I’m wracking my brain to think whether there are any other options. Honestly, that doesn’t mean that there are more options, I’m pretty damned exhausted. I’ve been dealing with this foot pain for over nine hours now. That isn’t to say I didn’t have foot pain before, but, when I wasn’t doing an ultramarathon it wasn’t noticeable. It’s noticeable now.
I’m not shivering because I dressed for the night-time temperatures early in this race. I am warm, I am eating well, and I mentally available. But then there’s this foot pain. A foot pain that has followed me since the beginning of the race, in fact since the beginning of my training… If I’m honest, it was there at the last hundred mile race that I finished in 2021. But it was new and I didn’t respect it. I felt it on and off throughout my training this year, but I could get around it by taking some time off or going easier or adding more walking to my training. There was a way to keep it in the peripheral. So, that’s what I did. Well, I couldn’t do that now.
I’ve never been in a place before where I had my full mental faculties, was fueling well and not nauseous, and was maintaining my temperature well, but felt that I couldn’t go on. Yet, here I was…everything was perfect, but the severity of this pain underneath my left ball of my foot was so severe that it brought me down from an 11 minute mile to 10 steps at a time followed by stopping and resting all of the weight of my upper body on my hiking poles and taking deep breaths just to rouse to walk 10 more steps. I needed confirmation. I wanted the guy at the aid station to tell me it was OK. That, yeah, this pain was severe enough to get stop trying to move on it.
I wanted some magical doctor to be on the course and tell me that, “Oh my God! I’ve never seen anything like that before! We’re gonna’ have to amputate! It’s definitely time to call it.”
The problem was that the choice was mine. I have a long history with sports such as football, boxing, marathons, ultramarathons, and Iron Man. Quitting without being on your last leg (no pun intended) was not something that I was familiar with.
After enough back-and-forth with the angel and the devil on my shoulders, I decided that going less than 1½ miles an hour in severe pain for the next 16 hours to finish this race was not in my best interest. After I made that decision, I had thousands of miles to drive in order to get back home. Plenty of time to perseverate.
I thought about it at breakfast, which just happened to be at the same place I ate at before the race. Before the race, the meal (and the diner) felt hopeful and friendly. Now it felt disappointing and gray. The miles and the things that were interesting along the road as I drove back home disappeared into a blur of something that I just wasn’t paying attention to because of the single question: Could I have done more?
After enough soul-searching and heart wrenching I came to a simple conclusion. This wasn’t a conclusion that shined down on me through the light of some clouds or came upon me in a flash of brilliance such that now it’s easy to own. Instead, it is something I’m going to have to work to fully embrace and internalize:
You can only control what you can control.
Everything in this race that I could control I did like a professional. That’s an honest assessment. If it wasn’t I would feel it. When I started to feel cold like I did in last year‘s race, instead of ignoring it, I took out all the warm clothes that I brought for winter conditions, bundled up tight and was able to move through into the night without the added weight of chills or needing to stop. Last year during my hundred I ate spectacularly, so for this race I changed nothing about the way I hydrated and took in calories. As far as my running:walking strategy: I stayed the course as if my life depended on it. I did not waver and go out too fast nor did I linger at the eight stations. All in all, I can feel confident that I controlled those things that I could, and I ultimately had to accept and make my decision with the situation that presented. Making the choice to look after my long-term goals (and health) and step off that course was within my control, even though the foot-pain was not!
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