Simone Biles gave me all the feels at the Olympics. Her bravery, grace, and poise were on full display as she made the decision to withdraw from the team competition. I am confident that she made the correct decision for her safety due to what gymnasts call the “twisties,” a dangerous predicament that causes you to lose your place in space and has the potential to cause severe injury and even death. Other sports call it the “yips” or other euphemistic terms that make the situation sound adorably cute.
Recently, I had my own case of the yips. A few weeks ago I was scheduled to participate in the Backcountry Rise 50k around Mt. St. Helens. The breathtaking course was remote, exposed, and challenging. This race is not for beginners and to be invited to register we had to submit previous 50k results. Not only does this event require physical strength, but mental strength as well since there will be miles between aid stations and even miles between seeing other runners. It was also the first race I had registered for that required specific items for safety reasons.
My training had gone well and I was enjoying spending time on the trails as well as my strength training. I had scheduled a trail marathon at elevation which also went well. Sometime in late June the connections between my brain and legs seemed to break. I could walk just fine, but running was a completely different beast. There was a complete mental block preventing me from running. Physically, I was fine. Stronger than ever even, but my mental game was absolutely shot. Normally, I can work through these mental dips, but this time, with the looming 50k, I just couldn’t rise up, the yips won.
I made the difficult decision to withdraw from the race. The deciding factor was not only my safety, but respect for the race organizers and volunteers. The last thing I would want is to get stuck in the remote trails and make more work for them. (for those who think ultra running isn’t inherently dangerous, a very fit young athlete died the weekend of the race on a nearby trail. He was NOT affiliated with the race, but that doesn’t make this tragic loss any easier.)
I have not been public with my DNS (did not start) for a variety of reasons, a primary one being reading the absolute vitriol directed toward Simone Biles after her decision. Obviously, my DNS is not public or high profile, but the internal feelings of failure are deep enough with my DNS without any comments from others.
Thankfully, in the end Simone Biles did end up with an outpouring of support. At the end of the day, we know our bodies and what we are capable of and need to be able to trust ourselves.
I will be back on the trails for another ultra after taking some time to reflect, enjoy cooking new recipes, canning fresh fruits and veggies, and learning new skills.