On October 12, 2019, on trails at Chain O’Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana, I embarked on one of the most challenging physical endeavors of my life — the Indiana Trail 100K race.
At 5:55 a.m. – on the coldest morning of the season thus far – I started out on my 62-mile run in the dark with a headlamp for vision. I ran as the sun rose and would later witness the beautiful orange Full Hunter’s Moon rise and light my way through the dark. I ran alongside water, through tall blades of grass and brightly colored fall leaves, and among trees that seemingly reached the clouds. The course was beautiful; and I felt privileged to move on it.
The race was a culmination of months of hot, humid summer training and back-to-back long runs. I had everything I needed for a successful race: a strong training foundation, hydration and food supplies, the right clothes and shoes, a crew and pacer, and absolute confidence to finish the race. I had a crystal-clear vision of running through the finish line. I saw it all in my head, how I expected it to play out.
But, as with many experiences in life, the race did not go according to plan.
My race consisted of three 20-mile loops. The first loop went off without a hitch. Toward the end of the second loop — at around mile 42 — I started to feel sick to my stomach. I chose to continue on my third and final loop, confident that the nausea would pass and my pacer for the last 20 miles would help bring me to the finish line.
The pacer is typically a more experienced runner that can run at your level and beyond, and it’s their sole job to help you “keep pace” to finish the race during the last significant hurdle of the ultramarathon. It’s also the pacer’s job is to help you push through the mental blocks and negative self-talk, since they’re not exhausted from running all the miles before they enter for pacing duties.
Unfortunately, the nausea worsened, and the stomach pain intensified to where I couldn’t run at all. It eventually got to the point that I had a hard time even walking and I found myself kneeling on my hands and knees on the dirt trail, emulating the yoga “tabletop” position. Even my pacer, with all his encouraging words and strength, was helpless to get me back on my feet and running again. It was at that point that I made the heartbreaking decision to walk to the next aid station — which would put me 51 miles completed — and drop from the race.
I knew I would experience pain on this run. I knew my legs and feet would ache something fierce. I knew I would have to summon mental courage to keep myself moving strong. I did not, however, expect stomach issues would take me out of finishing the 100K. I couldn’t tell if the salty taste on my cheeks were from sweat or my never-ending supply of tears. The stomach pain soon gave way to another feeling — the guttural crush of disappointment.
I did all the right things. I had all the right things. And yet, I had absolutely no control. Preparation did not prepare or save me. And the vision I so clearly had of crossing the finish line never came to fruition.
The Indiana Trail 100K race was not the first time a life goal did not finish the way I intended. Four months before the ultra, I had a conversation with my husband. It was the scariest and most difficult conversation we ever had in our 18 years of marriage. It was that conversation that I told him I wanted a divorce.
My ex-husband and I met in college when I was 21 years old. We got married when I was 25. I was a kid, inexperienced in life, for all intents and purposes. Our daughter, Sophie, was born six years later. In 2019 — the year we filed for divorce — we knew each other for 23 years. To that point in my life, we were together more years than apart. Sophie was 11 years old when we sat around the kitchen table and had the deeply painful conversation that her parents would no longer be together and life as she knew it would never be the same.
Throughout our life together — and like so many other couples (especially ones that connected so young) — the relationship changed. We grew apart. We ended up wanting/needing different things out of life. My ex-husband’s passive-aggressive tendencies, coupled with my instinct to bury my feelings for fear of being shut out and shut down and simply soldiering through the hurt/sadness/anger, became more and more of a toxic combination. We talked and interacted less and less. Our physical contact diminished. The girl I was at 21 was not the 44-year-old woman who found herself frustrated at things that, for many years, she just accepted as part of marriage and life. And perhaps, most importantly, I needed Sophie to know that this relationship was not what she should emulate. She needed to see strength in her mother so she could, one day, summon courage and choose herself when faced with her own difficult crossroads.
My marriage ended when I finally summoned the courage to address with my ex-husband what we both knew was looming between us and plaguing our relationship for close to a decade.
When you say, “I do,” or enter a loving relationship, the goal is not for that commitment to end. And because nobody sets out to say goodbye, there is no preparation for this moment.
I do not regret my marriage and the countless gifts it gave me. I have an incredible 15-year-old daughter because of my ex-husband. We bought homes together. We brought home our first puppy as well as adopted two other dogs, and a liter of cats. My ex supported me when I left a steady full-time job to transition to a career as a freelance writer. We moved from California to Indiana together — a move that helped me find myself and discover my love for running.
I may not have finished the 100K race the way I envisioned. Instead, that finish was replaced with something else entirely. I completed 51 miles, the longest distance I’d ever run/walked on foot. It was a gift to move through the beauty of nature’s sunrise and sunset and to the light of the full moon. My personal relationships deepened because of the vulnerability and connection that happens out on those desolate trails. And I found physical and emotional strength and resilience in myself.
There is so much you cannot prepare for, no matter how hard you try. But it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, or the experience is any less beautiful. Every ending leads to a different path where we discover something new and continue the movement through the trails and life.