We had our first Birmingham group hike for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge this past Saturday. At the beginning of every Trailblaze season, I always overhear and sense the exciting nervousness of hikers as they begin the 12 week journey. Some are worried they won’t be fit enough or capable of completing the 26.3 mile hike. Some are worried about the inevitable pain and uncomfortableness to push themselves to uncharted territory physically and possibly mentally. As a hike leader, it’s my job to support and encourage these hikers to stay consistent, stay positive and safely push their boundaries. The majority of the hikers have never taken on a challenge like this and their nervousness is understandably justified. Every year we get avid hikers as well as folks who have never hiked a day in their lives and both types of people on the spectrum have successfully completed the journey. I had one conversation with a hiker this past weekend about my own personal failures and shortcomings. It got me thinking of the times where I decided to pull out of certain efforts and times where I made the decision to suck it up and push through the uncomfortableness. One of those times was in 2018 during the Cruel Jewel 100…
“Maaaaaaaan f*ck Hardrock. F*ck Cruel Jewel. F*ck all is this sh*t. I’m done.”
I waddled into Camp Morganton (mile 50) drenched, chaffed and hating everything. Between the Georgia humidity and the overnight storm I had just trudged through, I had spent the first 15hrs30mins of this hellacious race soaking wet. I was over it.
I plopped down, removed my race bib and started to explain how Satan himself had come up from the depths of Hell to spend the entire day/night running demon horned sandpaper along my inner thighs and scrotum.
A girl standing in close proximity bluntly said. “Don’t be a p*ssy!”
I recognized the face but at the time had never actually met this girl. It was Jen, one of Ash’s best friends. I just rolled my eyes and continued bitching about how everything sucks. OJG, Matty Fierce and Jen must have done a good job with their pep talk and spinning my negative talk into positive talk, because before I knew it, I had a a dry pair of socks/shoes on and my race bib pinned back on a pair of dirty yellow shorts. I wasn’t entirely thrilled at the thought of stepping back out into the downpour to penguin waddle my ass back across the north Georgia mountains with a cheerful Lucifer scraping away delicate layers of skin in my shorts… but nevertheless, I begrudgingly stepped into the doorway of Camp Morganton.
“Aight Matty Fierce. If I step my ass out of this doorway and back into this rain… no matter how long it takes, I’m not quitting. Ok? Ok.”
OJG and MF didn’t let me quit. I spent the next 18hrs slowly and painfully moving my body across some of Georgia’s toughest trails.
At mile 69, Luci had stopped with the demon horned sandpaper and moved onto extinguishing lit cigarettes on the bottom half of my manhood. WHAT SINS AM I PAYING FOR?!?! There had to be SOMETHING I could do to ease the torture. WWMD? What would Macgyver do? I’ll tell ya what he’d do… he’d do duct tape.
I took the bright pink duct tape out of my plastic supply bin and wrapped it around my inner thighs. It wasn’t comfortable, but it allowed me to get back moving. The next 36 miles were much of the same… just slow, painful, wounded duck type movement along the Dragon’s Dong (aka: the Dragon’s Spine – aka: the Duncan Ridge Trail).
But after 35hrs, the end would eventually come and the mission objective moved from finishing CJ100 to a desperate search for Goldbond within the walls of a 24hr Walmart.
I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences in my day. Getting 18 teeth ripped from my skull was a bit unpleasant… breaking my clavicle and having to hide it so that I could pitch in the World Series was a bit unpleasant… self-forcing my douche shoulder back into place and ripping my labrum 360° was a bit unpleasant… and now sitting in a hotel bathroom at 1am painfully removing pink duct tape from raw, bloody skin was a bit unpleasant.
So where is that fine line of pink duct tape? At what point do you pull the plug and say… “nah fam, I’m good.” At what point do you rip a gritty piece of pink duct tape off in your teeth, strap it across your bare skin and keep going? I believe it’s situational and on a person by person basis. For example, my buddy Ryan just completed the H9 100 miler in some of the worst conditions imaginable. For me, that race (especially in those conditions) sounds absolutely awful and something that I wouldn’t enjoy. However, for him, he made the decision to suck it up and push through to be the first person to ever finish. He metaphorically had his own reasons to strap on some pink duct tape and push through the uncomfortableness.
Especially when its something like trail running, I’m a big advocate of the fun factor. Trail running is a big passion of mine because it’s FUN for me. I think one of the reasons I’m not super competitive in my practice is because I’m afraid of losing the feeling trail running instills within me. I understand that mountain ultra trail running isn’t always snow cones and kittens. Hell, most of the fun in endurance sports IS that uncomfortableness and that desire to push boundaries.
So when do you quit? I don’t quit often and it usually takes a lot to get me to bow out. I can only think of a few instances where I decided to throw in the hat. One instance was a long 60 mile route I had planned along the Art Loeb. I knew from mile 13 something was off, but since Ash had driven 3hrs to join me at mile 18 for the last 40 or so miles… I didn’t want to bail immediately. I would end up calling it quits at mile 42. To this day… it is still the worst I have EVER felt while on the trail. I made the decision to drop mainly because it would’ve pushed us going overnight through a storm and the thought of a warm meal at the Waffle House sounded all too appealing.
Another instance I dropped from an event was at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2018). From the starting line something felt off and by mile 14 I started having weird full body cramps. I tried my best to overcome my body’s revolt, but my inner voice kept prompting safety concerns so I bailed at mile 37.
Another time we bailed on an outing was this past summer. We had planned to do the 55 mile NAR loop as a training run for OJG, Hump, and Kyle’s upcoming 100 miler (IMTUF). After a slight, accidental bushwhack adventure off route, the allure of colbeer and warm food was enough to hop in the car with Katie Gregg after 41 miles
A third time I bailed was AGAIN at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2019). I felt fine and dandy for the first 18 miles and was moving along at my goal pace. Things went south after leaving Bulls Gap. I threw up for the next 12 miles and it got to the point I couldn’t even hold down water. Around mile 32 I came walking down a dirt road laughing and yelled ahead to my buddy Matt who was crewing me, “I’m done bro!” Despite appearing perfectly fine and having a great attitude… I just wasn’t fun anymore and didn’t have anything to prove by death marching 20 more miles in the Ransack.
DNFs happen. Bad days happen. It’s kinda absurd to think things will always go smoothly. Failures are growing pains and shouldn’t always be viewed as bad. Sure, failures can be disheartening, but if you can observe the positive side of failure and utilize it as a learning point, growth happens and you become a better athlete and overall better human.
Now that the year of January has ended and another year begins on this beautiful orb, God willing, I’ll get the opportunity to rip off a few more pieces of pink duct tape, push through some uncomfortableness and continue to learn from my successes AND failures.