Getting out of a black hole

This will be the second vertical kilometer in the whole race. I’ve known since the beginning that this would be coming and have been preparing myself mentally to surpass the challenge. I’m now at km 46 of the Zugspitz Ultra Trail and ahead of me is a humongous wall. The first, done at the start of the race, was surpassed with a smile, with the realization that the training was properly done, that nutrition in the past days have been right, that the mental preparation has been appropriately laid out. The uphill was done at a lively pace, the downhill like a child playing in a slide, laughing, enjoying, thrilled with the way down. Since then a few kilometers have put my mind in a state of numbness. The body seems heavier and even though I have eaten properly, the passage of time, contrary to normal, is not bringing the uplifting I’ve been waiting for.

Now it is here…
The second vertical kilometer…
At an extremely inconvenient point in time…

I look up. I see a wall. I see a crevice between steep slopes, a sea of vegetation on its basin, like a river flowing through its banks. The trail is narrow and green, shadows cast between rays of light, such a beautiful sight and yet so hard right now to think of going through it to reach the top.

I pass an old man hiking. I pass a few fellow runners. I set myself on the trail with my mind lost on the void, unaware of the numbness that is growing, slowly settling in, like a serpent, crawling through the switchbacks.

There’s a big trunk ahead, next to a tree, bathed by an appealing shadow. I sit down and my body leans over to the tree, head momentarily spinning around as the heart rate comes down.

The dizziness is taking over me…
There’s a black hole in my chest, sucking all the light, pushing my thoughts into darkness…

How could this come unnoticed?
Why did I subscribe for such a long distance?
Has the training been sufficient?

… everything getting black, doubts surfacing…

I knew I should have had more food in the last aid station…
I may have pushed too much in the previous flats…
How do I get out of this hole?

… my natural positivity vanishing, a lack of motivation like never before…

I don’t feel like running any longer.
Will this be my first DNF?
What do I do if I want to quit in such place?
No helicopter comes here…!
I’m half-way up but how do I stand-up for the rest…
Going back down is stupid… plus requires effort as well…
How do I leave this place?
How do I leave this mental state?

It occurs to me that once the mind starts a spiral of negativity, it is really difficult to stop it from getting into an infinite loop cycle. So here’s a list of things I went through, which may help you in similar conditions and that I’m confident will for sure help me in the future.

Trust
I go into the deepest of my soul and know that I can do everything. Everything! And that if I want to pull me off of this one, whatever the solution is, I can. Always trust yourself!

Experience
Build upon the small openings of confidence. I’ve hit the wall… so what? Hasn’t been the first time and won’t likely be the last. So think… what next?

Plan
Which options do I have? How do I make this work? Which steps do I need to consider? Which actions shall I take? Resolve the numbness, get to the aid station at the top of the hill, decide there what to do next. Focus… focus…

Iterations
1 step at the time. Not the whole race, not the whole distance, just… one… iteration… at… a… time… For now just that small step towards getting into that aid station.

Nutrition
This numbness needs to go away! I don’t feel like eating anything but this is why the (emergency) gels are in the backpack. I take one. With sufficient water. Then wait. Time will play its game.

Leverage on the past
So many trainings at 4 o’clock in the morning, so many runs completely alone, most during the night. Uncountable slopes to get the needed gain, on a place where there’s nearly no elevation. Lots of pushy sessions at the track. So many… so many… to quit now? No way!

Companionship
Smiles of happy people, fellow-runners on endorphins, motivational conversations, joint sessions, shared interests, common goals, surely not for nothing…

Family
Marvelous bunch of people putting up with all my training, my talks, my enthusiasm. My kids expecting me to finish, my wife eager to see me, all waiting at the finish line…

Use the unexpected:
Anything that holds. Anything that counts. In my case this time, the old man hiking… the one at the bottom which was definitely not part of the race… he’s getting close… I can see him coming… no way he’s going to get ahead of me! Get up! Get up!!


CLICK!!!

I do it!
Turn myself upwards!
Towards the mountain!
Poles ready for the hike!
Mind set on the things that made me click… this race is going to get done!


LET’S GO!!

My determination is back! The way to keep moving forward now clear on my mind. The body is not fully recovered but the mind is. The rest? Is history really…

I finished the Zugspitz Ultra Trail with a big smile, grateful for the rest of the race, happy for the learnings, surrounded at the finish line by my family. Just the way it should be.

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