an unlikely finish

“How are you?” A support person asked as I hobbled up to the checkpoint.

“I’m…doing great!” I said forcingly, trying to mask the fact that I was actually in excruciating pain.

I was at mile 47 of a 50-mile ultramarathon.

This had been the craziest thing I ever signed up for. In fact, I hadn’t even run a marathon before.

This was a personal challenge. I worried that I might not be able to do it.

Even that morning, when it was snowing heavily on the mountains there in Park City, Utah, doubts set in.

“What have I gotten myself into?” I thought. “How is this going to end?”

But now here I was! At mile 47.

Only three miles left! I had already realized at mile 39 that I was actually going to finish!

There’s nothing stopping me now! I’m going to do this!

“Yeah, I’m doing great!” I said again.

“Well…”  the support-person said hesitantly, “unfortunately we have to pull you.”

“Uh, WHAT?!” I was shocked.

“WHY?!” I asked. Then I protested. “No! You can’t do that! What time is it?! The race doesn’t end for a whole hour and 10 minutes. I only I have three miles to go. I’ve got this!”

“Sorry, I know it sucks. We just can’t let you go on.” He explained,

“When we rerouted everyone this morning because of the snow, it actually extended the course by four miles. You don’t have three miles to go, you have seven. To make the mandatory cut-offs, you’d have to be at the next check-point—which is four miles away—in 10 minutes. That’s not going to happen. We have to pull you. I’m sorry.”

Sigh…

To come this far, and now this?

Was it worth it?

Was it all for nothing?

In that moment, everything felt like a dream.

The support people opened the door to a truck and sat me inside. Before I knew it, I was being driven off the mountain.

I was sitting in that truck, drenched from sweat, rain, and snow.

Time stood still.

I listened to myself, still breathing heavily.

I just stared out the window—watching the sun go down.

The entire day flashed back in my mind.

Scott Black, my ultra running mentor, had given me some last-minute advice before the race. It was now a repeating track in head:

“Remember,” he had told me before the race, “don’t ever let the sum of things that are not going well build up on you mentally. Ultras represent life. They are about managing problems and only managing one problem at a time. You are going to do great. Manage the one problem in front of you, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Suddenly, my mind then went to all the unpredictable problems that this day brought.

When I got to the race around 4:00am, the snow had already began.

Then, in the registration tent, we heard an unfortunate announcement—

“Listen up everyone!” the race captain said,

“Due to blizzard-like conditions on the higher elevation of the mountain, the race is going to start 30 minutes later, but all cutoffs don’t move.”

That was the first hiccup.

In big races like these, there are checkpoints and cutoffs that runners must meet, otherwise they get pulled from the race.

This 30 minutes wasn’t just a delay—it now meant that our allotted time to finish was now cut 30 minutes short.

“Shit.” I said to myself.

I thought about dropping down to a shorter distance so I didn’t have to worry about whether I could finish or not.

BUT! I had signed up for the 50! That’s what I was there for.

I realized, I would rather go after something massive and discover what my limit was, than settle for something easier and wonder how far I really could have gone.

I went after it.

About an hour into the race, the slush at the lower elevations was turning into heavy snow.

The next big hiccup.

It was getting worse as we were ascending those Park City, mountains.

In fact, we were getting messages from people at aid stations that the top of the mountain was such a blizzard, that it wasn’t safe for anyone to be up there. What would happen?

That’s when we learned, while we were in the middle of running, that the entire race was being re-routed on the fly.

People were coming out and taping trails off, and moving signs

It was a time of confusion. But we knew it was because of the blizzard.

It was for our safety.

We rolled with it.

Then…the next problem.

Around mile 14, my knees locked up.

I suddenly went from a brisk pace to what felt to be slower than walking.

My knees and shins were in more pain than they’ve ever been in my life.

“Holy shit, I still have 36 miles to go,” I thought.

“If this is how I’m feeling now, what’s going to happen?”

As I was hobbling along, dozens of dozens of runners passed me—many of them stopping briefly to ask “are you okay?”

I didn’t know if I could complete the next 36 miles.

But I did know that I had gone 25 miles in my training, so I was at least capable of that.

Then, I also remembered the advice of my friend Scott Black,

“tackle one problem at a time.”

Even though I didn’t know if I could finish, I knew I could keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I could go 10 more feet.

And then to a tree in front of me.

And then to another check point.

And then one more mile.

Before I knew it, I was at a major aid station and I had gone 26 miles—now officially farther than I had ever gone before!

Then came a new set of challenges.

My mental state.

I wanted to quit so bad.

I was in so much pain.

