“What was the big takeaway? What did you learn?” my friend Sam asked me yesterday. We were standing at the base of Diagonals Wall; it was a perfect August afternoon to go rock climbing in the Robinson Park sandstone quarry. I pulled slack through my grigri (gree-gree) and thought for a second. My climber had just clipped the second-to-last bolt on Hot German Babe and was about to tackle the committing heel hook crux to the chains.
This weekend I ran 38 miles (in 22 hours) as part of a women’s ultra team in the Ragnar Great River relay race. The six of us tackled the 200+ miles from Winona to Minneapolis on foot. We ran from 7am Friday morning until 5pm Saturday afternoon, straight through the night, taking turns carrying the team onward (via neon orange 80s slap bracelet).
Nothing came to mind.
There were small things, sure: potato chips are better fuel than I realized, teamwork is often simply doing what you say you’ll do, bridges are full of spiders at midnight, it’s ok to eat mini peanut butter snickers instead of apples sometimes…
Some stuff I already knew: you chafe wherever you get (and stay) wet, running by headlamp is a blast, I love running in the rain, pavement feels hot on your face, it feels amazing when 1) you pass the torch to the next runner and feel proud of the work you just did, and 2) the torch snaps around your wrist and it is your responsibility to carry it forward 6.9 miles as fast as you can to the next exchange.
“Off belay!” my climber called. He made it to the anchors. I looked up.
What did I learn? I feel like all I did was do. I ran, I hydrated, I changed shirts a lot, I ran, I cheered, I…ran.
It’s been an intentional theme in my life for the greater part of two years to have my actions, words, intentions, values, and choices align. Most of the time it has felt like trying to line up grasshoppers; only recently has it felt more like harnessing a sled dog team.
When we picked up our bibs, they informed us that 26+ miles of the course was flooded (completely impassable) and that we would have to drive around and start again, several exchanges later. I was captain of a womens ultra team last year; I know for sure that those medals are a puzzle that, all six together, say “Together we ran 200-ish miles.” I know they do not say that we ran 170-ish.
I asked the orientation guy if we could make up the miles by running two at a time. He chucked and said “sure, run three if you want to.” I nodded.
Over the next 22 hours I ran. I ran my first four legs faster than I expected, and I felt proud of my contribution to the team. I ran back-to-back legs to make up mileage. I ran an extra three miles at 2am because my teammate had a long, lonely 10.5 miler through a cornfield.
My final two legs were both nearly seven hard miles. At this point, I’d already run a marathon, been up all night, hadn’t eaten a meal for more hours than I could keep track of. I started by climbing out of Afton State Park and proceeded to run a hilly, straight road through fields. I sprayed myself in the face with my handheld. I poured water in my hat. I was hot. And I ran.
My vanmates pulled over to offer support, salt, water, cowbell. I laughed and told them that I was finally doing what we were here to do. It was time to push further, into the interesting and unpredictable parts of running.
For the rest of the afternoon, we each sweated through our final leg. After 33 hours, we crossed the river into Minneapolis and ran to the heart of the city. Together, we truly ran 200 (ish) miles.
“On you,” my climber called, “Bring me home.” I engaged my belay device and began lowering.
I’ve learned that you have to stop harnessing grasshoppers. If you are trying to be perfect, you’re already defeated, playing a very monotonous game. That’s just not how human hearts, how relationships, how the world seems to work. I used to make the same mistakes over and over and throw it away every time because it was ruined.
A much better tether: integrity. Honesty seems inextricably linked to integrity. You cannot be in “a state of wholeness, undivided” (according to Merriam-Webster) without also being truthful in all aspects. I think that’s how we manage to make things so complicated.
I find that the more honestly I live, the more the pieces of myself align. Then, when I mess it up, I can accept it, admit it, fix it, and continue on. I don’t always have to go back to the beginning.
The more honesty and integrity I share, the more pride I take in the race I am running. I’m not saying it’s easy; once you are on the course you are there until the finish line. But I am suggesting that it is worth the effort.