“The key to success is to set one big goal, then pay any price, overcome any obstacle, persist through any difficulty…until you achieve it.” – Brian Tracy
Rouge-Orleans…If you’re not from the South, it takes you a minute to realize the significance of the name. But when you tell someone from, say … South Dakota or Idaho … that you’re running from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, even without any frame of reference, their first reaction is, “Dang, how far is that?” The same reaction comes from most Louisianians – folks who have only driven from Baton Rouge to New Orleans (and who are not especially fond of the drive).
Then…when you tell them that it is 126.2 miles and that you have 42 hours to do it – after they get past the “Are you nuts?” look – their next question is, “Do you sleep during any of that?”
I live in Boise, Idaho, now, but I spent the first 34 years of my life in Shreveport, Louisiana. So, when I found out about this race, I knew I had to do it. Plus, I told my husband Mark, “Since I’ve already run a couple of 100s, this is the next logical step.” We had a few discussions about the word “logical,” but to those of us who love to do these things, we understand perfectly the logic of it. You can’t succeed beyond your wildest expectation unless you have some wild expectations to begin with. I think this race qualified.
So, I signed up, assembled my crew (friends from Idaho, Ohio, Indiana, and South Dakota), and taught them all how to say “Laissez les bontemps rouler!” One of my friends – Joan, from Indiana – also signed up for the solo event, so our crew was in for double duty.
In addition to never having run this far before, neither had I ever started a race at 8 pm. While there was some degree of anxiety about running 126.2 miles, the main stream of anxiety stemmed from the idea of running through 2 nights. This was definitely going to be an adventure. But…I told myself that everything is hard before it is easy. However, on this occasion, it ended up being the other way around.
John Steinbeck defines traveling is “the urge to be someplace else.” But in this case, true traveling was starting out at 8 o’clock at night, knowing the miles ahead would be brand new and consist of people, places, and experiences unpredictable and unknowable.
And so it began at 8 pm on Friday … What a bizarre beginning to a weekend that got crazier by the hour.
Joan and I had decided to stick together for the first night, and we kept our pace at regular intervals of run 10 minutes, walk 2. That worked for the most part except for the sections where the levee was apparently being worked on, and we had to run on the sloped sides. Joan managed to stay on both feet, and I only slipped down once, hitting my face on my watch and getting a fat lip.
“Fall down 7 times, get up 8.” – Chinese proverb
The first night seemed to go by rather fast, and as it is with other events where you run through the night, the sunrise rejuvenated us. A couple hours after sunrise, Joan and I split up to do our own thing. That was the last I saw of Joan until she crossed the finish line, but I was getting regular updates on her progress.
The day was cold and windy, but beautiful. And, again, it doesn’t seem like 10 more hours have gone by when you’re out “in it.” Everything up to this point had been going pretty smoothly – and rather uneventful. Lori made sure that she worked her Ki-Hara magic on me every 4 hours, and I was feeling good. Just out there running, eating, drinking, talking to other runners, and stopping every 4 hours for my treatment.
At one point during the day, I decided I would call my son Daniel – I think I was around mile 65. I told him that I was past the halfway mark, but I had many miles to go. His immediate response to me – simply the reiteration of something I have said to him for SO many years – was, “How do you eat an elephant?” It came out so naturally that it seemed he had been waiting for the perfect time to give it back to me. His “one-bite-at-a-time” reminder came back to me over and over in that second half – especially in that never-ending trek around the park to the finish line.
Then the 2nd night fell, and the game changed. It was dark and cold, and I was getting tired.
Still…I kept telling myself: Once you make an unequivocal decision to cast off mental limitations and put your heart into accomplishing a goal, your success is guaranteed. As long as you don’t quit.
I rolled into the 80+ mile aid station around 6 pm where Sparkle, my pacer, was ready to go. Lori worked her magic – again. By this time, it was getting really cold, so I added a few extra layers, ate some warm food, and headed out for ONLY 46 more miles.
It was somewhere around 27 or 28 hours that things started to get a little crazy. My brain started telling me that people are just not supposed to stay up 2 nights in a row. The caffeine would work for about 20-30 minutes after I drank it, and then I would feel like I was sleepwalking. Sparkle was telling stories, talking, and keeping me awake. But after awhile, she also started feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.
