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I'm not sure when I was notified exactly, but it was sometime last winter. I got an email that I had been charged $400 for the honor of running 100 miles through the Angeles mountains, right here outside of L.A. The AC 100 is an iconic course and one of the first 100 mile races in the country. Last year, I paced my best friend the last 25 miles of a re-routed course that started and ended in Wrightwood, CA. Damage from wildfires necessitated this re-route and this year the course was set to go back to a point-to-point; starting in Wrightwood and ending in Altadena.
The race was scheduled for the last weekend in July, and nearly halfway into June, we all received an email stating that, due to a heavily damaged mountain road from a winter of record snow and subsequent avalanches, the race would be canceled. I felt as if the universe was hurling me back in time to 2020, when races were canceled left and right. I've been training for AC for months, and hearing the news of its cancellation was disheartening to say the least. The mental and physical preparation that goes into running 100 miles is not small, and I've spent hours running through the mountains and slinging weights around and putting together a strategy for race day. In a moment of deep self-pity, I thought, "all that training was for nothing."
Of course, it wasn't for nothing. I have slowly but surely increased my fitness and feel in better shape than ever before. There is nothing that quite matches the feeling of being in really great shape; in knowing that I can get to the top of a mountain or run 30 miles for the hell of it or deep squat more than my own body weight. I like being able to do pullups and run a fast marathon or a fast 100k. The depth and breadth of physical fitness is enormous, and the only way to keep finding a limit is to keep pushing. So, all of that training was not for nothing and there are a million other races I can do.
Shakespeare said, "Expectation is the root of all heartache." Expectation is the root of all disappointment as well, but expectations aren't all bad. A large part of enjoying life is having things to look forward too and the reality of looking forward to things is that sometimes, your expectations don't match reality, and that's okay. When reality is worse than what we expect, life offers us a chance to pivot and make our situations better. The day I was notified that AC was canceled, I went to hot yoga and lay in savasana, thinking about all the work I'd put in and mourning the loss of a race I hadn't even run. Then, on the way home, I scoured the internet looking for a different race. I let myself feel sad, then got to work planning for a different challenge.
One reason I've loved athletics for a long time is that they reflect life in a very tangible way. You work hard, and usually, you come out ahead. But sometimes, you work hard and you still lose, or you work hard and nothing happens. All of the disappointment is well worth the time and effort it took to stand on the starting line in the first place. And in athletics, just like in life, we can always choose to start again. There will always be another race, another test, another project, another day. And putting in good work day after day most often results in forward progress, even if that progress is slow. In the face of any disappointment, I think that focusing on small, measurable steps forward is the best way to move on and move up.
I settled on a race a couple hours east of Seattle called Devil's Gulch. It's a 50 mile loop that we'll repeat twice, and I'm excited to see how my body holds up on technical terrain and in suffocating heat. Expectations lead to disappointment and disappointments offer an opportunity for reflection, flexibility, and growth. Nobody ever got stronger by sitting still, after all.