Reflections on Self Doubt
By Larissa Fransen
What big day doesn’t start before sunrise? And the really big days start just after midnight.
It’s 1:30am and I’m wide awake. No alarm needed. I’m about to drink large amounts of coffee and set out with 5 other Runners of the Wild to attempt the infamously difficult Rim to Rim to Rim; traversing the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim and back, all in one push.
Stats-wise, this is a big day: 48 miles and over 11,000 feet of elevation gain and for this group, R2R2R was by far the biggest “day” any of us had attempted. Months of training, planning, tapering, and resting had been a big focus in all our lives. For me, the days leading up to this one were filled with anxiety and self-doubt. While the rest of the group felt strong and confident, I felt weak and terrified.
Before Mile 1 was done, the wheels were already coming off. When I should have been enjoying the descent into the canyon alongside the first minutes of morning light, I was battling nausea and side stitches. I had never hit a wall this hard so early in a run and it felt as though the lack of confidence in my own abilities had manifested itself into the pain I was experiencing. Even in the past when I’ve felt bad at the beginning of a run, it was usually just a matter of warming up or finding a rhythm. I was expecting these feelings to dissipate as I kept moving, but they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. How am I supposed to finish a day like this when I feel this bad?
The Grand Canyon is overwhelming, and the further I ran into it, the darker my mind went. That place where all thoughts like these live:
“I can’t do this.”
“What if I get too far in and I can’t climb out?”
“What if I have to get air lifted out?”
“I am under trained.”
“Am I over trained?”
“Am I even a real runner?”
All of these doubts spun through my head as I continued to move forward. “At least I’m moving forward” I thought.
Indeed, I was moving forward. As I slowly weaved my way through the bottom of the canyon and made it to Manzanita I began to feel more like myself. With encouragement from the group and my own stubbornness I became more and more determined to do this, and at this point I was too far in to turn back. Completing the climb to the North Rim restored my confidence. As I neared the top and took in the views toward the South side of the canyon my eyes filled with tears. The sights were breath-taking, and I had made it half way. This felt huge, but at the same time I still had a long way to go. As I retraced my steps it seemed like an unfortunate surprise awaited me around each bend. Giant blood blisters? Ok. Random foot pain? Sure. Heat induced nausea? Yes. Fantastic. I tried to focus on the beauty of the canyon and ignore the pain as best I could, acknowledging that my legs were still moving and that I was going to make it.
We shared the day with several other groups attempting the same route and found comfort in the communal suffering as the heat and difficult terrain began to wear down our bodies. The climb out of the South Rim up Bright Angel was one of the most surreal experiences. When the sun set the temperature drastically dropped. The grueling incline seemed to go on forever, and one wrong step too close to the edge of the trail could be a deadly drop back to the bottom of the canyon. Switch back after switch back navigated by a single head lamp became disorienting, and at times it felt like we were moving backwards. Fellow hikers and runners lined the sides of the trail, trying to rest and regain the strength to continue up and out. Despite all of these obstacles we kept moving forward. The sparkling welcome light from Grand Canyon Village finally became a reality.
Running is a practice, and every now and then we are able to see our practice pay off in big ways. It may not be a PR or a race win. It may not even feel good. It may be what the Grand Canyon was for me, a test. A test of every mile logged, every tear shed, and every laugh shared with friends. Breaking through the darkness and feeling the magic in moving forward was my win.
I am beyond thankful for what I was able to accomplish, and deeply humbled by the Grand Canyon. As endurance athletes, we ask a lot of our bodies and our minds. Each accomplishment, small or large, deserves to be celebrated. The joy and the suffering in every experience make us who we are as runners and adds to the layers of grit we accumulate over the years. These are our badges, and I am proud to wear this one alongside my fellow Runners of the Wild.