There’s a trail race series that runs through Elk City State Park on the outskirts of a small Kansas town called Independence. My husband and his ultra running buddies love this trail. Ken even earned the coveted Triple Crown for runs on the Flatrock trail for competing in the 25K in January, 101K in April and 50K last weekend.
Don’t let the name Flatrock deceive you. The trail is anything but flat. Runners do it all– run, walk, hike and climb– to complete the course. There are rocks, lot and lots of rocks in every size and shape. There’s probably even some flat rocks somewhere on that trail. It’s a beast to run, even for those seasoned trail runners. There’s a love/hate relationship for the runners–they love the beauty, but hate what it delivers. After competitors run, walk or limp their way to the big, black, inflatable archway at the finish line, they slap a hand that hangs from above to signal the completion of the legendary trail. They’re quickly greeted by the race director with the winning smile who poses for a photo with each and every runner as he presents the buckles and window stickers.
The crowds in the park stop whatever they are doing to holler and shout for the runners in an atmosphere that celebrates the accomplishments of the fastest as well as those who struggled.
As I watched the runners coming through the finish during the 25K and 50K last weekend, it occurred to me that a lot of life lessons were taught on that trail. In many cases, those runners had to dig deep in order to slap that hand. Those photos with the buckle represented more than just the fulfillment of a distance.
PERSEVERANCE- His ankle rolled within the first mile. With a little over 30 miles left in the 50K, choosing to abandon the race wasn’t even an option. With the ankle swelling and throbbing each time his foot met the ground, he pressed on. His stamina was checked. His grit was put to the test. He stayed the course until he limped through the finish line to the cheers of the crowd who knew the tenacity it took for him to finish the race. For him, it was never even a question.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES- When something defeated you in the past, it’s just human nature to feel that need to go back and conquer it. Even though he had to DNF last year, he was determined to crush the trail in this 50K. His stomach had other plans. Nausea got the best of him, forcing a long time out at an aid station. Eventually, he managed to get back up and walk as the timing clock seemed to click quickly to the cutoff time. Not quite five minutes after the official time ran out, he overcame the mental and physical obstacles to walk across that line. The waiting crowd erupted in encouragement as he walked right on by, perhaps needing a moment to process it all. Maybe it wasn’t the ending that he envisioned, but he did it. Sometimes, simply overcoming obstacles is enough.
LOYALTY- This lesson was taught by a dog who ran the course side by side with his owner. Yes- all 31 miles on that warm September day. Pulling on his leash at the start, lapping up water at the aid stations and eagerly jumping back on the trail, this dog was devoted to his runner every step of the way. It wasn’t the runner who slapped the hand at the finish line when this team finished. His owner hoisted the dog up so that it was his paws to signal their finish. Man’s best friend, for sure.
BELIEVE IN IMPOSSIBLE THINGS- He couldn’t even run a quick 5K through the neighborhood streets in that week before the race. With IT band issues, my husband continued to stretch and prepare for the 50K distance. Ken had completed several runs on this trail, so he knew what it would take mentally and physically. The physical part wasn’t cooperating, so the mental piece had to take the reins. It was all about being real on race day. He was able to start the race feeling pain free. He maintained that throughout the 31 miles of the race. There was something more powerful than luck that helped him on the trail that day. Faith carried him through.
It’s kind of funny where you can find your lessons in life. If you keep your eyes open, you can find them anywhere–even on the trail.