This past weekend I got to run the Girls on the Run 5K at UNC Asheville with my 11 girls and it was a blast! I got to meet their parents and siblings who were running it with them, see lots and lots of families cross the finish line together and watch many kids and families finish their first 5k. Plus I got to run across the finish line several different times with as many of the girls on my team as I could seek out! It was a fun event to be a part of and a great experience to coach these girls through running and character development lessons over the past 11-13 weeks.
The second race of my Saturday wasn’t one that I competed in but rather one that I helped out at. A 54 mile ultra-marathon where I helped out at the aid station at mile 42! That means that once they got to me they still had almost a half marathon left to go, crazy! The Table Rock Ultras are a 50k and 50 mile (although it is really 54 miles) ultra about an hour east of Asheville. Everyone involved in this race, including the 50+ runners I met, were some of the kindest men and women I’ve met at a race. Maybe because it wasn’t necessarily a race but rather a “feat of endurance” for most of the runners.
I learned so much about ultra marathons and what it takes physically and mentally. I also saw runners who looked fresh and ready to tackle the next 12 miles and runners who looked ready to collapse (or worse, had stopped sweating) but were determined to put one foot in front of the other to get to the finish. A few had gotten lost in the wooded trails descending around Table Rock, reading trail signs is essential when your aid stations are anywhere from 4 to 8 miles apart. I stayed till the last runner hit my aid station, after 6pm, where reflector vests were required and headlamps a necessity which a couple of runners didn’t seem to have. As I drove to the finish line I checked on each runner I passed on the course, gave them some extra light from my headlights and offered words of encouragement. I’m not planning on doing a 50 miler anytime soon, I need a couple more marathons and maybe an ironman under by belt before tackling that specific beast, but it did inspire me to run and maybe even aim for a 50k in the next couple of years.
I know this is a rather long post but I have some thoughts on another inspiring figure. In light of the announcement of her retirement from Ironman racing on Dec. 3rd, I thought I would take this moment to write about the effect that Chrissie Wellington’s story, and her autobiography A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey had on me.
Eventually I’ll make a list of books that I encourage people to read, for now I’ll start with this one. Although I usually read at least 20 books a year, it is still the rare book that truly has an effect on how I look at my life and the way I live it. Chrissie Wellington’s A Life Without Limits is the most recent book I’ve read to have that immense effect on how I look at my life’s journey. If I can pinpoint any inspirational figure I know about as having lived a full life worth living – my goal in life – it is Chrissie Wellington. I don’t believe she has half-assed anything in her life. How else can you explain that she became an accidental undefeated Ironman champion. Yes, I wrote that correctly “accidental” because she entered the world of triathlon at the ripe old age of 30, not with a lifelong goal to become a professional triathlete. She’s a dozen years older than I am yet I feel like I would have to go full steam ahead to match 1/4 of her accomplishments by the time I am her age. Not that I am trying to diminish my own life or my own goals, but her achievements, her attitude, her personality and drive are all characteristics that I respect and strive for.
Even her twitter handle @chrissiesmiles is reflective of what she is known for out on the 140.6 mile long triathlon course – smiling! She smiles through all the pain of putting her body through world records and 1st place finishes and then she smiles at the finish line as she greets every age group finisher as they cross the threshold into becoming an Ironman. What an incredible yet simple act of human kindness and graciousness! She is the consummate champion. Before her life as a professional triathlete she was a development human rights activist in large government organizations in Britain and in grassroots organizations like with a local NGO in Nepal. She has used her triathlon celebrity to further awareness and activism for issues that she cares about around the world, including something I care about immensely – women in sports.
I haven’t even gotten to one of the central parts of her story, or rather one that threads through much of her story. In her university and young adult years she fought an eating disorder. Having been surrounded by friends and peers growing up who were and still are battling their relationship with body image and food, it was incredible to read about how Chrissie overcame her battle. It is actually this “control” factor from her disordered eating days that contributed to her ability to train her body for the brutal ironman distance races. That being said, one of her coaches could tell by watching her train and the minuscule weaknesses in her body, that she had actually done some lasting damage to her body because of her past relationship with food and over-exercising. It took her a while to develop a positive relationship with food, understanding that food is our fuel and that healthy fuel can push us to incredible feats. To read more about her story I heavily encourage you to read her book, and also to check our her website.
When she announced her retirement I was amazed again by her. She wants to devote her time to foundations, activism, and using her celebrity and connections to impact the world beyond triathlons. The fact that she is retiring undefeated in ironman distance races is only going to add to her mystique. Questions may linger as to if she could ever be beat or if she is the best ever, but I don’t think those questions are necessary. She is meant for something beyond 140.6 miles. I know that her continued journey will continue to inspire mine. Her incredible spirit will always remain a part of triathlon and we have not seen the last of Chrissie or her smile.