A few years ago, I had the privilege of running the Wasatch 100 Mile ultra-marathon in the mountains of Utah. To officially complete the race, runners have 36 hours to cover the cumulative 24,000 feet of elevation gain and the 23,300 feet of elevation loss while witnessing the most spectacular vistas the Mountain West has to offer. The mere idea was daunting to me and I was overwhelmed with the task before me as I toed the starting line in the wee hours of that fall morning.
As the gun went off, I started out feeling a flood of emotion that spilled out of my eyes as I was humbled to the depth of my soul. I was finally able to do this. The year prior I had tried and failed to get past the lottery. I knew that to complete the race, I had to commit myself to two key principles:
1. Keep moving, unless you are physically unable to move.
2. Be grateful. It was this attitude of gratitude that now overwhelmed me.
The first day was stunningly clear, beautiful and hot with temperatures in the nineties for most of the day. As I moved through the challenging first 18 miles of the course, I found many people with whom to run. We shared stories, ideas, hopes and fears as we moved along. Everyone was in high spirits. I met up with my personal pacer at the mile 32 aid station and felt surprisingly good for most of the first day.
That night, as we headed into the canyons, the temperature dipped dramatically from the heat of the day and the elevation increased. I soon began to feel sick as waves of nausea overcame me. The combination of the day’s heat, fatigue, and dehydration set in and I began to struggle to keep moving forward. It took extreme effort to keep up with my pacer as I plodded up the endless elevation. I soon felt so bad that I sat down on the side of the trail with my head between my knees and wondered what to do next.
Race veterans had warned me, not to quit until the sunrise on the second day and I remembered my commitments to keep moving and be grateful.
After sitting there a few minutes, my pacer said, “Why don’t you keep moving?” It seemed reasonable so I got up and kept moving. A few minutes later I lost the contents of my stomach and found myself gratefully relieved. However, the struggle continued through the night as I attempted to regulate my body temperature, consume sufficient calories on a queasy stomach, and move with any speed now 20+ hours into the race. It was a long night, to say the least.
In the pre-dawn light, I finally made it to the aid station at mile 67. After a good breakfast, brushed teeth and encouragement from my wife I set out to climb the 10,000+ foot peak the highest point on the course. As the sun came up, I felt a renewed sense of hope and the idea that I might just reach the finish line inspired new motivation.
This hope spurred me on to fly through the next many miles — the fastest of the entire race. I was shocked by how strong I felt. The miles seemed to fly by. “Don’t quit until the sunrise of the second day,” played in my mind and I smiled knowing that I had no intention of quitting now — not now, not ever. I was going to finish. Several hours and much struggle later, I crossed the finish line in 34.5 hours. I was happy and bone-wearingly tired. It was good to be done and to be able to stop moving.
Despite the challenges and extremities of the race, keep moving, don’t quit and be grateful are the most powerful lessons I learned. The sun will always come up no matter how dark the night of struggle. There is always hope and joy no matter what the battle. Remember to be grateful for everything, keep moving as long as you are physically able to move, and look for your sunrise. It is out there just over the next peak.
About the Author
Gary is the Divisional Vice President of Customer Success at Limeade and an avid runner. His love for personal fitness carries over into his daily work and fuels his excitement for wellness and improving peoples’ lives. With a trained eye for identifying his customer’s needs and a knack for knowing just what it takes to engage a population, Gary has spent countless hours designing, developing, measuring and improving successful wellness programs and strategies. He also has valuable experience working directly with physicians and hospital administrators, as well as leading and managing teams of wellness experts.