Originally published in www.leavingapath.com.
I started this race report on the plane from Washington, D.C. to Omaha. I was writing old school….on a pad and paper I had purchased at the airport. I sat in my seat, sun setting, the lights dim in the cabin just staring at the blank page in front of me.
Where do I begin? How do I even begin to articulate what I had just experienced?
My chest heaved, I welled up with tears… again. To clarify, I’m not a “crier” it’s just not in me to get emotional easily and here I found myself unable to keep it together to write a word. In haste, I wrote three sentences and stopped. It was all I could manage. I balled up the paper and tried to start again, finally abandoning my effort and retreating to my iPod and the comfort of the music. I looked out the window, the sun sinking ever lower, my heart light, and my legs exhausted. Tears came again without words, without reason. A upwelling from a place I hadn’t been in a while, and I closed my eyes holding the feeling that seemed to warm me from the inside out. Exhale. Sleep came.
Race reports would rush in over the next few days and the crumpled page from the flight remained empty, save the three sentences I etched that first night. I can’t even begin to speak of the race obstacles, it’s been done. I can’t even remember it all or in order. For me, the race was something else. It was a dynamic series of moments shared between people, the beautiful collective suffering shared in the forests and mountains of Vermont. Trudging and toiling under the sun, through the mud, backs taxed by sand bags and rocks, feet wearied by miles spent on the rugged terrain, faces and limbs marred by dust, mud, blood, and sweat.
The memorable pieces of the nearly 6 hours spent on the mountain are vast and extend beyond the physical challenge of the obstacles or racing itself. It was the start line and pushing Margaret forward to toe the line with the group up front, a place she felt unsure of joining. The moment when she turned and disappeared in the crowd at the front, she was right where she belonged there. She’d earn 3rd overall female that day. A place she more than deserved.
So many moments shared with Katy, Alyssa, and Monica. Three women who will forever know what it felt like to be there, always together. From start to finish. It was the ease with which we took turns taking the lead on the trail, ever mindful and considerate of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
It was the glance over my shoulder at the first summit and the landscape that lay out before me. A breath-taking view of the mountain and of the price one would pay to see it extending out the sky meeting the mountain tops, the valley a distant painting of Monet smudges below us. Uttering to my race mates, “This is why we do it, this moment. That view is earned.”
It was the low barbed wire crawl and meeting eyes with friend and photographer Brent, who’s smile and laugh lifted my spirits and became an unexpected gift he’ll never know he gave me in that moment. It was the traversing side of the mountain for the sandbag carry after a difficult ascent, the bag slipping and hitting the ground, nearly breaking me in the process. But there was Monica waiting patiently behind me, the 50 pounds still a burden on her back but with the assurance, “I’m here.” I nearly wept. The power of those two words. I’m here.
It was watching Katy traverse the rope, the whole crowd watching her and wordlessly, casually touching the blue rope at the end, the only one of us four making it the full distance across. Her strength moved me.
It was watching Alyssa charge into the water, the same water she had been fearing for days, and making it across the distance, exhausted as she was. It was her biggest obstacle and as she paddled forward the fear dissipated in her wake. Her courage inspired me.
It was Monica’s constant smile, encouragement, cheering loudly and racing bravely with three women she had just met. Carrying water, food, and fuel, sharing everything she had generously and without a thought. Her grace astounded me.
For me, it was the finish line, which we cartwheeled over, and the unexpected pride. My lashes prickled with tears brought on by a feeling as an athlete I haven’t had in so many races. The usual anticlimactic finish replaced with complete joy, exhaustion, humility and thankfulness for the journey that brought me back to this place I had started hours earlier.
There was a moment with Alyssa, Monica, and Katy just after the finish where the goose bumps rose up on my skin. No words were spoken, just a look, and all our eyes meeting. It was everything and it was exchanged effortlessly without words. We are bonded for life.
The post-race moments passed in a blur. The other women quick to join and congratulate our finish, Margaret, proudly baring her sword trophy, Lisa Madden so full of praise and encouragement. My dear friend Maurya, who braved so much of the trail alone and emerged facing down some of her toughest obstacles and finding out what she’s capable of achieving.
Back on the plane, I awoke with the jolt of the turbulence and stretched my already aching body one muscle group at a time and smiled in spite of myself at how it felt. By now, the skies were dark and I was nearly home. Sitting down three days later to finish this post, I feel like a lifetime has passed. It astounds me how the singular act of crossing a finish line could have such effect. I finished a different person. A better person.
And my three sentences that were the only thing I could manage to articulate on that journey back will resonate with me, with this race, with this experience for the rest of my life.
Here is what I wrote:
“I don’t know how to explain the magnitude of what I experienced inside this race and of what I feel after having done it. So, I have to leave so much of it on the mountain. What remains, what I bring with me, will forever remain wordless… but I will emerge forever changed.”