The trees, at least I think they were trees, in the distance – the distance being only a few yards away – were blurry and out of focus. The view was odd as I realized I was on my side lying on the ground. What stood out was the bright red. The bright red of the capsule covered in saliva and dirt just a few inches from my nose in the middle of the trail. I remembered then that it was an electrolyte capsule that I had, just a few moments before, swallowed and almost as quickly barfed up. Looking at it there in the dirt I knew it was important to swallow it again, although I wasn’t sure why. Grasping its slippery shell with my detached from my body feeling fingers I squeezed it into my mouth and swallowed.
What we do “between the lines” counts more, matters more, impacts us more than all the we do getting to the line.
Why? Because what we do “between the lines” is definitive.
All the preparation, all the training, all the planning, all the work and effort get us there.
But, remove any component of any of those processes and we still get there.
However, once we are “between the lines” – that journey that begins at the starting line and ends at the finishing line – either the official one or the self-selected one – the outcome is far more definitive. 95% of the time it is completely defined by our one simple choice. Go on or quit.
I sat up, swallowed the pill and pulled a deep warm drink from the hose of my water bladder. My vision, my touch and my mind came back to me as I sat there and recentered. I was in a race, yes that was it. High in the mountains and it was hot, much hotter than it should have been and I had let my hydration lapse. I remembered that I knew I was fading and I needed water and I needed electrolytes, plenty of both. I popped pills and sucked water. Each a bit too late. As my stomach failed me, which so often happens when the balance of water and electrolytes and calories are neglected, I simply put my head down and pushed forward. And that is how I ended up face down in the dry talc dirt of a high alpine trail deep in the lonely mountains of New Mexico.
Alone for the most part in the no-mans-land of a long race with competitors few and far between I sat and regrouped. The pill stayed down as did the water and I risked standing, then stepping and then finally, walking.
I finished that day. Hours behind when I had planned. Far back in the pack instead of in the lead where I had run most of the day.
I had been given the option at an aid station not long after I’d literally picked myself up and out of the dirt to quit: “Catch a ride back to the finish.” It was a nobody race, in February, in the middle of nowhere. I had signed up for the miles and to get a long run in out of the Colorado snow. Nobody really knew I was there and nobody would really care even if they did.
But I had done what I always do (and this is the point of this story)… I had entered an agreement with myself at the beginning of this day. Before the start. I spoke to myself and had a frank discussion about why I was here and what was my purpose.
See, I was training for Marathon Des Sables (an unsupported multi-day stage race across the northern Sahara Desert). It was only a few months away, it was going to be incredibly long and incredibly hot. Living high in the Rockies of Colorado long runs and hot runs hadn’t really been part of my winter training regimen. Therefore, I entered an agreement with myself. I would go hard, I would overdress, I would be hot and I would finish. Period. It was a conversation and an agreement that I have often and I take seriously. Breaking deals is not part of my character and my word is my word. To myself, a friend, a client, whomever.
That was many years ago but the lesson, the practice and the conversation have only strengthened over time. Between now and then I have quit – Twice. From those experiences, I’ve created a mantra that I share with friends, athletes and clients that I know to be true and I’ll share with you.
“Quitting is easy and long remembered…Finishing is hard and difficult to forget.”
At AYS I work with, train, plan and coach my athletes so they are as prepared as they can be when they step to the starting line.
Of equal importance I work with them regularly and through the process to also be as prepared as they can be to deal with those go no-go moments that happen “between the lines.” For each of us, often for any one of us that is pushing our own personal envelope, the opportunity to quit, to stop, to “catch a ride” will happen. I can promise you that. It is not a question of “if”- It will.
How you answer that question depends far more on your preparation for the question than it does on your weekly mileage.
If or when you are ready to take your training, goals and dreams across whatever that finish line might be I’d love to help you cross it.
Yours in the Outdoors,