I lost myself on a mountain Friday.
And I found myself.
Friday was intensely emotional. Like the kind of day where tears are all over the place and I seemed to have no way to stop them. And my heart was busting open. And I can’t find the right words to explain any of it.
I hate crying in public so I did a lot of hiding in porta-potties and my tent.
Stage 5 of Transrockies. It’s a hard stage. Lots of people struggled with it. I felt strong, it’s the kind of running I like and it involved some serious power hiking (13 miles of it). I ended the day in 35th for the stage. I have NEVER had a solid result like that. So there’s that little emotional tidbit… I raced my ass off. And it worked. That alone would have been justification for a few tears. 🙂
Then there was another emotional tidal wave occurring during and after the run…
Right around checkpoint 2 I had what I can only describe as a breakthrough.
Except that while it kind of slammed me in the chest and mind; I’m still trying to figure out exactly what in the hell happened.
I went through the checkpoint and grabbed watermelon and small cup of coke. Grabbed 3 Gu’s to re-fill my pack and barreled out of the station. (Spencer’s voice in my head ‘quit dicking around and wasting time at aid stations.)
I left about 30 people in the aid station and was once again by myself. Every other day I’ve fallen into a similar paced tribe and had great people to run along with. Today — no one was around.
I was running on a ridge line above Vail, CO. I looked left and right and all I could see was mountains and trees and clouds and some of the most beautiful scenery ever. It took my breath away how beautiful this country was that I was getting to run in, and see up close.
I started thinking about how THIS IS MY LIFE. I’m running. In the Rockies. And I have friends at the camp. And I’ve made some new friends that will be lifelong. And I’m running. I’m hiking. I’m healthy…
This is my life.
Then the shovel hit me in the face.
I AM NO LONGER A 400 POUND WOMAN.
I’m a trail runner.
I’ve been waiting for the day I would no longer instantly and resolutely identify with my 400 pound former self. I was always the heavy girl. I still see myself that way. Still judge everything against that benchmark. Still startle when I see my reflection sometimes and don’t recognize myself..
I’ve been waiting to see a certain number on the scale, or buy a certain size pants, or — fuck — I have NO CLUE what I was really waiting for to understand that that is no longer my life, no longer my identity.
Along the same vein… I run. I only say ‘I’m a runner’ to appease Spencer. It PISSES him off no end that I run and work out and train and race and refuse to see my self as a runner.
Today on that exposed ridge, in Vail, with no one around. I ran. On the dirt. Bawling. And gasping for breathe, not just because of the altitude – but because I was totally overwhelmed with happiness and understanding and acceptance.
I kept running and the tears flowed. I got to Checkpoint 3 and there’s a guy that I’ve become friends with who is an ultra runner — his name is Mike and he here at Transrockies as a volunteer. Outlandish costumes, cowbells and loud encouragement at the most unlikely of spots on each stage to cheer on every single runner. And he happens to be one hell of a great guy. I feel safe with him after knowing him for about 72 hours. I ran up to him, tears all over my face, at the checkpoint and said ‘please put on your coach hat and tell me to run the 5 miles down the hill as hard as I can, because I’m tired and I don’t want to run, but I’ve had the best running day possible so far…’ He said ‘RUN! You can do this, I’m proud of you!’. I grabbed watermelon and coke and again took off. And proceeded to practice descending down hills — on legs that are tired — just the way Spencer taught me. I was moving fast and strong and confident on the straight downhill stretches.
Then about halfway down he hill I got passed by Brett. A runner from Chicago. He’s an athlete who I have been sharing parts of the trail with briefly each day. By the halfway mark of each day he’s usually way ahead and I won’t see much of him until dinner. He went running past me with about 5 K to go, as I was walking a section sucking down some fuel and said ‘BETSY! Come on, run!’. I didn’t have a chance of catching him – but it didn’t stop me from trying.
That moment triggered another onslaught of tears — which by the way make it hard to run… But here’s a guy who sees me as a runner. Not the fat girl. Just a runner. And he has NO CLUE of my history or background or story. He just sees me as a runner – who somehow got in front of him late in the race. 🙂
And that shovel of realization hit me again…
The finish line I can hear Spencer yelling for me before I even rounded the corner to the finishers chute.
If there is one person in this world who gets the complicated package of my fat girl psyche and my refusal to identify and OWN my rights as runner — it’s him.
I was crying down the finishers chute and then found him. Told him – choking on those freaking tears that seem to be cropping up even now — ‘I’m not that 400 pound woman anymore. I’m a trail runner… I left the fat girl on the mountain.’
I sat in front of Spencers tent much later in the day. We would do a daily debrief and catch-up of how the day went and how we feel about things and what we need to be thinking about for the next stage.. This time was more about my emotional neediness. Spencer, much to his chagrin, is a security blanket for me. I was emotionally raw and hanging on by the thinnest of threads. And I couldn’t stand being alone, or being around people who don’t know me or my story at a time when something this big has shifted in my mind and heart and was swamping me. The conversation meandered around about the day and with me crying and not knowing how to explain what had happened on the mountain – but me needing to know that he, of anyone, understood how HUGE this moment was for me. He kept telling me to write it all down. I kept telling him I have no real fucking clue what happened on that mountain – but it was undeniably life-altering.
Here I sit writing (and crying…) trying to explain to anyone else who would possibly care — what happened in Vail on Stage 5 that is going to make a different person tomorrow. And forever more….
Words aren’t going to do this episode justice. They can’t. It’s a change of heart.
It’s been a shift a long, long, long time coming. It’s letting go of the familiar and comfortable and the steel anchor that held me back all at the same time.
It’s scary as hell.
I feel totally and utterly confused about exactly what happened on that mountain. And grateful. And kind of stunned. Perhaps I’ll never entirely know or be able to explain it. And I think I’m OK with that.
I woke up Friday morning knowing I could run, work hard, give 100% effort and that it still wouldn’t make me anything other than the former 400 pound woman who took up trail running as a hobby and to lose weight.
I am about to go to bed on Friday night a trail runner. A trail runner who found running and then it and the people in the trail community helped me save my life. I am trail runner who can lay down a great personal effort because I’ve been trained and paid attention and worked hard — not as payment for past sins.
I am a trail runner.
I left my 400 pound former self on those very mountains that I watched from the airplane all those years ago…
And yes. I’m still crying. Just letting the tears flow. I figure it’s years of fighting and ignoring and denying finally leaving my body… For good.
Saturday is stage 6. I’m going to fight like hell, run my ass off and enjoy every single STEP of the journey. I’m going to celebrate finding myself in the Rockies.
I’m going to run some trails.