Ultra.

The sun was directly above us, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. We were on mile 16 of a 31-mile quest to complete our first 50K.

Leigh was doing her best to perk me up, but I was on the losing end of an internal battle. At that point, the only thing going through my mind was: we have to do this four more times. I can’t do this four more times. I can’t see this course four more times.

“By the way, this is way harder than labor,” she said.

That comment distracted me long enough to get through the last half-mile for that hour, and I cried when I crossed the finish line. Well, wheezed is a better word. I was too dehydrated to form actual tears.

I texted Kevin and asked him if he’d still love me if I didn’t finish the race. His response: Babe, you are not going to quit. You can and you are going to finish.

He was right.

The May Madness 50K didn’t sound so bad when we signed up for it two months ago, but mile 16 made me realize why it was so aptly named. To complete it, you had to run ten consecutive 5Ks every hour on the hour in the sandhills of North Carolina. If you didn’t make it back to the start before the next race began, you earned a disqualification.

Running means a lot to me. What started out as a form of punishment in my days of playing soccer and volleyball turned into an empowering hobby at the mere suggestion that it could be fun if I wanted it to be.

That’s why Leigh and I tackled May Madness with fun. In hindsight, tackling it with a little more training would have been okay, too.

We treated this event like it was our own personal celebration of awesome.

The race didn’t give out medals, so we bought our own.

The temperature neared 90 degrees, so we wore matching tank tops and had a wardrobe change every other race.

The race lasted 10 hours, so we brought all of our favorite snacks and drinks. (Hey, at least we weren’t the group doing shots of Fireball after every lap).

In the end, we finished in 7 hours and 37 minutes. Arguably our personal worst times for anything ever, but we finished. That’s more than 15 other people who started with us can say.

It was the most challenging thing I have ever done. It offered the mental challenge of doing something over and over again all day long and the physical challenge of running through ankle deep sand in some parts and over slick, snake-filled pine straw in other parts. I happily walked the last lap as a victory lap and felt zero shame in doing so.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that I could do anything I set my mind to (maybe it was around the time we signed up for back-to-back half-marathons?), but I think it helps that I’ve had someone in my corner egging me on and encouraging me to push my limits. It’s a whole lot easier to do hard things when someone else is doing them with you.

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