If At First You Don’t Succeed…Try…Try…and Try Again

If at first you don’t succeed…try…try…and try again
By Sheila Dawe

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Around 25 kms into the ultra, first day…ironically the next day 26 hours and 106 km later this is where I finish my race at 82 miles, after running out of time

In 2010 I completed my first 100 km event in Lethbridge, Alberta at a race called Lost Souls Ultra. I registered in early January and then in mid-March fell on some stairs, tearing a tendon in my knee. I went through physiotherapy and had about 6 months to recover. In hind sight I think this was a blessing as my first 100 km was a pure walk due to the instability of my knee. LSU is a hilly course (my first year with sore knees I did every downhill backwards). It has 3 distances: 53 km, 100 km, and 100 mile. The 100 km and 100 mile start on the Friday 8 am and racers have to finish by Saturday evening at 7 pm, giving them 35 hours to complete. The 53 km starts Saturday morning at 7 am, giving racers 12 hours to complete.

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End of my first 53 km lap, looking forward to the cooler evening and some night time adventures.

There are 3 aid stations on the course (Headquarters, Peemaquin, and Pavan), the racers do a 53 km or 33 mile loop, and arrive at these aid stations both from a North and South directions, depending how far they are into the loop. In my first year, I remember being at my penultimate aid station, Peemaquin, on the second morning and seeing a 100 mile competitor heading out for his 3rd and final 53 km lap. I looked at him with awe and thought to myself that someday that that could be me. However, I knew that I would need to get faster to have enough time.

In 2011 and 2012, I repeated the 100 km distances. Each year, as my knees improve, I would run a little bit more and improve my finish time: 2010 – 26:48, 2011 – 24:18 and 2012 – 21:39. Finally in 2013 I decided to go for the 100 mile distance. LSU used to give out finisher rocks but in 2013 they changed to giving rocks only to those that placed in their age category. Not many women finished the 100 mile and in fact the year I decided to move up to the 100 mile distance there were no female 50+ age finishers. I felt that if I could finish it would be very likely that I would place and get a coveted rock, turns out that was a very big IF.

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The rock made and given to me by two great friends who both finished and placed in the 100 mile event. The perfect reward for a wonderful weekend.

Wanting, trying, pushing oneself becomes unimaginably hard on the second morning of an ultra. In both in 2013 and 2014, despite having enough time, I mentally convinced myself I was too slow and dropped out at the 82 mile mark. This year I was convinced it would be different. I had trained harder, starting in December, culminating with 4 weekends over the summer where I put in 73 plus miles. I felt ready. In addition I had a great pacer lined up (he would join me for the 3rd and final loop). He had specific instructions to deal with my mind and try to not let me quit. I had given him some key phrases and tried to focus on wanting to share the course with someone else. Knowing that you are going to have company and moral support is priceless and keeps the ultra-runner/walker motivated through the night to get to their final lap and have their pacer join them.

I never imagined that this year it would be as hot as it turned out to be. Unfortunately I was not acclimated coming from cooler B.C. climate and visiting the Yukon the week prior. Early on I went into conservation mode and walked far more than I have any other year beside 2010. The result was that I was one hour off my time when I met my pacer. I knew I did not have enough time to get to the first time cut-off. There came a pivotal moment at Peemaquin, day 2. I was in the same position as that first year when I saw that 100 miler, albeit, it was somewhat later in the day. The time keeper came up and informed me of the cut-off time at the next aid station. I stated that I knew the time and knew I would not make it in time but I would still like to continue on the additional 9.6 km to get once again to my 82 mile cut-off point. I wanted to continue on until the race officials told me that I was officially done. So with pacer in tow we headed out to the grueling hot coulees with 5 black diamond hills at my pitifully slow snail’s pace.

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My final 9.6 km wouldn’t have taken as long if I hadn’t kept stopping and leaning on my poles.

There was a lot of soul searching in the 3 hours it took me to cover nearly 10 km. There was a moment where I could have taken a short cut, but chose not to. There was the moment when my good friend Natalie on her return and less than 12 km from the finish yelled to me, “I’m sorry” from across the coulees. She knew that once again I would come up 18 miles short of my goal. My pacer and I discussed whether the maximum distance that I am capable of was 82 miles. Should I continue to try at something that seems to be just out of my reach?

The answer came to me immediately the next day. Not only was I presented with a rock from my two good friends who both finished the 100 mile distance. I realized that despite not finishing I enjoyed every moment of the experience. I have made some very deep friendships. I enjoy challenging myself with something that is not a sure thing. I enjoy the scenery and now at this point I truly know that course. I will be back next year because there is one other thing I am sure of…I will never succeed if I don’t keep on trying. Keep on keeping on my friends.

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