as to what I'm able to accomplish athletically in my middle age is a large part of why I'm doing ultras. I've got nothing to prove to anyone; I'm just taking something that I enjoy (moving as fast as I can in the mountains) and seeing just what my body is capable of. I've been continually surprised as how trainable it is, when the mind is willing. I tell people who don't run long distances that they can too, if they want to. Barring an injury or significant health impairment, anyone can train their body to run 100 miles. It's the lack of desire or mental fortitude that stands in the way. While no one needs to run 100 miles to prove this, our bodies can be trained to do way more than we think we can.

"Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible." 
- Albert Einstein

Experiences like these are formative and I know that I'll be changed in good ways from having attempted something so hard. I truly believe that I've been brought to this place and that every step to getting here has been laid out for me and that every amazing person that I've met has been placed in my path. Whether I succeed or fail, it has been an incredible eight months of being a part of the ultrarunning community. Thanks to all of you that have shared the trails and encouraged me from the sidelines this year. 

With that said, I'm beginning to pack and put my drop bags together with spare shoes, socks, food, clothes. I have my foot care bag to cover up potential blister spots and extra tape/bandages/alcohol wipes for those that appear during the race. I'm packing warm clothes as it appears the temps will be between the 20's Friday night with a couple of inches of snow possibly. No record heat this year, which is fine with me. I run better in the cold. I'm bringing three pairs of shoes, just in case. I've got comprehensive list of items to ensure I've not missed anything.
I guess my ISTJ-ness is showing.
When I'm out in beautiful places, inevitably this hymn by Saint Francis of Assisi comes into my head. If I was a race director, I'd serenade the runners with an acapella version before the start. Better yet, I'd try and wrangle Patty G., the Wailin' Jennys or Manhattan Transfer to do it. Enjoy...

Happy Trails,



  1. This is a great post and explanation of why you do what you do, Shelby! Hope your race is a great experience and that you feel God near you!

    1. Thank you Kit! I'm glad it helped explain why I do these crazy ultras!

      Please tell your friend how much I love that necklace you posted on FB. I'd totally buy one of those from her if she sold them!

  2. You're going to do fine, Shelby...you have the experience of the 50's you've raced and paced this year for your leg strength and endurance, now you just need to handle in between the ears. Before my first 100 many moons ago, I was also nervous and a good friend of mine, who just so happened to be "the" elite female ultrarunner of that period said to me "Just go slower and eat more". I'll leave you with that and see you on Thursday.
    Oh, I went on and ran sub 20 in that first 100, like I said stick with Deb until you can smell the finish (no sooner than mile 95) and go get that buckle!

    1. Steve, what would I do without you and Deb to give me such great advice. I'm so happy to be able to share the weekend fun with you both. It's gonna be a great day (and a half!) out on the trails.

  3. I'll have some home brew for Sat night back in the room, we'll celebrate your and Deb's finish ;-)

    1. Like, +1, Favorite... all of the above!

  4. I agree with Steve. I did the Bear in 2011 as my first 100. Going aid station to aid station works well for me in not overthinking it, and helps in compartmentalizing the journey. Maybe it'll work for you, regardless enjoy the run and when you see Bear Lake after the last climb... have your camera handy. I'm planning on keeping track on Friday and Saturday.

    1. Thanks Doug! I have seen a few snapshots of folks running down that last descent with Bear Lake in the background and it nearly brings tears to my eyes. I will have the camera to capture that moment when I know it's "in the bag"!

  5. Shelby by no stretch are you middle aged. I've got socks older than you, ;) You
    gave it hell at Bear and next time you will get it done!


    1. Yes, it's nice to be thought of as a youngster still... :-) I look forward to putting my Bear report out later this week & dreaming about the next 100 I'll go after. Thanks for the encouragement, Matt!