I come from the flatlands of Northeast Ohio. The largest hill where I grew up had approximately 30 feet of vertical relief. And it happened to be in the town’s cemetery. That didn’t stop me and my friends from sledding there during our snowy winters. It was my first experience feeling the pull of gravity as I pushed off between two gravestones and relinquished control for the short but exhilarating descent. I loved it. Once at the bottom, I would hike back up excited to do it all over again. Little did I know I was training for something a few decades later.
Fast forward to my adult life. After seeing a mountain for the first time when I was 18, I have not looked back. Climbing and descending mountains by foot and by ski has become an integral part of my day-to-day existence. I love the movement. I love the challenge. I love the opportunity to explore landscapes and to forge friendships along the way. This passion has spilled over into running 100-mile mountain races and some of the biggest adventures of my life. This last year has been no different.
It was about a week after accomplishing my big summer running goal, racing the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. I was still half physically hammered from the effort, and half grateful for a good performance which helped me to a second-place finish among a strong field of competitors. It’s in the space directly after accomplishing a big goal that I finally find myself asking “What’s next?” That’s when the idea hit me: What would it be like to see how much vertical distance I could climb and ski in 24 hours? For some (well, many) this idea might sound horrible; but to me it had all the right ingredients. I wanted something slower, something steeper, something longer! And it played to my strengths and interests. I like mountain objectives that require patience and durability, and this seemed right up my alley. The idea grabbed a hold of me before I even realized there was a record for such an esoteric goal. It turned out there were a few other crazy souls who had notched 24-hour efforts in Europe in the last decade. And the mark to beat was 60,000 feet—or the equivalent of going from sea level to Everest and back … twice.
It’s safe to say I became obsessed with this goal once it implanted itself in my mind. In many ways, it felt more ominous than preparing for a race, which only requires you to prepare your mind and body for the challenge. Everything else is out of your control: the race course, the start time, the support along the course. Also, you are one of many competitors, which allows you to stay under the radar. With this world record attempt, I not only had to prepare my body and mind through training; I also had to make decisions on course, time of effort, and assemble a team of friends to help me. I was the event organizer and the participant. Also, it was just me out there, and the goal was black and white. You either break the record or you do not. I often keep my goals quiet and close to my chest, and to publicly say that I wanted to break a world record was honestly a bit terrifying. I felt more exposed and vulnerable than I had ever felt on the starting line of a big race.
And, to be honest, my confidence was not very high going into the effort. I had struggled in my training in the final weeks leading into the day of the attempt. I even started the first couple hours feeling quite poor. But, as always, the goal is to finish and I promised myself, barring injury, I would complete the 24 hours no matter what. I’ve been running 100-mile mountain races for 10 years now, and this 24-hour record attempt taught me the same lessons I apparently need to learn over and over and over again. The lesson is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and sooner or later you will come out of the darkness, the doubt and the challenge. And you will find out what you are truly capable of on that day and in that moment. There is a trusting of the process and a letting go that is always so hard to do in the moment for me, yet allows me to push myself to the edge of what I’m capable of doing.
The opportunity to explore what you are capable of is a gift. No matter the goal. Whether it is a physical endeavor, a job or a relationship. I’m thankful to have the chance to remind myself of this important life lesson from time to time. It’s worth skiing up and down a 1,020-foot-high ski slope 60 times, record or no record.