The Mettle

Not finishing a race, or anything for that matter, is foreign to me. So when the Rock the Ridge 50-mile Challenge course was closed by race officials due to dangerous weather conditions and I had only reached the 25-mile mark, I had trouble putting things into perspective.

Then they offered me a medal.

I take pride in my athletic endeavors, focusing on effort and progress. Rather than training to race, I race to train, rejoicing in weekly miles and reps.

I have seen the competition and it is me. I set goals then do what it takes to crush them.

Rock the Ridge, an iconic 50-mile trail race, has always been on my list, and 2018 was the year I would cross it off. I toed the line with the Jeff’s (Mitchell and LaCroix), arriving at an overcast starting line at the Mohonk Preserve Testimonial Gatehouse with a healthy sense of humor, dread, and anticipation.

As our 6:00 am start faded in the rearview mirror, the promise of rain was fulfilled. My steps found a rhythm with the steady beat of the downpour, temperatures hovering between cold and colder making for magnificently miserable miles.

Then runners began being pulled off the course with symptoms of hypothermia. I encountered three during my run, each shaking, confused, and disappointed. It was raining so hard that residual laundry soap trapped in my running shorts was oozing down my legs, creating a soapy-white trail behind me.

The experience played on my mind, my brain wandering to warmer, drier places while my white, foamy legs dutifully propelled me forward. I imagined the rain stopping and the sun triumphantly drying the landscape, parting the seas for my glorious finish.

Mother Nature would have nothing of it. She kept throwing the rain and cold, spiced occasionally with a wind that chilled like an icy sword.

My inner voice became indignant; ‘really, why are we continuing?…enough of this…no harm in stopping…’ blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard it all before.

The halfway point at Lyons Road resembled a runner’s refugee camp. I was drawn to a single heater which too many people had crowded around. There was food, drink, the bags we had dropped at the finish line with our own essentials, amazing volunteers with outstanding attitudes and encouragement, and a message – don’t leave until I hear from the Park Ranger.

Little did I know the decision had been made that my race and the race of all of the 50-milers behind me was over. Race officials decided it would be dangerous for us to continue to subject ourselves to hypothermic conditions for the second 25 miles.

They were right to be cautious. Too many had already been pulled off the course. The decision was pragmatic and in the best interests of everyone concerned.

I know that now, but in my moment of misery and confusion, I was devastated. When I said I wanted this to stop I didn’t mean it. That’s all part of why I do this, to do stuff I can’t do.

I munched on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fingers numb to the bread, thinking this really had become a nightmare.

The only thing worse than continuing was ending early.

My colleagues and I boarded the bus in silence, taking our seats deferentially and staring off into the fog. It was a somber ride,the opposite of what you would have seen if you had put the same people on a bus after crossing the finish line.

It took time for me to wrap my head around not finishing. Then, the email came. Since my race finish was out of my control, I was offered a finisher’s medal for what I had accomplished.

Ha-ha, right, no way. A medal from a race I didn’t finish? Isn’t that blasphemy?

But then I realized this story doesn’t end at Lyons Road. It’s been rerouted. Now that a ‘want-to’ has become a ‘have-to,’ there’s a sequel to be made.

The medal reminds me of the mettle it will take to earn my medal.

Not all stories are completed in 50 miles. I may not know how this one will end, but one thing is crystal clear – I have unfinished business on the Ridge.

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