So you have a 50 Km trail race planned and you signed up for it about four weeks in advance. You actually ran the 50 Mile course there last year and enjoyed the scenery, the race, and you placed 4th overall. This 50 Km run is in preparation for a 120 Km+ race that is coming up in 3 weeks and you are looking forward to testing your fitness. As a matter of fact, you have been doing long runs on this very course for 6 weeks leading up to it. So on Sunday morning, you wake up at 3:30 am, walk the dog, and head out for the race in a ski resort town about an hour’s drive away, all the while prepping yourself mentally for the race and how you hope to execute in just a couple hour’s time as you drive. Right now, all is well and is going as planned.
You know those nightmares you get before an upcoming race?, the ones where you are late and are running to catch everyone but your legs won’t move? Well, my legs were moving just fine when I arrived at the parking lot wondering why it wasn’t very busy and why there weren’t many people around. I could hear music though and so I walked to the town square and could see the race tents set up. Current Time: 5:45 am. Race Start: 7 am…….yesterday?!!!! Unbelievable! Yes, I showed up a day late for the 50 Km race that I guess I just assumed was on Sunday and not Saturday morning. I had no valid excuses though; I ran the 50 Mile here last year and it was on Saturday morning. I also checked the website and plastered on the home page was the Saturday date for the 50 Km and 50 Mile. I cannot describe to you the sinking feeling I had as I stood looking dumb and dejected before the poor race volunteer who was giving out bibs for today’s Half Marathon and 10K which started at 8 am. She was graciously polite and empathetic, but was obviously trying to hold back a grin that said, “you must be one dense jackass to get something so simple mixed up.”
She suggested that maybe I could at least exchange my 50 km race bib for a Half Marathon bib and run at 8 am. I looked at the time and decided I would do my 50 Km run regardless and smiled sheepishly and told her “no thanks.” So up the mountain I went and as I got about 15 km’s into my run, I started thinking, “hey, if I just follow the Half Marathon route, I could maybe make it back in time to exchange my bib and then I’ll just jump into the Half Marathon race after running the course.” Which is exactly what I did, but I really had to hustle back down the mountain on what was a pretty hot morning. I got back down with ten minutes left before race start, they exchanged my bib and there I was, extremely muddy and sweaty, standing in the crowd of the Half Marathon start line. This was a strange feeling to say the least. I went out with the leaders and because I was a little angry at myself for missing yesterday’s 50K, I decided it would be great if I could win this thing after running the course just before – if this is not alcoholic thinking, I don’t know what is. Long story short, I started cramping 13 km’s into the Half and I had to slow down significantly in the last 7 km’s, allowing two runners to pass me in the final 2 km’s which put me in 6th place overall. The whole experience was disappointing, frustrating, and most importantly…humbling. And it was just what I needed!, especially with the 120+ km race looming just three weeks away. I believe my Higher Power was teaching me to not think so far ahead and live in the Now instead. On top of the humiliation I experienced, one of my running heroes showed up to run the 50K on Saturday and I missed the chance to meet him and possibly run with him before he surely would have left me in the dust.
How dear reader, does this relate to the AA experience you ask? Well, last year at about the same time, I was rockin’ along in AA with my first year’s sobriety under my belt and I suddenly realized that I had not written out an 8th Step list! I had been relying on my 4th Step to make my amends. This would have been okay because on page 76 of our Big Book, we are instructed to use our inventory from Step 4 to “become willing to make amends to them all.” The only problem was, I burned my 4th Step after doing Five, Six, and Seven as a sign that my Higher Power would now take care of it. This may not seem like a big deal, but I believe that it is. Once I got over the panic and the thought that I might get struck drunk at any given moment, I sat down and wrote my 8th Step list. Yes, I brought back the memories of the 4th Step to help me, but it was important for me to write the names down in black and white, to know the harms I had caused and to become willing to make amends for those harms. Bill Wilson states in The Twelve and Twelve that “every AA has found that he can make little headway in this new adventure of living until he first backtracks and really makes an accurate and unsparing survey of the human wreckage he has left in his wake” (77). Without that 8th Step list, it would have been too easy for me to just rely on my 4th and 5th Step and say that I had done the work. With the names written down, I now have something I can pull out, unfold, and refer to, to remind myself that there are amends that I have taken care of that belong to the past and amends that I still need to make when my Higher Power grants me the grace and the opportunity to do so. Our Big Book states that Steps Eight and Nine’s “real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us” (77). And so I was humbled at this crucial time in my sobriety as well – I wasn’t the 11th Step guru I imagined myself to be just one year into sobriety!
The results? I went into that 120+ Km Ultra knowing that I was capable of many mistakes and that my performance and ultimately my life, was in the loving hands of my Creator. I could only put one foot in front of the other, enjoy and be grateful for the experience, and trust in the outcome. I spoke to my Creator a lot during that run, saying “I’m in Your hands, I am Yours and whatever happens, I trust in and am grateful for.” I ended up winning that race and coming in 2nd place, but that is another humbling story for another time and another blog. I received something much deeper and lasting in that race than some placing in a field of people who are really in it as One anyways. And as for the 8th and 9th Step? I have been able to steadily cross names off that list and know that the results are in my Creator’s hands. I am no longer in bondage to the harms I did to others and I am free to go out and try to act better today. Funny, as I start my day every day, I say something very similar to what I said during that Ultra, “I’m in Your hands, I am Yours and whatever happens, I trust in and am grateful for” and it seems to work pretty good so far. I say, thank God for the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and thank God for His good sense of humor and the way He winks at us when we go forth and learn from the humbling experiences that we must endure, in order to grow.