I’ve never been good at setting limits for myself. In college, I didn’t bat an eye at taking twenty credits and working. I’m always driving my husband crazy by planning impromptu drives across the country. When 5Ks weren’t enough of a challenge, I started running half marathons, then marathons. And when my friend Andrea, who runs ultramarathons, sent around an email announcing a new ultra race, I decided I was game. I mean, why not?
As the time drew nearer, life intervened. We made plans to go on vacation the next day. My husband was on call the night before the race. The lazy days of summer had turned out to be anything but. But I still wanted to run the race, so I emailed Andrea and asked how intense she thought it would be. She assured me that I’d be fine– ultramarathoners walk up the uphill parts of a race, take a few minutes to chat and eat at the aid stations, and the atmosphere is just generally less intense than at a regular marathon.
All that was true. But those hills? They were mountains. About sixteen miles into the race, when I was at the halfway point, I found myself staring up into “The Widowmaker” which wasn’t just a hill, but a freaking mountain. My feet couldn’t find purchase on the trail and I kept slipping. Finally, my hands full of prickers, I sat down on a rock on the side of the hot, sunny trail (did I mention it was 90+ degrees too? Because yeah, it was), and took a minute to regroup.
I’d pushed myself beyond my limit. And I knew it. Running the race had been a bad choice.
But Andrea can do it, why am I struggling so much?I thought to myself. I started to compare her life to mine, and then stopped myself. It didn’t matter how her life and mine stacked up.
As I slipped and slid down the other side of the mountain (which was just as steep as the way up), I felt chagrined. Not because my ultra marathon time would be more than double my marathon time, but because there have been so many times when I’ve pushed other people beyond their limits. When you read this, I’ll be dragging my reluctant husband through North Dakota and western Minnesota on a trip to visit my parents. We’re going the long way, of course. When my daughter complains that with dance and piano, she’s just too overwhelmed to take viola lessons too, I turn a blind ear. I do it time and again, dragging the people I love best beyond the limits of their endurance.
Now I know how it feels.
I may not have had the greatest race of my life today, but I do feel like I’ve learned my lesson.