toeing the line: initial lessons and meditations from attempting the UTHC 125km, 2019
it’s 1:30am, saturday september 7th 2019. i’m deep in the hautes-gorges-de-la-rivière-malbaie bush, awaiting the 2:00am starting gun for the ultra trail harricana 125km. i have no idea what i’m doing. this is my first ultra race. i have all my gear, and i’ve shown up - arguably the two hardest parts of competing in such a distance. i intend to finish this race, and i have spent months preparing, training and visualizing the feat. who knows what this day will have in store - like i said, this is my first race of this calibre. all i know is i’m here, and i’m ready to do it.
when i signed up for UTHC 125km over a year ago, i knew it would be a challenging task. i had no disillusion that it would be one of the hardest things i’ve ever done, or that it would require multiple attempts to complete. my theory? go big or go home. sign up for the most challenging and daunting distance, and have at it. i wanted to force myself into taking this as seriously as possible. needless to say, i did.
i did yoga almost every day. i did crossfit, cross-training, hiking, walking, cycling, swimming - i slept 8 hours almost every night, and every moment of energy was dedicated to rest, sweat and suffering in preparation for the endeavour. i raced twice per month, march through august - i clocked over 4000km in distance in preparation for the 125km in one sitting. i shared my hustle far and wide; i shared my highs and lows; i took the opportunity to tap into something larger than i had ever known - and had i known the outcome would have been as it was, i don’t think i would have done anything differently. i did everything i could have done, and i put everything down that i had available to me in the moment - i made sure of that.
time is flying by. it’s so dark i can’t see much. the moon is hidden somewhere beyond the fog and clouds. it’s wet and humid. my feet slip on roots and rocks. i push through thick lichen and brush. blueberries sparkle in my headlamp light. it’s cold. sweaty. and with every summit upon a bald rock face it is windy and hard to see the course ahead. every time i look down at my watch another hour has flown by. i barely pay attention to the kilometre markers. trying to keep myself moving i barely have a moment to breathe, eat, puke or look at the scenery. for the moment i’m just trying to get to the check-point in time. i need to make sure i get there on time.
i didn’t go into this goal with entitlement that i should finish. i know the way of the roads and trails - and some days you won’t win, no matter how hard you try. i know a lot of people like to blame preparation, skill, knowledge, personal effort - however i know better than to disillusion my mind with foolish gambles. some days you go into a race or run not thinking much of it, and then all of a sudden you’re pulling off a PR and making it look easy. some days you go into a race or run feeling prepared, excited, and ready for the challenge - but then a big fall, a dense patch or a missed expectation derail anything you hoped to pull off. UTHC 2019 was much the latter of this sentiment. i knew i was ready. i knew i could do it. i never expected time to feel so fast and yet also so slow; and i never imagined i would drop out so early. unfortunately that’s the way she goes.
you can’t sign up for a race like UTHC 125km and expect to be given the finish. in fact, as with most of life - signing up and showing up guarantee nothing; what you choose to do with the reality of your learnings determines what you’ll get out of it at all. i knew going in i was to be handed nothing. to know you can expect nothing in reward for all your hard labours and efforts means that you are ready for when those disappointments cross your threshold. being pulled from the race was a shock, but i wasn’t mad or sad about it. i agreed to the requirements, and i didn’t hold up my end. in this instance i lost. i failed. i missed the mark.
c’est la vie.
it’s 5:30am. the sweeper is right on my tail, and i can tell he is being patient and kind. he knows as well as i that when i get to the next station, i’ll be done, so he doesn’t try to rush me. he barely speaks english and i barely speak french, so we continue to hike the slippery rocks - both of us eating shit multiple times along the way. this is harder than i ever could have imagined, and yet it’s not. it’s exactly what i imagined. me being held to some of the most rigorous trails east of the rockies; slipping, balancing, enduring. the sun barely creeps through the overcast skies, but it is violently fuchsia and purple along the horizon. both of us stop to admire the gift between the dense black trees and mountain ridge. i think about all the scenery along this course i won’t get to see. i begin to mourn how silly it feels to have come all this way to drop out this early. i basically bellyflopped my first dive at the olympics. i thought about all the people who messaged me, wrote me, texted me, called me and reassured me that i could in fact “do this”. i couldn’t. not today, at least. and i began to feel a little sad knowing i wouldn’t get to reward my supporters with the news we all wanted to hear: “i have completed my 125km goal”. today wouldn’t be the day i would get to deliver that news.
i arrived to the 16km check-point and the official looked me in the eyes and said “your race is over now”. about 10 officials and 2 other runners who hadn’t made it looked at me, i assume, waiting for the news to sink in. i knew i hadn’t made it, so i wasn’t upset. stunned, yes, but i had already accepted that i had missed my chance to stay alive in the race. “we will drive you back to the city” they told me, while they tried to feed me chicken soup and fruit. it was sweet how comfortable they tried to make me, no doubt knowing how important this race was to everyone who signed up. i know none of them took any joy in telling athletes they were done for the day, so they didn’t make a big deal. they did what they could - volunteers most likely - to make us feel human in something so grueling and challenging. it’s small moments like these that remind you why gratitude is so important. win or lose, these people were out here to support our dreams.
i will always be grateful for that.
of course, my husband/support crew had no idea i was down for the count. we were both in remote locations with no cell service, and he was standing somewhere with all my stuff laid out - waiting for me to cruise through. we had studied everything about the course: the stations, the cut-off times, the gear, the weather; we came in prepared for everything (except of course, this). as they escorted us (three truck rides later) back to la malbaie, i tried to get a hold of him, as i was locked out of our airbnb. luckily news of my dropping out came across the walkie talkie and he was able to get back so i could shower and get warm.
his first thought over the phone? “i wish i could be there to give you a hug”. just as upset as i, he couldn’t believe it himself that i was done and it wasn’t even 8am yet. upsetting as it was, he rushed back, got me sorted out - and then found us a cafe down the street.
this cafe was magic, and it was just what i needed to shake off the fact that i was done and there was nothing to be done about it. we sat and drank coffee, ate pastries, and blended into the busy-ness of the morning. never did i ever think that this would be the culmination of my efforts, but.
c’est la vie.
this will no doubt be a first account of many - thanks to everyone who’s been here, and continues to support in my process and practice. i am truly and forever grateful.