Last autumn, I finally joined the rest of the literate free world and read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, and of course I adored it. I was swept away by the audacity of her undertaking, how she threw herself into this foolish pursuit with only the most limited understanding of what hiking the Pacific Crest Trail demanded of those who tried to take it on.
I adored the sense of adventure that permeated the book. It wasn’t the faux-romantic sensibility that spurred a billion Alexander Supertramp wannabes off to seek their inner Thoreaus in the wilderness, but rather what I figured adventures like this are more like: hours and days of tedium and pain punctuated by episodes of sublime transcendence that make the blackened toenails and odd chafing patterns seem like a paltry price to pay.
I’d read her book shortly after reading Challenging the Pacific: The First Woman to Row the Kon-Tiki Route by Maud Fontenoy, who left her comfortable job to spend months rowing solo across the Pacific Ocean, and while Fontenoy’s story appealed to me, it was Strayed’s book that made me open my eyes and say, I want this for myself. I wanted to put myself to some great physical test that would reduce me to a quivering blob of terror, that would force me to plumb the deepest parts of my soul, that would make me hate myself and question every decision I’d ever made.
But I also had some limits. I did not want to go for long without a hot shower or without sleeping on a mattress. (I say these things much to the disappointment of Brian, who wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail after reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and who now also wants to hike the PCT. Sorry, baby, but this petit fleur needs her beauty sleep.)
The answer came to me almost instantly: I would do an ultramarathon. Like a lot of people, I had been intrigued by ultrarunning ever since reading Born to Run, but the reality of doing one seemed so far-fetched that I couldn’t imagine actually doing one. But if I wanted to do something that scared me with its audacity, then wouldn’t now be the time? And wouldn’t this be the thing to do?
I leapt off my bed and ran to find Brian, then told him, “I want to do the Keys 50-miler next year.” The Keys 50 is a race I have been eying ever since I heard about it. The race has two distances – 50 miles and 100 miles – and it runs along the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys. The 50-miler starts in Marathon and ends in Key West, and I’ve heard the race director planned the Keys 100 to be run in May so as to mimic the heat of Badwater. Basically, it’s a tough-as-shit race. People who DNF do so not because of the distance but because of the heat.
Despite this, I love the Keys because in my heart I am secretly Jimmy Buffett with a ponytail and boobs, and once I decided to do an ultra, the 50-miler seemed like the obvious one to sign up for, as the course takes runners over miles of bridges that cross Florida Strait and through all of the various Keys until all of the finishers pile up in a sweaty heap in Key West, where we will all recover with mojitos, Sunset Ale and conch chowder. Yes, it would be difficult, and yes, I will probably lose a toenail or five, and yes, walking will probably suck for a few days, but it also sounds like an incredible race.
So last November, we paid our registration fees and we signed up. I didn’t write about it at the time because I wanted to focus all of my mental energy on preparing to go sub-4:00 at the Clearwater Marathon. But then the Clearwater Marathon came and went, and I still didn’t write about signing up for the Keys ultra. We are now five weeks post-marathon and I am finally choosing to write about it. Why? Well, I guess the reason why can be summed up with that simple warning: “Be careful what you wish for because just you might get it.”
I wished for a challenge that scared the shit out of me, and I got it. I am terrified of what I have signed up for. I am frightened, and if I am going to be honest, questioning my sanity a little bit too. I’m not the only one. I told a coworker what I planned to do and his response was, “You are not well, girl.” He laughed as he said it, so I know he’s half-joking, but I think he’s half-serious as well.
But I am also incredibly excited, and as I make my way through my training, which includes a four-race ultra challenge that I completed this past weekend and a single-day 33-mile trail run coming up this weekend (which I guess is technically going to my first actual ultra), I feel my confidence increasing in small yet perceptible increments. Yes, it’s all new and it’s scary and it’s totally out of my comfort zone, but that’s exactly what I wanted. That’s what I remind myself every time I feel a little flutter of panic in my chest, that this is exactly what I wanted. Being scared and doing it anyway is the whole freaking point. And it’s with that in mind that I keep pushing ahead.
What about you? Have you deliberately set out to do anything recently that scares you? Do you have anything you’d like to do that freaks you out? Do you plan to do it?
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