racing? Hmph. They should call it a lesson in humility. Even now, almost nine
months removed from one of the single most physically gruelling experiences of
my life, the sixth iteration of the Backyard Challenge Adventure Race, I can still
feel the oozing blisters and debilitating leg cramps. I can still recall clearly
the barrage of emotions that played havoc with my common sense. And while I initially
felt compelled to write this story immediately following the race, I found it
difficult at the time to describe an experience that allowed for feelings of exhilaration,
feelings of frustration, feelings of relief, and feelings of despair all occurring
closely in time proximity to one another.
I’ve regained my rationale. I’ve surprisingly rediscovered a fresh interest
and intrigue in pushing my body beyond its physical limits. I’ve acquired
a new respect for people who thrive on extreme sports. And I feel now more compelled
than ever before to explain a physically challenging event that had a deeply profound
emotional impact on me. My persona has never consisted of self doubt and/or pessimism,
but it was evident early in this race that I’d more than certainly bitten
off more than I could chew. My team consisted of me and three men, all three of
whom were talented athletes with considerable racing experience. Now, I’m
not admitting to being a slouch. For a broad pushing forty that has brought two
children into the world without a stretch mark to show for it, I feel I’m
in fairly decent shape. And although I felt then that I was in decent shape too,
I had committed to doing the race on very short notice and had virtually no time
to train and condition.
Twenty minutes into the race,
sweating and out of breath, my reservations began. We fell behind very quickly
at the start and the guilt I felt surrounding my "velocity challenged"
status weighed heavily upon me. I had always believed that my overabundance of
fortitude made up for what my ex-husband used to tell me was the one aspect of
me that stood in the way of my being a quality athlete: my lack of speed. I doubted
that belief that day. I reluctantly told my teammates that going on without me
would be more beneficial to them. I almost begged for their consideration. I’ve
never been one to quit anything, but my sincere interest in not holding back my
team was more important to me than my ego. I was quickly informed, however, that
if we didn’t cross the finish line together we would be disqualified from
the competition. I regained some confidence after we picked up a considerable
amount of time at the first checkpoint when a number of teams misplotted its location.
Shortly thereafter, our navigator also misplotted, and while the frustration ran
high amongst the men, I felt sincere, though self serving, relief that it was
not only me that had cost us precious minutes.
minutes turned into hours and over the duration of the race I found the psychological
stress my mind experienced exhausting, frustrating, and confusing. I’d always
wondered prior to that race how anyone could allow themselves to lose their faith.
But feeling beaten easily becomes an uncomplicated and logical mindset when you
find yourself ten thousand feet up on a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, in
the midst of a thundering, lightning rainstorm that descended upon you within
minutes, in temperatures that dropped twenty degrees in what seemed like a split
second, without your rain gear because you foolishly removed it from your pack
at the last checkpoint figuring it was just extra weight because the weather seemed
unwaveringly warm. How could you not question yourself after deciding to remove
possible life sustaining gear from your pack because you thought it would simply
be extra weight in terrain that is as predictable as a tornado? Again, I found
renewed faith after not succumbing to the rainstorm. Though drenched and emotionally
battered, I trudged on.
Trudging on, after all, became
my only option because the only way down that mountain for me was in the wake
of the three men I lagged helplessly behind. It was in that wake where I’d
curse aloud to myself, to the air, to the endless expanse of trees and rocks,
damning the very insanity of such a race, vowing to never again participate in
anything remotely similar. In return for the expletives that spewed from my mouth
I received from the rocks, the air, the trees, a silent lack of recognition and
indifference. Those trails knew nothing of me, nor did they care to. Matter of
fact, they’d probably prefer that I knew nothing of them. It was also in
that wake that I’d find myself striving for, focusing on each false summit
before me, with legs of lead, exhausted lungs, only to reach them and find another
beyond it, and yet another beyond that. The mind’s ability to motivate the
body to continue on when it simply shouldn’t is an amazing mental enigma.
In the end, we were the last to cross the finish line, and that was without having
completed two optional legs of the race. My mindset had been severely altered,
my ego brutally humbled. For days following the race, a rushing wave of anxiety
would overtake me upon the approach of any form of a hill, walking, driving, or
otherwise. I had been conditioned to disbelieve I was going to get to the top,
even in a car. It was a bizarre and disturbing alteration of my way of thinking.
The realization of how small I had become within the terrain of that race was
unnerving and frightening. I saw and finally understood why athletes are changed
forever by a single physical event and how easy it is to lose faith even when
you’re convinced it could never happen.
of course, recovered from that gruelling day. And while there are no remaining
physical scars, the emotional and mental strain of that race will not soon be
forgotton. I’d love to believe that given enough time to train I could somehow
acquire the unique mindset and physical endurance that would truly allow me to
compete. I suppose that possibility lies only with my attempt at another race.
Kimberlee Miller has been an active sports nut her entire life.
She plays competitive women's ice hockey, runs, skis, hikes, bikes and climbs.
She ventured into her first adventure race several years ago and felt compelled
to write an article that chronicled the experience.