Baby, where do I sleep?
Feels so good but I’m old…
2,000 years of chasing, taking its toll
And it’s coming closer
- “closer” by Kings of Leon
There’s an old saying “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”. Well, I think I can go top ten at Western States, set the FKT for the Appalachian Trail and do a bunch of other crap that the statistician in my brain understands has an actual probability of less than a fraction of one percent. So, what do you do when your own fragile grip on the reality of what your body and mind is capable of is warped AF? First, make good friends with disappointment, failure and pain. Let’s take a fun look at what’s underneath my dozen or so FKT’s and records this year:
Failed to break the Syncline Trail FKT by 7 minutes and still have scars from wiping out on the boulder fields on my shins. Failed to break the Potawatomi Trail FKT not once, but twice and badly sprained my ankle, complete with ruptured blood vessels, when I finally got it on the third try. 2 broken ribs on a collision with a boulder on the Black Mountain Crest Trail FKT. A torn meniscus on my spring 50k race victory. Heat exhaustion in Panama that reduced me to human rubble. A 2nd place finish in a race I took a gamble on winning and paid a heavy price for a loss.
The physical side is well documented. The emotional is what most never see. Trying to balance dreams of “the most interesting year ever” with also being the best dad possible to two little boys. Doing runs in the heat of afternoon or after bedtime. Scheduling trips around their schedule. Going with less sleep. Planning record trips, inviting your friends and then having them refuse to reimburse you for the plane tickets. Running sick and tired. Trying to balance finances and always provide by doing your own endeavors and contract work to make a year like this even possible. The hardest was the choice made last week. To let go of my biggest project of the year…
My goal this year was to complete 24 epic runs. 5 races (win an ultra-marathon in each calendar season and place at my first 100 miler), 7 adventures (Most states in a day, most countries in a day, fastest trans-continent run ever, etc.) and 12 FKT’s (breaking existing records, no “only known times”). The stretch goal was to get nominated as one of the 5 FKT’s of the year. Nolan’s 14 was going to be that capstone for me. I’ve spent dozens of hours planning, breaking it down into 27 pieces, studying everyone else’s routes, reading the books, trip reports and going over topo maps.
The plan was to rent a house and spend 3 weeks in Colorado with my family while scouting all 90+ miles. Unfortunately, my youngest just isn’t at a good point in his little life for that 3 week adventure. It would be hard him, hard on mom and hard on me. So, I tried to fit 3 weeks of scouting into a 3 day weekend and it didn’t work. A simple mistake of staying on Princeton’s ridge for ¼ mile too long was a stark reminder that I have no chance to beat the legendary times on that route without putting in the time on the ground.
It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I made the choice to push Nolan’s to next year. It was unquestionably the right move. Attempting a Nolan’s FKT with 1/3 of the hardest off-trail spots un-scouted would be an exercise in speed record suicide. But I had my heart set on this route. It was my misogi, my chance to shock the world, to make a mark, to re-validate my ability above 14,000. It was the only thing this year that truly scared me. It’s not just that my heart was set on it, it’s that I felt I needed it. When I cancelled it this year, I lost that part of my 2019 dream, I felt lonely and hollow.
Sometimes doing the right thing can feel very wrong. A huge storm below over the mountains and a fog enveloped my car as the rain and hail pelted the windows. I broke down. On the trail, I am fierce. All I’ve ever asked for was the chance to fail. The chance to throw down on a fraction of one percent chance. In those moments, I find out who I am, what I can do and there is only the fight. But when the fog clears and there is no big impossible proverbial mountain to climb… it’s empty. I’ve long since made friends with failure and pain. This week I’m courting disappointment and she is a cruel mistress.