In October of 2017 I did the impossible.
I did the crazy. The “It would be stupid of you to even try,” according to my ex-husband.
I did the thing I hadn’t even dared to dream. I ran Arkansas Traveller, a 100-mile race through the Ouachita National Forest, over Forest Service Roads, the Ouachita Trail, access roads, jeep trails, and one portion that only resembles a trail once a year, when it is bush-hogged for this very race.
Only two years before I was collapsed on a bathroom floor, thinking I was dying. I was so unhealthy, so tired, depressed, anxious, worn out.
The impossible: 100 miles. When I tell people I do this, they almost always ask, “How in the world can you run a 100 miles?”
And what I tell them is, I can’t run 100 miles. No one can run 100 miles. But you can run a mile, and then do it 99 more times.
Here’s the distinction: My brain cannot hold 100 miles of running. It’s too big of a thing to hold in your brain, and I think that’s why most people don’t attempt feats such as this. You have to chunk it down or you can’t do it. Most of us take it one aid station at a time. One segment at a time. Run from here to here, then a little further. One of my secrets is to break it down into the tiniest of tiny bits: 100 steps, a decimal point of a mile, to the top of the hill, around the curve. Whatever gets you a little further.
You do this, and you trust that the process of running, of going just a little further, of keeping your feet moving, will get you to where you want to go.
That’s also the secret to how I went from what the doctors called morbidly obese to an ultra runner in just over two years.
There were so many times over my lifetime that I lost a little bit of weight but then gave up, discouraged by my slow progress. Weight loss is slow, and the goal seems so far out of reach. Someone once said to me, “You didn’t get unhealthy in a day, and you won’t get healthy in a day either.” Wise words, but how discouraging!
It wasn’t until I learned how to just take the action without a mind for the results, just believing that I was doing something positive for myself, my health, and my family, that I actually saw the needle move on the scale in the direction I had always wanted it to go.
I had always been striving for the goal, and impatient for the journey. I had to do something different. I had to learn to enjoy the times I got out the door and got moving. Enjoy the taste of the roasted vegetables I made for dinner. Enjoy the unexpected pleasure that came when I stopped eating before I became uncomfortably full.
When I decided to run 100 miles for the first time, I was nervous. Terrified, in fact. But there was a part of me that understood — I already knew how to do this. Just do it the way I lost weight, changed my body, changed my life. Just keep going.
In 2017 I did the unexpected (unexpected even by me). I finished the race in just over 24 hours. In 100-mile races, a sub-24 time is a big goal, and I had almost accomplished it.
So I went back in 2018 and hit my goal.
In just over a week, I’ll toe the starting line again. I’ll have a goal, to hopefully do even better than I’ve done the last two years. I’ve had several great finishes in ultra running, but I don’t consider it the end … I can always improve.
But I also know the lessons of the hard road. And while I’m out there, I look forward to taking a minute to look at the stars, and say a prayer of gratitude for how far I’ve come.
Not just 100 miles. Much further than that.