BY: ALISOUNE LEE
This past weekend I completed the most physically and mentally exhausting race of my life. I ran the Chuckanut 50K, 31 miles of mud, constant rain, snow, and 5000 overall feet of elevation gain. On the completion of this event, I realized that the experience really sums up running for me, what it has brought into my life and how it has changed it and continues to change it. For anyone that has not done this race, the first and last 10K are run on a seemingly flat portion of the interurban trail. The last 10K seems to extend on forever into a never ending battle of mental torture. At least for me. I ran into the final aid station, tried to eat some m&m’s, smiled and chatted with the volunteers for a moment, then turned to take on the trail. I knew it was going to be hard, I knew it would hurt. I just ran 24 miles up and down a mountain in such muddy terrain that I felt like I was running on marshmallows that were trying to steal my shoes. Just hang on I thought. It doesn’t hurt that bad. Think of this accomplishment, your first ultra, 31 miles. Think how proud you will feel when it’s done and over.
Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama
I kept going, putting one foot in front of the other, aching feet now wet for almost 6 hours, tired quads from running downhill. Oddly, I was catching up to a few people on the trail, talking with them for a bit to take my mind of the pain. Everyone was in the same boat, we wanted to finish, to be done. My Garmin stopped for a bit, so I truly didn’t know how far I had left. I would walk a bit, but running hurt less, 2 or 3 more miles, that’s all. I asked a few Canadians how far it was to the end, they answered in KM, which didn’t help in my delirious mind. I asked a few guys, they had no idea. Stop asking, I thought and just go. I came up onto what turned out to be the last road crossing, about three quarters of mile from the finish. I had no idea how far I still had to go. The volunteer said, “You are almost there!” I asked, “Really? How far?” I wanted numbers as an answer, empirical facts. He said, “Just around the corner.” Isn’t it always just like that? Just around the corner. It wasn’t. I started to repeat my favorite running mantra in my head, “There is no secret just keep going.” Then there it was, around a very long corner or three, the finish. My goodness! There was the clock, 5 hours 50 minutes. I wanted to get under 6 hours and I did. I crossed the finish line, someone handed me a stainless steel mug, and that was it. I was stunned. Cold and wet, but I had just run 31 miles, my first ultra, and I did it.
Thinking back on the entire race and especially that last 10K, I realized that I was happy during the whole thing. I started nervous and wanted to puke, couldn’t feel my legs and thought I might have an accident in my tights, but I was happy. Joyful. Joyous up and down and up again. Happy to chat with people on the course, run into Instagram friends, and see people I knew out there cheering for me and others. Happy to be running on the ridge with some friendly Canadians from Squamish, watching their feet and foot placement as they cruised down the trails. Deliriously happy to run into a friend at the mile 20 aid station where I was given lifesaving coca cola before heading up the chin scraper. Happy that I was there, outside, alive, and able to be doing this incredible race. The most amazing thing running has brought into my life is the strength and courage that I have needed to find confidence, self-acceptance, and a path to self-love. This is where this may get a bit cheesy, but my path to self-love, self-acceptance, and confidence has been a long and prickly road and I am nowhere near the finish line.
My entire life took a huge hit last year and everything I knew imploded. I had been on a set course, a planned life, I knew my destination and I knew how I was going to get there. I had accepted it, I may not have been entirely happy, but this was it, my life. Then, life, as it does sometimes, decided to change all of that for me. Due to a crazy turn of events, I got divorced, moved internationally, changed jobs, and started a new life on my own in Seattle parenting my two boys. What now? I thought. What happens now? What do I do? I was wracked with self-loathing and self-doubt. It was terrifying, it still is terrifying. There are days and nights I don’t know if I can do it, but I figure it out and I do. Running has been the one amazing constant through all of this chaos and it has helped in more ways than I even thought possible. Of course, it keeps me fit and mentally stable, but it has brought so many amazing people and experiences into my life. It has helped me create a community of people that even when I am in the lowest points of my life, there is almost always someone there I can reach out to or even go for a run with. Most of all running has pushed me down the path to finally realizing, even with all the crazy stuff that happened in my life, that the best way to be happy and find happiness in life was to accept myself and to actually commit to loving myself. This year as I turned the young age of 43, I proclaimed it the year of Al. Finally, I would and actually have decided, to love myself, warts, faults, imperfections and all. I will push myself and continue to struggle and learn but I will continue to run towards this goal.
I realized that this race, like many and the pure act of running itself, mirrors a lot of what takes place in life. There is no secret. It is hard, you go up mountains and you go crashing down. Your shoes may get soaked or stolen and people tell you, the answer is just around the corner, when usually it’s not. We still keep going, I still keep going. I want to be strong, healthy, happy, confident, and to have the opportunity to keep pushing myself. Running has brought all of this into my life and has set me on a path towards self-love and acceptance. I am not there yet, but I am on my way.