I never mourned for PCT.
Last July I attempted my first 50-mile trail ultra marathon, the PCT. I trained hard, went out to train on the course several times and knew it well. Everything went perfectly during the race. I got my obligatory fall out of the way early on. I took my best race picture ever (right after the fall so there’s blood dripping down my face making me look like a total badass) yet through some miracle that has never happened at any other race before or since the photographer actually made me look slim in my racing gear. My head was perfect, no freak outs, no feeling like I didn’t belong, no feeling sorry for myself. The weather was good, dry, not too cold, not too hot. The trail was in good condition. I was right on with my hydration, electrolytes and nutrition the whole time. I came into the race with no injuries. I had friends crewing for me so I didn’t lose time at the aid stations. I didn’t get lost on the course like a bunch of people did that day. I had a very chatty pacer jump in at mile 30 to keep me entertained. I followed my race plan. Everything went perfectly.
The only problem was I was just too slow. Unfortunately it was a big problem. To paraphrase a cheesy old Pebro Bryson song that I really hate, “I did my best but my best wasn’t good enough”.
Thinking about now, it’s probably the worst thing that ever happened to me in a race. Up until then I could find an excuse for every other race I did not going as well as I’d hoped: I didn’t eat enough, it was too hot, I was injured, I’d messed around at the aid stations too long, blah blah blah.
At PCT I had nothing to blame. No excuses. As I ran along I felt great all day. Even after 30 miles I felt great. I felt so great that I had absolutely no doubt I’d make the interim race cut-offs. I had no doubt I’d finish that race. I had no doubt I was good enough. I’d never had no doubt before.
I had my first inkling of doubt when I ran into my best friend on the course & asked him how far away I was from the aid station where the final cut-off was. He had this weird look on his face. He knew I was determined to make it. He knew I wasn’t going to, although he didn’t say it. I kept going on, grinding up and up a really big hill on the one part of the course I hadn’t done in my training. The clock kept ticking and gradually the cut-off time came and went and I wasn’t there. I kept going, hoping they’d let me through when I hit the aid station at mile 39.3 where the cut-off was. Then I saw the sweepers coming down right as we reached the aid station. It was over. I wasn’t going to make it. I’d missed the cut off. I don’t even remember by how much, I think it was like 10 minutes.
My legs still felt strong. I asked them to let me go. They said no. I told them I understood I was pulled from the race but I wanted to run back to the finish anyway, even if it didn’t count, just so I could say I did 50 miles. They said no, they “had” to make me wait there while the sweepers cleared the course.
And so I sat there at the Aid Station, with a pacer I didn’t really know, and a bunch of Aid Station volunteers I’d never met before, tired, achy, dirty, nauseous, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, my legs stiffening up in a camp chair, trying desperately not to cry in front of these people. Joking around, acting like it didn’t bother me. It bothered me.
Later I learned there were several people pulled on the course behind me and I tried to take solace in the fact that I was the leader of the people who were pulled. The fastest loser. Finally nearly two hours later we were driven back to the finish line. Of course in those two hours I could have easily run back there.
My friends were waiting for me at the finish and I tried to put on a brave face. I didn’t want to sit there and sob in front of them and ruin their experiences so I stuffed down all the emotions about the race and the DNF and put on a brave face and moved on from there. And I went home and had a few drinks and went to bed and then it was a new day and I tried to not think about it again.
But here’s the problem: I never really mourned the race. I never acknowledged to myself how sad I was about what happened. And by sad I mean crushed and devastated. I pushed it aside and moved on to the next thing.
But more crucially, I never dealt with the bigger issue. There’s the logical part of me, the part that knows I did my absolute best that day, the part that’s proud of what I did and sad and disappointed that it didn’t work out. It’s even more disappointing because I tried so hard, because the conditions were so perfect, because I had no doubts.
But then there’s the other part of me, the critical part, the part that tells me I was a failure that day. A loser. The part that was mortified to be driven back to the finish line by the volunteers. The part that assumed everyone judged me for not finishing, that was sure they were all laughing at me, the fat slow girl who couldn’t make the cut-off, thinking I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The part of me that says I should have never tried to do that race, it was stupid to try it, I never had a chance, because I’ll never be good enough so why try. The part that dismisses my great effort that day and can’t be even the tiniest bit proud that I did my longest, hardest run ever up until that point the day I did PCT. That’s the part of me that is meaner to me than anyone would ever be. I really really really hate that part of me, that’s why I try to ignore her.
By ignoring those thoughts, pushing them aside, pretending they don’t exist or attributing those mean things to others they seem to take on a life of their own in the deep recesses of my mind. Ignoring them is not making them go away. Ignoring them is not keeping them from hurting me.
I’d thought I was over PCT. I’ve done longer distances since then. Had other race successes. Moved on.
This weekend after a benchmark trail half-marathon I realized I’m going to have to drop out of PCT for this year. After missing nearly 5 months of training due to injuries I’m about 3 minutes a mile slower on trails right now than I was at this time last year when I missed the cut-off at PCT. I don’t have a prayer of getting my speed back in time to make the cut-offs this year, even if my injuries heal tomorrow.
At first I thought to myself, “Well, it is what it is, you haven’t been able to train, you’ll do it next year” and I thought I felt pretty philosophical about it. Then I heard those damn voices creeping in, telling me I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway, it was stupid to try the race again after I failed last year, and I realized I have to keep on with this process I started two weeks ago at Newport, I need to listen to those annoying little voices, because they clearly aren’t going away until they’re heard. I let the genie out of the bottle that day and I need to play this through.
And as I thought about it more I really started to mourn – not for this year’s race though, but for last year’s. So today I’m truly mourning for PCT. Not because I missed the cut-off last year. No, I’m mourning because I wasn’t proud of myself then for my outstanding effort, for trying my best. I’m mourning because I didn’t let myself cry for the terrible disappointment of doing my best that day and not being quite fast enough to make it. I’m mourning because instead of comforting myself I beat myself up and imagined I didn’t belong, that I was an idiot for trying. I’m mourning because I didn’t accept the accept the love, comfort and support of my friends that day. And most of all I’m mourning because letting this fester all year just made it worse.