I normally wear a size 12 shoe. For this occasion, however, I was talked into a size 13. The sales person told me to go bigger because of what I was doing. As I looked down at those size 13’s, I could feel my ankles had swollen and my toes were now starting to bang against the front. Given how swollen my hands had gotten, I could only imagine what my feet looked like.
This swelling was taking place around mile 41 of my first 50 mile trail race (it was actually 52.1, but who’s counting). Because of the pounding your feet take at that distance, it was recommended to go a full shoe-size bigger. I didn’t believe it at first, but I’m thankful I heeded the warning. My feet and ankles were starting to feel pain I’d never experienced before. I had to find a way to take my mind off that and onto something else!
It was around this time I turned to see a small group of six running and power-hiking behind me. Each of us was experiencing similar issues. The tired looks, frequent groans as we approached a hill and steady, heavy breathing told me we were all in the same boat. I didn’t know any of them. We just happened to run into each other (literally) and had similar paces. So, we were sticking together. Though everyone said their name, we quickly replaced them with nicknames (I was “Water Bottle” because I had 3 of them on my hydration vest).
But in this time of pain and suffering, a comradery was building. We were in this together. We were in the suck but cheering each other on, giving encouragement. We became an unstoppable team!
Frequently I’d yell back “How’s everyone doin’?” or “You faster ones can pass me!” Most of the time, responses would range from “Doing OK” to “You’re moving at a good pace. Keep it up!” Other times there were colorful metaphors.
At the final aid station at mile 45, one of our members said their body was broken and they were pulling out. As one, we all went over and gave this person encouragement. We’d made it this far! Let’s keep going to the end. Together. After some pep talk and a PB&J sandwich, she joined us and off we went.
Those last 7 miles were hard. It was hilly, dark, getting cold and slippery. But, this unstoppable team kept going. We would crack jokes and near the end of the race, 15 hours after starting, even started singing. With the finish line in sight, a few of us took off a little faster, fueled by the adrenaline that the end was near. But even after we crossed the line, we stopped and waited for everyone. Together we shared in a joyous moment, giving each other hugs and high-fives.
Whether you’re running 50 miles or managing a 50 week project, there will be times that suck along the way. With the right members, you can create an unstoppable team, one that gives praise and encouragement until you cross the finish line. And when you do cross the finish line, you’ll know you’ve done it together!