As I approached the 85-mile mark in the Badwater 135, my legs were feeling tight and I was having serious doubts about my ability to run the rest of the race, which was a problem since I still had 50 miles remaining. My exhaustion made me question my ability to stay awake for another 12 to 18 hours. I told my team this when I reached the next stop. I told my crew captain, Andrea, that, while my body really wanted to rest, I knew I might have to walk the rest of the way and, in that case, stopping for 10 minute breaks every few miles might put me over my goal time of 40 hours. I asked her to work with the other crewmembers, Byron and Maryanna, to formulate a plan so I wouldn’t have to think about whether to stop and rest or not; they would just tell me yes, I can rest, or no.

Byron took over pacing for the next section, a long, gradual downhill. Since a gradual climb was coming up after, I decided this would be as good of a section as any to try and run. It was tough to get started, but I focused on the music and kept telling myself: I am not going to walk the rest of this. I refuse to walk the rest of this.

Byron started cheering me on, singing soccer chants, and saying, “That’s it, go!” The descent got a little steeper and I sensed an opportunity to gain some ground. I took a breath and forced myself into a faster stride. It didn’t hurt, surprisingly. It was just a matter of breaking my inertia. Once I got going, it was like my body realized that I’d been telling the truth—it really wasn’t so bad running faster. In fact, it felt pretty good! My endorphins started flowing again, and the tightness in my legs dissipated. I felt almost fresh and ran the rest of the way to our next planned stop. This is how I’m going to have to do it, I thought, bit by bit, mile by mile.

Much like the Cerro Gordo descent earlier in the race, my little push from miles 87 to 90 left me re-invigorated. Instead of an hour, it took 40 minutes, so I wanted to keep it up after the stop. I hardly paused to re-fuel and Maryanna and Byron managed the transition. They were like a well-oiled machine. Maryanna grabbed the bottles and snacks that she had prepared and traded out with Byron, since she would pace me for the next stretch.

After the stop, I started running slower and slower. I thought if I rested and walked for a mile or two, I’d be better off afterwards. The walking was easy, but when the time came to run again, my body didn’t want to go. Even though I’d had an “I told you so” moment earlier, when running wasn’t as bad as my body was imagining, my body was doubting me again, saying: “No, no, I’m even worse now. This time it’s definitely going to hurt.”

Giving up, I walked for at least a mile or two, my mood dropping by the minute. The distance still ahead crept into my consciousness, setting my mind spinning with possible scenarios for how the miles would play out. After passing the 100-mile mark, I found all I could think of was the 35 miles to go. I tried not to focus on how long walking that distance would take, as it would just get me down. It was still early morning and I knew that I wouldn’t finish before nightfall. I didn’t need to do the math. I wished I felt stronger, so I could still run the wide open on the relatively flat road ahead of me.

The more I walked, the more I doubted myself and my training. I was sinking into a vicious cycle of negativity that I knew could threaten my race. Maryanna noticed my preoccupation and she tried a few times to pull me out of it. “You’ve got this,” she said. “Remember why you are here; remember all those long weekends of training and all those races you ran to get here. This is your race. You’re doing it, and you’re going to do it. Keep it up!” Instead of taking the energy she was giving me and using it to push a bit harder, my mind and body stubbornly thought: “But I had that hip issue before the race, so I really didn’t train for the last month. I’m paying for that now, and I really just can’t go any faster.” When I tried to run once or twice, it was painful and hardly a shuffle, so I decided that walking was the better option.

Andrea switched in and she had been silently working on a plan to help me through this rut, as Maryanna had told her a few miles back I was in trouble. As we started out, she said, “You know, sometimes when I’m running and I find it very difficult to continue, I look for a place in the distance and I say to myself, ‘I’m going to run to that thing for my sister,’ or ‘I’m going to run to that thing for my friend.’ And I know it’s kind of silly, but I say to myself, ‘I’m going to show them how strong I am.’” She didn’t say, “So maybe you could try that.” She didn’t suggest a particular landmark. She just threw the idea out there for me to take or leave as I pleased.

I thought: “I know I should try this, but it’s been years since I needed mental tricks to keep going. If I’m not running, it’s because I really, physically can’t run right now.” I saw a downhill approaching and made a split decision that it was now or never.

Before I could stop myself, I said to Andrea, “I’m going to try running at that pole. I’m going to run to that car by the pole up there.” What I didn’t say was that I was going to run there for my Mom, who I’d lost to cancer six years back.

Although I felt myself doubting whether “running for her” meant anything, I knew it wasn’t the right time for this kind of thinking. So when the pole came up, I just went for it. “Mom, I’m running for you,” I said silently. “Everything I’ve done for the past six years has been for you and because of what you taught me.” As I let myself reach out for her again, my heart breathed a sigh of relief and all of the emotions I’d been holding back for years flooded in. Overwhelmed, I started crying. My legs broke free and it was as if my body was so flooded with emotion that all of the pain just washed away. I ran faster and faster until I was hitting nine minute miles again. I silently told Mom, “This is for you. This is how strong I’ve become because of you.”

Andrea just stayed back and let me have my moment, saying every now and then, “That’s it, great job!” I must have run-cried for three or four miles, finally getting a grip before we met up with the car again. Andrea broke the great news that we had less than a marathon remaining. I’d made up so much time that even if I had to walk the rest of the way, I’d meet my goal. I had less than 26 miles remaining and all day to get through it.

To help keep me motivated, Andrea, before switching out with Maryanna, encouraged me to break the course into chunks. “It’s only 13 miles to Lone Pine,” she said. “That’s just 13 miles, you can do that. Then, it’s just a 13-mile climb from there to Whitney Portal and you’ll be done. You’re going to get through this!”

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