I know that it has been a while since my last blog from the Atacama. I feel that I need to explain why I seem to have fallen off the planet so quickly. The first two days of racing I was tired, exhilarated and actually having fun navigating the waters, cliffs and sand dunes. I believe that I was running on adrenaline experiencing the excitement of being out in nature. At times I even felt as though I was a child again grinning at the shear joy of jumping over water, standing at the top of the world looking out over the desert as well as allowing myself to slide down the largest sand dune I had ever seen. It was a moment of shear joy; all inhibition was thrown to the wind at that moment…I was floating!!
Then came day three, the turning point where I absolutely fell apart. The day started off well but progressively became more and more difficult. The terrain demanded that I concentrate so intensely I was not only physically tired but also emotionally exhausted. My equilibrium not the best was constantly being challenged. Walking over loose rocks, up and down hills proved to be like trying to cross a tightrope with the world below me. Every time I rounded a corner the terrain seem to stretch out even further. My memory of how far I had traveled became diluted with each step. I no longer could figure out how many kilometers to the next check point. To me, 10K felt like 100K. With the sun beating relentlessly down upon me, I was almost delusional believing that I had pretty much gone the entire distance only to find that I was not even close to the end point. We would leave the climb up a rocky patch only to begin a climb up and over sand dunes. At one point I ran into someone who had indicated that the final checkpoint was just over the sand dune ahead of me. By now I had taken my ipod out and began listening to music in order to help motivate me onward. As I came to the top I looked to find the infamous flags flying indicating that the checkpoint was close by. My spirits fell as I noticed that even though I could see the flags they were at least 5K away. This meant that I still had to navigate through thick sand, down another hill, around a bend and up a very steep climb to the finish. I cannot tell you what song had been playing at the time but words such as “strong” kept resonating through it. I began singing that word over and over to myself some how finding a second wind which propelled me into a frantic run down the sand dune and back up the hill. By the time I reached the finish my body had begun to shake uncontrollably and the tears flowed down. I know that day that I gave everything I had, finishing with absolutely nothing left. There was about 1 hour left to go into the cyber tent and write a blog but I must admit that I was in such an emotional state all I could muster up was moving my body to the tent and lying down. Calming myself down and regrouping with my emotions was all that I could handle that evening. I knew that I had to begin again the next day so I gave myself permission to cry & feel sorry for myself for about 1 hour and then it was time to quit the pity party and rebuild my strength to carry on the next day.
Day 4 we ventured into the salt flats and again, walking over sharp shards of salt challenged my equilibrium. By this time I had decided that I would not beat myself up for not running. My only challenge was to finish even if that meant that walking slowly in these areas was how I would have to do it. Once I allowed myself the luxury of cautiously navigating through these difficult areas the emotional toll began to dissipate. Once again I was beginning to enjoy the experience and to take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the land that I was in. You know, sometimes even in our daily lives, we forget to look around us and acknowledge the beauty that is before us. This was never more evident to me than on these last 3 days. Once I acknowledged that the race was not I against time but I against myself I began to feel a sense of calm. Reaching the final checkpoint on day 4 was again, long and difficult but tremendously more rewarding. It gave me time to prepare not only my body but also mind and soul for the next day’s long run.
And so day 5 began. I set out on this day with a mission to not look beyond each checkpoint. There were 6 that we had to reach with a time limit imposed for reaching checkpoint #5 in order to continue on. It was an ample amount of time but I still did not let my mind get caught up in the “hours” but rather in the moment. I knew that I wanted to reach checkpoint 5 in enough time so that I would only have the last checkpoint to navigate in the dark. Onward I went, music playing in my ear helping me to become lost in my thoughts but not lost to my surroundings. We went through some extremely beautiful canyons where at times I was the only one around for miles. I felt so small in this vast expanse of space. My mind wandered through so many aspects of my life and gave me so much time to evaluate and re-evaluate areas that I would love to improve on as well as areas that I can acknowledge are wonderful as they stand today. I thought about my family, husband, children and grandchildren and how I hope that they understand my motivation for taking on this years challenge. I know that I am extremely blessed to have a family that unconditionally supports my rather extreme sense of wanderlust and only hope that in some small way it rubs off on each of them so that they in turn will always strive to challenge themselves rather than accept mediocrity.
Checkpoint 4 came into view about 13 hours into my long day. Happily I sat down, took about a 5-minute break, refilled my bottles and adjusted my headlamp. The wind was beginning to blow quite strongly now. There were a few men who started out before me and I was able to follow their blinking red lights on the back of their packs for a while. Within about 30 minutes I was alone in the dusk, not quite dark with still enough light to help me move forward. Eventually I was alone moving onward hoping for someone to make his or her way in front of me. This actually did happen when a gentleman whose pace was very strong came from behind. I knew that if I stayed with him I would not be alone in the dark and would have his headlamp (along with my own) to help guide me. He had such a great pace going that because of him I was able to reach checkpoint #5 in great time. At this point, I met up with Kevin who would accompany me on the last leg of the long day in the dark. I am so grateful for his presence as we had to walk through more canyons and up and down a few rocks in the dark. This area was surrounded by large white rocks that were illuminated by our headlamps and quite beautiful, but surreal to walk through. I am pleased to say that I was able to complete the long day in around 17 hours with my body tired but feeling so very proud that I was able to go the distance.
Day 6, the last day was just shear excitement. We only had to maneuver a 10K to the finish line in San Pedro Square where we could look forward to a large slice of pizza!! Now that was absolutely incentive to get there fast. My motivation to arrive quickly however was to see my husband waiting for me to cross the finish line. I cannot tell you how exciting it was for me to see his beautiful face standing on the other side of the line and to have him put the medal around my neck. I don’t think that life, for me, at that moment could have been any better or more fulfilling. I felt such an enormous sense of accomplishment personally as well as physically.
I want to thank everyone who took part vicariously along with me during these 6 days. I hope that you, as well, feel a sense of pride in what was accomplished this week and will help us to continue to spread the word that with hard work anything is possible. I also hope that you will feel compelled to ask anyone that you know to help us reach our monetary goal of $1 Million Dollars so that we can help those less fortunate reach their full potential and receive the gift of “Recovery!”
I look forward to having you follow me in the Gobi Desert in June so please keep me and “Run7on7” on your radar.