34 Miles, Forgiveness, and Preparation

Very rarely does someone wake up in the morning and say, “Hmmm.. I am going to make some bad decisions today that will throw me off the desired course in life.” Of course we don’t prepare to make the bad decisions, but I am more concerned with preparing to make the right decisions and rebounding from the mistakes. Let me tell you why this is on my mind….

Two weeks ago I participated in the http://site.northfork50.com/. Typically 50 K = 31 miles, however, I managed to run a total of 34 miles. North Fork is ran entirely on  gorgeous mountain trails located in the astonishing Rocky Mountains.

My goal was to run this race in 6 hours or less. One would think, “ahh 31 miles in 6 hours should not be too hard.” Well, it should not be! Even though there was a lot of ascending and descending big mountains, I thought 6 hours would be an acceptable time.

Miles 1-10 were fast. The first three miles were non-stop climbing followed by some coming down the mountain and then some rollers. I noticed I clocked a couple 7:30 miles on the rollers. I was feeling great and felt that I had enough in my tank while pushing it a bit  at the start.

Mile 10…. oh what an adventure! Right about mile 10 there was a fork in the trail. We were instructed to follow the orange flags. So, when we (a group of about 8 runners) were faced with several orange flags going left and just a couple orange flags going straight ahead we elected to follow the path with more flags. We quickly started some climbing and kept going. I looked at my watch and realized I was at about 11.5 miles and there was supposed to be an aid station at mile 10. Something was wrong . I felt lost. I heard some chattering from the pack and everyone quickly decided we were off course. Frustration, anger, thoughts of quitting, and confusion clouded my mind. These super negative thoughts sucked the energy right out of me in every way. I allowed this to go on for about 5 minutes. Grabbing my attention then was the thought that this wrong decision was going to be about a 3 mile setback and I was to either let the negative garbage talk take over or push forward, get back on course, and finish strong. I decided to to get back on course. Suddenly, I felt energized and optimistic. A bit later I arrived at the fork where I had taken the wrong turn. There was now a sign that stated something like, “Aide Station 200 yards ahead.” Ahhhh that was a new sign 🙂

The remainder of the race was nice… for the most part. Miles 16-24 were hot and I started to beat myself up again for getting lost. I was able to pull myself out of that slump and finish the last 7 miles out strong.

Talking about the finish of the race is  not where I want to focus. Instead, I think it is important to talk about lessons learned and reinforced in getting lost and pushing forward…

1. Forgiveness from others seems to come much quicker than forgiving thyself. People tend to be forgiving towards others, in fact, I am amazed at how people can quickly forgive others. The real challenge is forgiving ourselves. When I screw up its easy to hold firmly on to my mistake even when others have forgiven me. I noticed that while I was lost no one was going to be mad at me and I was the only person upset and beating up myself. The moment in which I said, ” Okay… yes I could have prevented this situation but right now I cannot waste my energy on tearing myself down… just accept that I made a mistake and move on,” I felt quick relief and restored physical/ emotional energy. I truly believe  I experience tranquility and peace most when I can accept that I am a human being who makes mistakes and that if I take proper steps my mistakes can be forgiven. When I make a decision that requires forgiveness from others and myself receiving the verbal statement, “I forgive you” is not enough. I must do the proper work to make things right. In the case of the race once I decided all was okay the next step was to look forward, restructure my race plans, and get back on course as quickly as possible. The work was to get back on course and stay on course. Later in the race I started have thoughts of “Man if I would not have gotten lost I would be 30 minutes up the trail,” which is true but nothing I could do to change that situation. However, if I continued to give that particular thought attention I would fall back further. So I did some self-talk and said,”okay fine that is a true thought that I could be at a faster time  but I am where I am and my focus should be how to continue forward from here.” Any other self defeating thought was a waste of energy and simply unproductive. In the end, I race ultras because I love the process… so, I was actually lucky to get lost because that allowed me to be out in the mountains just that much longer! The principle is that you might think you have forgiven yourself but guilt will come up when you start to give attention to the thoughts like “could have” “should have” “must” and so forth. Instead, stick to the thoughts more associated with what is under your control NOW and what you’re going to DO NOW!

2. Preparation can often prevent mistakes. That being said… mistakes still can happen we can only hope to reduce them. Because of my experience in this last race I will study course maps and take a small map with me at every race. Notice that I did not say I should have done this for the North Fork… that would only lead to guilt. I have foriven myself for the mistake and now am preparing to prevent the same mistake by saying what I WILL DO NOW! So, when we are faced with the realization that we might have really goofed things it is imperative that we don’t look at what  we should have done but what we can do now to prepare better for what is to come! Enough said.

3. Blaming others for my decisions robs me of life lessons.I could have gotten really ticked off at the race people for not having the sign out in time. Really? Do I want to waste my energy on that? What purpose would that serve? These race directors and volunteers are working their butts off so we can enjoy it. There is no reason to be mean to such great people, and even if they weren’t awesome poeple it was still my decision to turn. They had given me the resources (ie. race map, turn sheet, and words of caution) before the race. Studying these materials were my responsibility… anything else they did beyond that was very kind! I should probably mention that the rest of the course was very well marked and stations were AWESOME! Volunteers at this race rocked (including my hot wife, children, and Duncan family running the station at mile 15)! So, decisons are mine when I make them and are mine to correct when they go wrong. Finding fault is a waste of time…. recognize, seek forgiveness, devise a plan, and keep looking forward!

Well, I finished the race. I finished in 6 hours and 20 minutes…. yes, yes I know the incorrect turn played a role in going over my time goal… but the process was fun and I learned a lot. No one at the finished seemed to care about the extra minutes on the trail!

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