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The older I get, the more I truly believe that the Universe has a way of frequently working things out, if you’re open to it. It might not be what you expected, or wanted, but nevertheless it will be a happy ending. A classic case of the Rolling Stone’s “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need”.
If you can’t be philosophic on your own volition, quote a classic rock song. It’s my modus operandi for 2020.
It was only fitting that the first race of my sudden “surprise, you aren’t racing” race season was the second annual Retreat Repeat. Last year, a fellow ultra runner and friend Nathan Dewey started the event under the premise of bringing together our local running community for a day full of fun, friendship, and a ton of miles (if you wanted). The just shy of 2 mile loop, 8 hour race was nothing short of a family affair, with runners of all abilities, their crew, and families enjoying a beautiful day on the private Coleman Retreat property in Shulerville, SC.
Last year I ran just over a 50K in the 8 hour time frame. This year I would walk just shy of 6 miles…but for me, the spirit of the ultra community was even more present this year than last.
Geoff and I arrived to Coleman Retreat Friday afternoon. I met Nathan in the field where we parked and apologized for being early (the hazards of traveling a couple of hours to get to a race – we’re either late, or ridiculously early. Usually the latter.) He laughed and gave me a hug.
This year, the Coleman family was kind enough to allow camping the night before the race. Geoff and I rarely ever turn down an opportunity to sleep in a tent. In fact, if it wasn’t for our zoo (and the kids, obviously) we’d probably willingly live outdoors for the majority of the year. But I digress. We set up camp, and then spent the remainder of the evening by the campfire, chatting and laughing with old friends and new friends alike.
The next morning, I wake up to pouring rain, and our friend Kevin yelling into our tent “are you awake yet? I brought Geoff socks!” You see, my amazing husband, the one who is usually in charge of making sure we have all of the things we need on our adventures – forgot everything. His rain jacket, any flashlights / headlamps for camping, his GPS watch, and most notably – socks to run in.
Thank goodness for friends. (And I’m not judging – I once forgot shorts and another time my timing chip, before the Marine Corps Marathon and Disney World Marathon, respectively.)
People were arriving, and the coffee and donuts were flowing. I welcomed more and more friends as they arrived to our tent area, and we began to set up a three-tent compound.
And then the race began.
I won’t lie, it was an awkward feeling, at first, casually walking around pre-race in jeans, a rain jacket, and galoshes, while so many other people were buzzing about in their running gear, getting ready for their race. It’s been a long, long, long time since I attended a race as support crew ONLY. And yeah, it made me a little sad.
But over the course of the day, the ultra community – my running family – would remind me of how this community is about so much more than just the running.
Countless people came up to me to ask if I was OK. And I knew, by the concern in their eyes, that they didn’t just mean physically.
Countless people offered up hugs. And not just the superficial-Southern-hospitality hugs, but real tight, genuine squeezes.
I had numerous listening ears that let me verbalize something I’ve been wondering for the last few weeks: maybe I have been burnt out on running after all. Maybe this break is very much a good thing. These people, they understood.
I also had numerous understanding people laugh when I told them that I’m currently marveling at that fact that 30 minutes of cardio a day is “enough” when you aren’t training for anything. We ultrarunners tend to be so extreme that we lose sight of what “moderation” looks like.
I ate a delicious grilled cheese sandwich, an amazing bowl of vegan soup, and a cup (or two) of home brew.
I walked three loops over the course of the 8 hours, catching up with friends, sharing stories, enjoying the gorgeous trail, and trying not to slip in the mud.
I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
And most importantly, I got to watch friends and strangers alike as they pushed their bodies to complete as many laps as they hoped – or wanted – to over the 1.9 mile course.
(Like my amazing husband, who casually knocked out a 50K in muddy conditions, making it look easy)
I wish that I had a proper race recap to share. I could tell you that the swag – technical hoodies with pockets, feetures! socks, and sunglasses for the kiddos – was amazing. I could tell you that the aid station table was absolutely out of control. What do you want to eat? It was there. I could tell you how beautiful the course was, especially when the sun finally came out and the rays were peaking through the bare winter trees. I could tell you about the awesome music playing, the fact that there were veggie burgers fresh from the grill in addition to the meat, and that there were handmade finishers awards AND a huge raffle.
But I’d rather tell you this:
Earlier in the week I had braced myself for the mental struggle of feeling some serious FOMO, a bit of jealousy, and likely an unhealthy dose of “woe is me” over the fact that my body has failed me, and I must be sidelined from running until further notice. In the past, I’ve been a part of communities that full of support and friendship…until the moment you could no longer do the activity that brought you together. The second you stopped, you were left behind.
Not this community.
Instead of feeling left out, when we left the Retreat early that evening, my heart was genuinely full. This sport, and this family, has given me so much. And even when I’m not actually running…it continues to give. This is indeed my happy place.
And for that, I will be forever grateful.