She had never run through the night before, nor had she ever gone over 43 miles! She had run 6 miles earlier in the day with Joan, so she was definitely going to get her PR on this trip.
The combination of sleep deprivation, general fatigue, the “devil wind” and the tricks of the lights all made for a sort of crazy, fun-house experience. The wind especially was relentless. Earlier that week, I had read in one of Brian Tracy’s books: “In any new or difficult venture, the roads are all uphill, and the wind is always in your face.” Ha! Five days earlier it was a metaphor – that night, it was both literal and figurative.
Sparkle ran just a ways ahead of me and would turn around every few minutes to make sure I hadn’t wandered down the side of the levee into the river. The lights were playing tricks on me, and though not true hallucinations (I realized I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I knew it wasn’t what it looked like – make sense?), I was seeing all sorts of strange things.
I saw exotic animals (that is, animals you don’t see along the Mississippi River) like elephants, lions, and bears – which turned out to be hedges in front of a building. (I still think they were topiaries, but Sparkle says no.) I saw little animals skittering across the running path, but the only animal we actually saw was one possum…and he took the stairs down to the water – which was a little weird. (We both saw that so I know it was real.) I also thought I saw my husband Mark, but as it turned out, it was a tree with a light pole behind it. It did look like a person…
It was around 2 am when we thought we saw Mark…and, all of the sudden, Sparkle runs across to the other side of the path and says, “Did you see that man run and jump in the river?” I thought, “Oh, Boy, my pacer is losing it.” Clearly, no one jumped into the river, but that laugh kept us awake and going for quite awhile.
About a half hour later, we’re running along, being rather quiet, and Sparkle says, “How do they keep that balloon suspended in exactly the same place without it moving?” Yikes! Another “moment” for my pacer: It was a water tower!
Night finally turned into morning, and once again, we were renewed. Just as darkness gave way to light, sleepiness turned to wakefulness, and everything just started to look and feel better. Thank goodness that everything in life goes in cycles of up and down, better and worse, progress and regress. Nothing continues indefinitely in the same way.
Sleepwalking gave way to general fatigue, and my singular focus was to get to the finish line. I was going to finish this thing – with plenty of time to spare. Even as we entered the park, nature provided one final “persistence test” just to see how much I really wanted it … I had to practically PASS the finish line and go – I don’t know how far – on that seemingly “never-ending” path to the finish line.
Our crew had been with us from the beginning – some 38 hours earlier. Mark was waiting at the finish line; Sparkle was still with me and had been all night; Mike, Karen, and Lori were still out there with Joan. All the course volunteers, the race director, and various other folks had been available to aid us in any way they could. Although no one can run your miles for you, no one does an event like this alone.
I never doubted that I would finish; however, I also never imagined how hard it would be. Ultimately, nature is kind to us – she never lets us see too far ahead. If we knew what was coming, we might never embark on such an undertaking.
Crossing the finish line, I felt joy, satisfaction, relief, and gratitude. All the bits of wisdom and sayings and words that I strive to live by on a daily basis had come to me in various forms in the past 38.5 hours. All the things I tell other people came to me in the precise moments when I needed them.
Leap and the net will appear. Failure is not an option. Act as if it were impossible to fail, and it will be. It’s not the events, but your reaction, that determines the quality of your life. What is the opportunity in this? Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change. Never wish for things to be easier – wish to be stronger and better. How you do anything is how you do everything. It doesn’t have to be FUN to be fun. And, of course, how do you eat an elephant?
It was truly a triumph for me to cross the finish line. The more important thing, however, was not the triumph, but the struggle. The triumph lasts but only a few seconds; the struggle lasted for 38.5 hours.
Every test we pass prepares us for something harder. Difficulties never end – they only change and get tougher as we grow. To succeed in the face of a difficult task, we must become someone we’ve never been before.
Less than 50% of the people who started the solo Rouge-Orleans did not complete the 126.2 miles. Yet no one failed. Success has many faces – all who started the race succeeded in doing whatever it was they were meant to do on that given weekend. They succeeded in running 50 miles or 95 miles or even 110 miles. We all achieved success when we toed the starting line.