Having someone else along to chat about everything except what was going on at the moment was just what I needed. I thought that maybe if I got distracted enough I'd forget that I was struggling and be able to relax a bit. Solana did a wonderful job talking about everything under the sun from what adventures they had at the dollar store, to hunting for a Starbucks to all kinds of random things I can't even remember.
I managed to carry on for awhile but then that suffocating feeling came back and I was struggling for breaths again. Crap. The distraction technique wasn't working. I decided to fall back a bit and let Solana run in front of me with some of the other runners. Now I was just feeling overwhelmed and thought maybe a bit of quiet would help.
Solana had me figured out though. She told me the stress was probably the biggest factor and that I needed to find a way to relax. So much easier said than done. She was right, I knew I was capable of doing this run I just had to put myself back together somehow and get moving.
As Solana and I were talking I took a few extra walk breaks because it was the only thing I felt I could do to catch my breath. It felt like the next rest stop was never going to come but thankfully we saw people turning in not too far ahead on the horizon. Ray greeted us as we arrived at the picnic area and feeling totally defeated I hardly talked to anyone as I headed for the support van to grab a drink and snack.
As I guzzled some Gatorade (which I swore I would never drink again but tasted like liquid gold in that moment) I knew I had to find a way to relax and turn this around. I'd worked through so many far-tougher challenges in my life, I couldn't let a bit of fatigue and stress ruin something I'd been looking forward to for so long.
The answer was simple, I needed to put on my headphones, crank up some kick-butt songs and run my 10:1 intervals until I was feeling better. I didn't want to shut everyone out by listening to my iPod but music is incredibly motivating to me and since I was running slower I was on my own a bit behind the pack anyway.
I faked a smile to Solana, Dianna and my family as I left the rest stop, put in my headphones and hoped for the best. A few good songs played through and already I was starting to feel more relaxed. Right after leaving the rest stop we headed back out onto some dykes and I put my head down and let my body find a rhythm.
I ran this section completely on my own and even though I was still a bit tired, slowly I was feeling like myself again. I had kept up until now but my body was clearly finding the less frequent breaks tough and so I had to just listen to my body and do my 10:1's. It was working and I found I was pretty much keeping pace with the group, just a bit behind.
That huge hug from Ray couldn't have come at a better time and followed by a hug from my sister was exactly what I needed to keep my chin up and keep running. I ran away from that quick stop feeling on top of the world, I'd found the magic and my confidence again.
Thankfully the next kms passed and I was still feeling great. I wasn't breaking any speed records but I'd found a few songs that were really putting the pep in my step and I just plugged along. Feeling strong and happy and so thankful to be so far along in this adventure.
Around 46km we had our last rest stop and I couldn't help but smile as I sailed in to where our friends and family were waiting. I could see the relief on my parents' faces when I ran up smiling, I'm sure they'd been worried about me when I was struggling earlier on.
There was one last stretch where our support driver Janet jumped out and ran with me for a minute. I couldn't believe it when she said there was just one more turn and we were done. We chatted briefly and she ran back to check in with the last couple of runners.
I was a bit behind but caught up with the main pack of runners who were waiting for us to catch up so we could all finish together. It was such a great moment to celebrate being so close to the finish.
Once we'd all regrouped we gave a little cheer and set off toward the University.
I don't think I'll ever forget how great it felt to cross under that arch. With so many people cheering, friends and family around and all of the emotions, challenges and successes of the past 56km in my mind it was pretty momentous for me.
Once I'd crossed the finish I just had to stop and collect myself...
I was so full of emotion I didn't really know whether I wanted to laugh or to cry, to cheer or collapse. This is where it gets hard to describe exactly how I was feeling. It was part relief, part pride, a bit of surprise I actually did it and a whole lot of joy. It was pretty amazing.
Immediately everyone was hugging and congratulating each other. They were trying to get our medals around our necks but everyone was so busy clinging to each other it was probably quite the job!
I was further spoiled by my friends and family with beautiful cupcakes, chocolate milk and of course, finish line fries!
Accepting this challenge and joining the Run for Water ultra marathon team has become one of the most defining decisions of my running journey. In a final pre-race email to the team they told us that this experience would change each of us and they were right. Its hard to put into words exactly what I mean by that but I feel like the whole thing was a testament to the power of believing in yourself. While 46km were better than I could have hoped, that 10km "dark period" was a big obstacle and ended up showing me just how strong you can be when you need it.
And now that it's done, it is made even more meaningful knowing that by challenging ourselves to train harder, run further and raise more we were able to give an entire village clean water just from our ultra team efforts alone. Our team raised more than $34,000 and the entire Run for Water event raised nearly $360,000 to bring their total efforts to over $1 million dollars since Run for Water began.
Finishing your first ultra marathon is a pretty fantastic feeling but knowing that you changed someone else's life while doing it feels pretty darn amazing too. Thank you Run for Water for giving me this incredible opportunity.