Life after the Slam
“You need to prepare yourself for how you’re going to feel when this is all over,” Larry said to me as we ran the weekend before Cascade Crest 100. “Prepare myself?” I thought. “I still have to get through two more races. I don’t even known if I’m going to be able to finish!” I let his words go as I lost myself in the continued excitement, preparation, and training that had been my existence since the Western States lottery last December. It’s not that I’m quick to disregard the advice of a friend; I just couldn’t wrap my mind around that piece yet. I needed to focus on the present task if I was ever going to make it.
Nearly six weeks have passed since I finished the Larry Slam. I spent the first two in a post-race combination of haziness and euphoria, completely shocked that I was actually able to do what I set out to do and grateful for the support of the friends and family who helped me reach that point. Then, everything started to resonate. Throughout the entire process, from lottery day through the finish of Pine to Palm, through the travel and the planning, I worked normal days, I trained, I went to family events, and I socialized with friends. For all intents and purposes, I lived a completely normal day-to-day life. And, yet, I didn’t. I lived and breathed the Larry Slam, and every significant life event and emotion that I needed to address (and there were a lot of them) was like an item added to a to-do list that I would deal with later. In the meantime, I would just run a really long way, pack another bag, or look at another aid station chart and not think about it.
Sometime two-three weeks post slam, the flood of emotions began. I was simultaneously excited, disappointed, relieved, sad, and overwhelmed. It was as though I woke up one morning and my brain finally decided to internalize all of the emotions I had cast aside and neglected for the last nine months. It was as though I had been asleep (without actually resting) all year and I finally awoke to find that life around me had changed. So, instead of resting, I ran. I didn’t run far or particularly hard, but I ran. I ran because it was what I knew how to do, because running is the reliable friend that always listens, because it distracted me from relationships, and work, and from the fact that my cat was ill. I got tired and stale. I was irritable and I was apathetic. I lost my appetite. I couldn’t sleep. I loved every second that I spent running, but I was burned out. So I ran more, perpetuating the cycle with which we’ve all become too familiar.
Finally, last weekend, I ran a 50k on some of my favorite trails. It was unplanned and, having come off several consecutive 70-mile training weeks, I knew it wouldn’t be fast. So I resigned myself to running for fun, to enjoying the trails in all of their fall beauty in every cliché way, to spending time with friends, and to not looking at my watch. I was tired, but I had fun. Separated from the racing mentality, I had over 6 hours to think about how I felt and what was important to me, about the things that were happening and what I had neglected. I realized what I was doing to myself and how that was impacting other aspects of my life.
Today is my second consecutive rest day. Those who know me know that this is unprecedented outside the context of intentional race recovery. I don’t plan to cease running (I derive pure joy from the time I spend running), but I do plan on slowing down, on taking a step back, on taking a moment to breathe to allow my mind to process the last 9+ months that flew by when I wasn’t paying attention. I plan to sleep. Because I have big plans for next year, and I want to experience, not cast aside, every single moment.