Even though it had not been that long since I had raced an expedition race (my last race was in June at the Endless Mountains where we won!), there is something extra palpable that the Adventure Race World Championships brings. The best teams from all over the world come to test themselves on a course built to bring a beautiful mixture of unexpected challenges, pain, joy and adversity. Some teams come to see how they compare to the best teams in the world and some come to see how well they can do with the course that is handed to them. For our team, we tried to hit a healthy balance between the two. We enjoyed the competition, we loved being lit up by passing or getting passed by other teams, but what we enjoyed the most was racing our own race. Before this race especially, I did a lot of work to not put too much pressure on myself. I know that in the past when I have too many expectations of myself, it inevitably trickles over to the team and our dynamics which is never helpful, and it can be a huge energy sinkhole. So, for months leading up to it, I focused my thoughts and meditations on making my inner turmoil less reactionary and quieter. If I could just observe it, and not act on it, maybe that would be enough.
Walking through the airport with Daniel, I remember commenting on how much more relaxed I felt and wondered out loud if it was a sign of me being over the racing part of it or if it was more of a new evolution in my competitive self. Luckily we didn’t dwell on it, and instead I decided to just take note of it and wait and see how it would all play out. “Well, we will soon find out one way or another!” Daniel said as we wrapped up our conversation.
Once we got to the host hotel in Asuncion and met up with Dusty and Emily, my shoulders relaxed even more. “This was going to be so good” I thought. Even though we had never raced with them, we all could feel that we had a deep respect and trust for one another. These two pillars are often the hardest foundations to create in a team, and we could feel it instantly. The night before the race we rehashed our goals: to always be driving the team machine forward no matter what; to be open and adaptable to one another and the course as much as possible; and finally, to the best of our ability, have fun and enjoy one another in the process. That night before heading to bed, I talked to Spirit B like I always do before big adventures. He came to me quickly but he felt a little distant. I asked if he was going to be out there with me. He said “Mama, yes of course I will be there but this time I will not be so close. You have some deeper lessons to learn that I can’t help you with. But I will be there.” I went to bed that night a little sad but also curious as to what he was talking about.
As we stepped onto the starting line the next morning with 80 some other teams in the middle of Paraguay, we all took another moment to remind one another of our goals, and then we were off! For the first mile, I could barely see through my tears. Ever since Sprit B left us, I cry at every start line. It doesn’t matter how small or big the race is, I just do it and have grown to love it. It now feels like a beautiful release.
For the most part, our team worked as one solid machine for the majority of the race. We communicated well, shared food, shared weight, and exchanged tips that were received with excitement and stoke. But like any machine or car, they often have little break downs that need to be addressed (especially when you drive them non stop on rough terrain!). Being newer teammates to Dusty and Emily, Dan and I didn’t know how that was going to look, but we all knew those times were going to come. One of my asks to Spirit B was to help guide me in those times as he often had in so many races before this one. “Mama, it will come and it will be good “ is all he said.
That moment came at us at a waterfall check point where we knew we were in the right place, but the picture we had was old and did not match the new ladder that was now there. After spending what felt like a ton of time looking at every ladder and waterfall we had gotten caught by two teams. When we saw them, I could feel the energy in our team slowly drop. In my sleepiness, my mind went dark and I immediately started blaming myself for not catching that we were in exactly the right place and that the picture was just old. Instead of talking about how we were all feeling, we all frantically got back on track and tried to catch up our lost time. However, at the next CP, we again hit a bobble and did not catch it as fast as we wanted to. After some re-attacking, we finally found the CP without too much lost time but we were all still in a low. The negative energy was palpable. I started crying, not because I blamed anyone on the team. Instead I was blaming myself and telling myself all sorts of negative comments in an uncontrollable loop. The others joined in on my cry. We all hugged and talked about how much we loved racing with one another and how we could either use this moment as a great opportunity to grow and to light a fire under us or we could continue to let it weigh us down. It was an obvious choice. With one more quick huddle, we decided to build each other up more and to help one another focus on the positivity.
That moment was huge for me. Taking time to let me acknowledge my deep dark and shameful feelings and then to hear my teammates say that they heard me was very profound. After gathering up the pieces of ourselves and one another, we gradually started to push again with increasingly more ease and confidence.
In my lowest, deepest moments in the past whether it was grieving for Spirit, in a fight with Jason, or in a race, I always felt Spirit there guiding me. However this time, he was not near. Instead he was distant, watching with love and patience.
A few hours later, as I was still doing a tug of war in my head between guilt and positivity, Spirt B came to me. “This is it Mama, this is the moment. Give this loop of yours love just as you gave me so much love and light when I left.”
At first I honestly did not get it. It was extremely hard for me to look at my self blame and deification with such focus. It is not a part of myself that I am at all proud of, and for years instead of looking deep into its center, I have only ran away from it and found ways to justify it in some way or another. But gradually, step after step, I could feel that the more I surrounded to it with love and curiosity, the lighter I felt.
At the last CP of that trek we had a little bobble. We went a little too far and needed to go back and re-attack. We were in a surreal feeling place. There were 100s and 100’s of bright green birds flying from tree to tree making a ton of noise. And where we stopped to re-attack there was a dying young calf. There was so much life, energy and death at the same time. I reached out to Spirt B and asked for help. “I’m here, but you will figure it out Mama.” is all he said.
And I did. While the initial feeling was still blame, it quickly got followed up with a flood of gratitude and love for me and my team. Together and individually we had made the inner workings of our team machine much stronger than before. After going back and figuring out what we had done, we were quick to find the CP. The sun was starting to set, the birds were going crazy and I felt a strong sense that Spirit B wanted to be spread there. I took out the last of his ashes (I had spread him earlier in a deep river we swam through) and said thank you to him for this long lasting and beautiful lesson.
For the rest of the race, we had an amazing blend of fire and focus. On the bike ride we were able to push and talk about our race thus far. On the last trek we were able to sprint much of it, hitting every point right on except one. We actually went right to it, but did not get that the cave went back really far. Instead we ran around for 50 minutes stressing ourselves and our followers out! However, even though we did not handle it in the best way, we never blamed each other nor ourselves. Instead we did the opposite. We regrouped, had a quick chat and agreed that we were still awesome and that hopefully it would be funny in a few hours.
While we set out with the goal of placing in the top 5, we are all so happy with 7th, especially me. I gained 2 new teammates that I know will be life long friends, I gained a new emotional tool and I sloughed off a huge layer of myself. Like many post races I feel elated and light, but this one feels extra special. There are not many sports or teammates that will give you the time and space to shed light and love on your darkest parts of yourself with compassion and understanding. We are all just trying to do our absolute best with extremely little sleep and under a ton of pressure. In life it is the same, (with hopefully less pressure and more sleep) but for me, it reminded me to be gentle on myself and others- for we are all just trying to do our best with what we have.
Huge, huge thank you to my family who is always so supportive. It takes a lot of time and commitment to train, prepare and do these races. Jason and I could not do it with out the help from our community and parents.
Thank you to the help of our sponsors for suppling us/me with gear and support:
Mission Farms CBD, Leki Poles, Visit Bend, Ellsworth Bikes, Spring Energy, Smith Optics, Four Hour Fuel, Exposure Lights, Fenix Lights , Lairds Superfood, Angelinas Skincare, Hydra Pak Ciele hats Hyperlite Mountain Gear