Monday, July 7, 2014

What goes up...

...must come down. And man does it come down.

I debated over posting anything at all regarding the race yesterday, because the side of me that thinks way too highly of myself doesn't want to look bad. But I feel like if you're going to talk about your experiences when everything is all rah-rah-go-me-my-phone-and-Facebook-and-other-social-media-sources-are-exploding-with-congratulatory-messages-yay-everyone-thinks-I'm-cool-all-of-a-sudden, it's only fair to talk about your complete and utter shit shows and screw ups and embarrassments too. Yes, I know I just said a naughty word, but honestly there might be a lot of those today. PG-13 for this one, so leave the kids at home. But it seems like people only hear about and see other peoples' successes, and you get to thinking it should only be that way, which is a bunch of bull crap. On top of that, I only get 24 hours to "grieve" over a bad day, and I am 23 hours in, so whatever I've got to say, I will say it now and move on.

So on that upbeat note....Loon Mountain, this year the USA Mountain Running Championships: where some runners go to win and do rad fist-pumps across the line, and other runners go to die slow and painful deaths. To date, the most nightmarish and embarrassing race of my life, because what went wrong was within my control, and I have to own that.

Sometimes I think you learn more about yourself from the epic, miserable failures than the glowing, shiny successes that seemed to come so easy (even though when you think about it, they never did come easy) and I learned a lot on that mountain.

Although much of it is one if those "well I know what happened but I don't really know what happened" type things, all feelings and emotions aside, tactically it all started with a key failure on my part: a failure to know the course when I thought I knew the course, which culminated in a mental and physical and emotional blow up of such stunning and stellar proportions that I don't actually recognize myself in whoever that girl was who all of a sudden just said to herself, "I CAN'T." Like that. In all caps. Then stopped. I have never told that to myself and believed it, and it kind of surprised me when I did, and that's what sparked the emotional side of said meltdown, which effectively undid the whole race.

So the race...I was jittery for about 2 weeks leading up to it, but I woke up excited and it started pretty much like thought it would. I told myself not to just assume you're going to go out there and blow everyone's doors off because there are plenty of veterans and you will have to compete HARD to earn a spot on this team, but at the same time to be confident and believe in yourself enough to not be surprised by anything good that happens. And I ran well and even handled the downhills better than I thought I would for the better part of the race, and those were initially my only hesitation in coming here. It ended up being Allie--who went on to a huge and much deserved upset victory--out in front, myself, Megan D., Kasie, and Morgan in somewhat of a pack for much of the race, from what I remember. I had checked out roughly half the course the day before, and had studied the course profile, so I was confident that I knew what I was getting into. I didn't check out the uppermost part of the course though, and that's where the shit really hit the fan on so many levels. To be honest though, I was not at all worried that I didn't know the details of it all going in, because hardly anyone seemed to and they were not concerned, but I guess everyone's different. I need details.

The long in the short: there was a false summit. Simply, I ran absolutely as hard as I could up a 500ish meter long hill thinking it was Upper Walking Boss and I just knew everyone had been exaggerating it all along, because I could see the gondola at the top with a tent next to it and a ton of people cheering, and I didn't know there were two of those so I thought, "GO NOW." So, being in 3rd place at the time and hell bent on making a team, I kicked as hard as I could up that mofo. Legs and lungs screaming like they always do in the final stage of a race, I crested the summit expecting a finish line but was instead greeted with a 1 Mile Left sign. And it is the absolute hardest mile of the whole damn race, and I knew that. Mentally I deflated. Completely. I didn't even fight it. I heard this voice in my head that said, loud and clear, "I CAN'T." I can't because how could I ever make a world's team? I can't because it's not like I'm special or something. I can't because I'm just normal and and slightly socially awkward and I have a normal job and a normal life and I'm normal. I can't because I'm from Franktown and what cool thing has ever come out of Franktown besides cement. I can't and I am going to disappoint everyone and myself worst of all. I can't because I had this perfect race plan that just went way out the window and I'm not really sure how to handle that. Not, I CAN because I trained my ass off and don't deserve to shortchange myself. Not I can because I'm tough enough to still salvage something from this race. Not I can because someone has to, so it may as well be me. Not I can because I AM good enough. Just I can't. And I truly believed that just long enough and in precisely the worst moment to totally give into it. And the next thing I knew I stopped. And worse, I was sitting, yes, SITTING (how the hell did I end up sitting?! It really was that bad.) on the course apologizing OUT LOUD Yes, I guess to me because I let me down, and even to God because I felt like maybe I wasn't doing the best I could with what I had and was taking it all for granted, and that's just not what you're supposed to do in life, I don't care what you believe in. But it was totally f***ing weird and awful and embarrassing and I probably looked like a raving, sweaty, strung out, crack addict on the side of a random mountain, which is about what I felt like. On a scale of One to Psychosis I would solidly put myself on the furthest end of that spectrum. I lost all dignity then and there--actually no, I think I saw a tiny shred of it poking out from beneath a rock but it blew away shortly thereafter--and I joined the ranks of the most colossal head cases to ever grace the sport, or maybe I've been there for a while, but this was a whole new level. Regardless, I would rather crap myself in a race on camera wearing bun huggers on national television than repeat that feat. I hope onlookers appreciated that they were witnessing an unprecedented meltdown that may (hopefully) never be seen again, but unfortunately no one asks for autographs for these things.