Besides, I had now gone farther than I’d ever gone in my life—plus in was in the mountains, with rain and snow.

I could be proud of myself!

But, I knew I hadn’t hit my limit.

I could go a little more. I didn’t know if I could go the whole 24 remaining miles, but I at least knew I wasn’t done.

So I left that checkpoint.

The decision to carry on at that point opened me to experience one of the most satisfying experiences of my entire life.

Honestly, I still can’t entirely explain it.

It had to be divine intervention.

But I suddenly changed into a completely new person.

A power within me came out that I had never seen before.

Almost miraculously, the pain in my knees and my shins vanished.

I suddenly had more energy than I’ve ever felt in my life, and I ran faster at mile 26 than I did when I started the race!

And the best part?

That lasted for 13 miles!

I felt as though I was flying up those mountains. I now passed the dozens of runners who had passed me two hours earlier.

It was after these 13 miles that I realized “holy shit! I’m going to do this!”

Then I committed. No matter what, I was going to run 50 miles.

At least, that was the intention.

Now at mile 47, I was sitting in a pick-up truck being driven off the mountain.

Sigh…

I had given it my best.

I had come so close.

I again had the track of advice from my friend Scott Black repeating in my head,

“You are going to do great. Manage the one problem in front of you, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

How could I manage this problem?

At least when I was out on the trail, I had control to keep running.

Now, I’m officially pulled. It’s come to an end. There’s nothing I can do.

Or, is there?

“What was my goal today?” I asked myself.

To run 50 miles.

Was it to “officially complete this race?”

No! It wasn’t.

The race was just the means to allow me to go after 50 miles.

I realized then and there that it didn’t matter if I was getting pulled.

I realized that this wasn’t a deal-breaker, this was just the next ONE problem in front of me, and my job was to manage it.

“I’m going to run the entire 50 miles!” I suddenly said out loud to the two support-people in the pickup truck.

“What do you mean?” one of them asked.

“I’m going to run the entire 50 miles.”

“How? You’ve already been officially pulled.”

“My goal today was to go after 50 miles. I’m only 3 miles away. I don’t give a shit if it’s not in an official race. Even if I have to run down the freaking sidewalk to run 3 miles, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“You’re serious.”

“I am dead serious. I’m fucking finishing what I started.”

Suddenly, the support-people got fired up!

They said “This is awesome! We want to help you!”

“Help? How?”

Instead of being dropped off at the sidewalk, the support-people dropped me off at the finish line.

“Why are you dropping me off here?” I asked.

“Screw running down the sidewalk,” they said. “Since you’re really doing this, you at least should be able to cross the finish line. Run halfway one direction, and turn around. Good luck!”

I excitedly jumped out of the truck!

But…

When I got out of that truck, another MASSIVE problem hit.

I was so freezing cold!

I been in a toasty warm truck.

Now I got out into the bitter cold, still soaked to the bone, and without having moved my body for more than 20 minutes.

I almost hyperventilated.

I almost told them to just take me to my car.

Maybe I could finish the 3 miles at home after a warm shower?

I realize, the pain of regret would be greater if I quit here than if I push through.

“Screw it. I’m here. I just have to get moving.”

And that’s what I do. I hobble one direction. The pain is now the strongest it’s been, but I know I am so close!

I hit the halfway point, and turn around.

At this point it’s completely dark.

I’m almost there.

I see some guys driving toward me on a four-wheeler. “Are you Calvin Wayman?!”

“Yes,” I say. “Why?”

“Great!” They reply. “We heard what you’re doing. It’s awesome! You’re literally the last person out here. We’ll keep the finish-line set up and wait for you there!”

And that’s what happened.

Moments later, I had an unlikely finish to the 50 miles—and I crossed that finish line!

It wasn’t perfect.

It wasn’t how I planned.

But, I did it.

And in some ways, it was better than that perfect.

It was better than I would have planned.

In fact, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

After the race, I stood there and shouted, “Yes! I did it! I did it!”

But how?

How did I do what I was once thought would be impossible?

In retrospect, what allowed it to happen?

Simple.

It was the gift offered by my mentor:

“Remember,” he had told me before the race,

“don’t ever let the sum of things that are not going well build up on you mentally.

“Manage the one problem in front of you, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

May you be able to use this same gift in your own life.

Whatever “mountains” you have to climb,

Whatever obstacles you are currently facing,

You’re doing great.

Know that you are more capable than you give yourself credit for.

And just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

 

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finish

 

Catch part 1 of this article here: Taking a Shot at the Impossible – Why I signed up for a 50-mile race

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