The beep beep of a runner’s GPS watch a few steps ahead of me interrupted the repetitive thud thud of my feet around mile 17. I lifted my gaze from the gray and purple gravel, sand floor of the Mojave desert and noticed we were about to enter the canyon. My stomach was in knots. I was dehydrated. I was not going to give up.
But the mind is a powerful thing. And as I ran, I thought.
This has not been an easy year for you, Molly.This just isn’t you, is it Molly?? This marathon thing can’t be good for you. You like riding your bike, you like yoga. You wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for HIM. And no one will even be there at the end of this race waiting for you…you know, you could have been so much better, you could have done so much more, but instead you’re alone. Alone and just running…running to nowhere.
And my mind started to run in circles and my feet started to throb with every step and my gut gurgled and twisted and burned. I was in pain. So much pain.
Why am I doing this to myself? Who am I? Who am I??? Over and over again…Who am I?? Why am I doing this??
And then, I entered the canyon and at first it was beautiful. But I was reminded of how I was alone and running and in pain. Suddenly endorphins started to rush through me as if a dam broke and water was flooding a thirst-starved meadow. And simultaneously, I started to cry. I cried because I was alone. I cried because I felt like no one cared. Because I was abandoned and no one loved me. I cried because I ran marathons and that still didn’t make me good enough for him to love me…
My tears dried and I kept running. I passed no one in the canyon and no one passed me. Every turn was deceiving; I felt like I had been swallowed up and I would be stuck behind these cold, gray, rock walls forever. I started to think again.
How long have I been running? My watch was back in my tent. I just want to go back to sleep. I need to sleep. I need my stomach to stop hurting. I’m sick.
I stopped at the next aid station with my hands on my knees, I paced, I walked back and forth. The volunteers just stared. And I thought, Do I get a ride back from here? Do I keep going? Who am I?? Why am I doing this?? And then standing still with my hands behind my head, I took a breath and I started running.
Four painful miles later, the canyon opened to the deep purples, reds, oranges and pale grays and lavenders of the Mojave desert. The sun peaked through wispy grey clouds and beams of light spot lighted the only green in the entire desert. Creosote and pencil cholla looked like ocean coral on an alien landscape. And three miles away, I saw the finish line. My joints ached after running 12 miles continuously down hill and my mind reeled from self torment after being alone in death valley for hours.
I crossed the finish line and stopped running. My body knew this was it, I was done. And I swore I was done running forever. I swore this marathon thing wasn’t for me.
I clambered on the bus and we drove back to Furnace Creek. Although I survived, that tour through death valley proved to be the worst race I had ever run and I had never felt so alone. “Molly!” A group of strangers I met early on the course yelled my name. “Three cheers for Molly!!” ”Hip Hip Hooray!” The bus cheered. More endorphins rushed to calm my aching body. I left a part of myself, still running, 282 feet below sea level. I hit rock bottom, I thought, wiping the salt and grime that stained my face from tears, sweat and dirt. I collapsed on the nearest open seat, my head was spinning as other runners on the bus cheered and laughed. I was light headed and I felt like I was waking up from a foggy dream as I looked out the window and we drove away from the canyon, away from the finish line and up hill through the mountains.