But, since I just couldn't bear to not finish, after what felt like eternity I mustered up what pathetic amount of stamina remained and tried to rally, while feeling like there was a 20 ton elephant sitting on my chest and a 200 pound monkey on my back, to shuffle downhill and then crawl up Upper Walking Boss. I don't remember much of that other than than realizing it's not exaggerated. It was like one of those bad dreams where you're running as hard as you can and everyone is just flying by you. I don't know what place I was. I don't want to know. Anyway, hopefully they got a photo of my pitiful teary finish so that it can be put on the Loon Mountain Facebook page next year to show just what you can be reduced to in this race if all physical, mental and emotional elements combine to create the perfect storm. It's really something to behold. Hey, laugh and the world laughs with you...I guess.

But this was one of those "cry and you cry alone" things. And I did. A lot. Alone. Not because I felt sorry for myself, because it WAS my fault, and not over a bad race, but mostly because I told me "I can't" and it was like I REALLY hurt my own damn feelings or something, if that's possible. Also mostly because even if I would have gutted out a proper finish, which would have been ugly, it still would have trumped giving up on myself. And also because this is not a real problem and so I feel bad for feeling so bad. And because I've spent enough time injured that how could I let myself do this to myself? And because this has never happened before. And because what if because you give up on yourself once it gets easy to do it again and again? And because I want to make people proud of me but I didn't. And because there will always be someone who's glad you failed. And because it reminded me of Kathy Ormsby who totally lost it in the 10k at NCAA's in 1985 and ran off the track and off a bridge and wound up paralyzed, and because if there was a bridge around at the time I'd have done the same thing. And because I'm reading The Fault In Our Stars which is this brutally sad book where all these kids have cancer. And because on Letsrun everyone is so mean to each other. And all this other really weird random shit and I don't really know how else to articulate it other than that I think my brain exploded at approximately the same time my legs did.

For the record having a Psychology degree is absolutely worthless.

I would like to think that maybe that was the best I could do and I just screwed up plain and simple. But I would only agree with the latter half of that statement. Because in the back of my head I know that was not the best I could do, it was up until a point then wasn't anymore, and no one could say anything that would make it excusable. I totally panicked and I overreacted because I put so much stock into this race and executing it perfectly that I let myself get totally thrown when perfect didn't happen. But if that broke me then I had no business on a Worlds team anyway, and the group that's going absolutely earned it, and I absolutely did not, and I'm proud of them. I don't believe there is a valid excuse. It was embarrassing, and I regret it. But anyway, that's how it went.

Post race, the elite coordinator Paul sent me an email and this was part of it:

"Hopefully today you can walk away with something of value in much the same way your Mt. Washington of 2 weeks ago was walking away with awesomeness."

So I started wondering to myself what thing of value could I possibly have just taken away from the most embarrassingly low race of my life. And it didn't take much thought. I thought about other races I've had where in spite of my best effort, they were horrible. But the thing that was missing from the aftermath of them was regret. I learned that no matter how brutal and ugly and painful a real finish would have been, it would have far surpassed giving into physical and mental pain and essentially giving up because of it, and that no matter how cheap talk is, I will never, ever let that happen again.

So that's kind of all I have to say about that, there is great and good and bad and ugly and downright pathetic and that's just how it is. I just had to put it out there though. I don't believe in carefully curating and promoting some best-case scenario version of myself. Shit happens and it hurts really bad when it does.

On the upside, I met a bunch more awesome mountain running peeps and I seriously love the mountain/ultra/trail running community the more races I run, totally different vibe and I am so glad I stumbled on it. And Nuta taught me how to make Turkish style coffee, so there's that.

It was no Mt. Washington and there was no glory in it, but at least I get to try again. There's still another mountain that needs to be run up next month.


  1. Thanks for sharing Shannon! I respect you for sharing the good and the bad/ugly. And I respect you for finishing. You have so much talent and I know you will come back from this to do more great things! Hang in there!

  2. Your honest, thoughtful and in-depth report shows the true champion you are and serves as an inspiration to others that they too can share their stories which, at the end of the day, are all learning experiences. We look forward to seeing you tackle Pikes next month on the U.S. Long Distance Team! best, nance

  3. Shannon, thanks for your willingness to be real. You're just scratching the surface of what you'll accomplish in the mountain running scene. One race definitely doesn't define us. Looking forward to toeing the line with you next month in the Ascent. It's an incredible race

  4. Shannon,
    As someone who has had some very good days and some truly awful ones let me one of I'm sure many to say, one, good on you for talking publicly about the bad days. Second don't ever sweat a shit performance from something like sprinting for the wrong line. Never worry about something like that which is so easy to correct nothing is wrong physically or emotionally so nothing for you worry about. Keep your head up, keep up the good work and enjoy the great performances to come.

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