Written by: Virginia Nickelson
Let me start out by saying that I am no stranger to the mental games that can happen during endurance events. I’ve done a couple of Beast OCR events that lasted up to 12 hours overnight, Machete Madness Recon as well as Spartan Hurricane Heats.
The mind games always come into play at some point but I was not prepared for what I faced during the Star Course.
For me every endurance event starts out the same. “WTF was I thinking signing up for this?” goes through my mind hundreds of times right before the event. I get really quiet and tend to stay in my head just trying to get through the first few hours. The start of the star course was no different except it was WTF was I thinking signing up for this 48 hours ago. I met up with our team and didn’t really step up or say much.
The trek over the 520 bridge at night wasn’t too bad and I was able to stay in the moment and focus on moving forward. Everything was going ok until we started out to Mercer Island. After we found the girl and dog statue things got rough. The team I was with was moving faster than I could keep up with and the mind games started about that point. I struggled to push my body and not let my team think I was weak. About every hour I wanted to stop for a quick 5 minute break but I was scared to say anything. This meant that I pushed myself farther than I should have and the fatigue set in early.
Then when my team mates called dropped out at 0530 Saturday morning and I tried to keep pace with another team but ultimately fell too far back and I was mentally done. Thoughts of how much of a fake I was and how beyond stupid this was went through my mind. I thought about how crappy of a mother I was for what I was about to do. I wanted to quit and thought about what Elliot would say. How much of a disappointment I would be to her. I thought about Will and how he had told me not to do this and how in the end he was right. I honestly cried more than once in a 2-3 hour time frame. I was mad at myself. I was mad at the situation I put myself in and was convinced I would not make it.
I reached out to Ron A. Brothers Jr. and my other suffer siblings during this time. It killed me to admit things. I didn’t want to admit how weak I had become but if anyone was going to get it, I knew it was going to be them. When I saw Ron and Jenny waiting on me at the checkpoint in Renton I lost it. I cried and told them I was done physically and mentally.
I was 10 hours into the event and I had given up on myself. This was a first for me. I had to admit that I was weak which caused me to give up on my abilities. In my head all I could think is I wasn’t good enough. That my training wasn’t enough and at that point I had nothing. I was a shitty person for it all and I was done. I have never been to that dark of a place and hope to not see it again for a long time.
Once Ron and Jenny talked me out of quitting through a series of questions to really get down to what going on I decided to wait for team old dog and continue on with them.
We did well moving from Renton to Tukwilla. After we hit the pilot statue in Tukwilla I lost it again. I fell behind most of the guys and the pain in my left calf and hamstring became more intense. I did everything possible not to mentally lose it but I did. At one point I was ready to quit again and had planned on telling them to go on and I was going to text cadre quitting. The problem was about that time we had just gotten the news that we had an extra hour. As horrible as I felt I couldn’t quit.
Then once again as we made our way to the gum wall I sent a note to Ron saying that I felt like if I didn’t stop I was going to risk injury to my calf and hamstring. I’m not sure now if I really did or if I was just making excuses to be honest but I was hurting a lot and didn’t want to continue. My mind had checked way out and every step we took hurt. At this point we had been going for about 17 hours with no sleep. I knew that logically this was a part of it and I just had to keep going but it was a real struggle to move.
Then we got the news that we just had to hit the 50 miles and get back and we would be done. We didn’t have to hit all points, just do your 50 then get back. About this point one of my team members offered to take my 10lb plate.
My pride got in the way and I said no. I wasn’t ok with the amount of help I had already needed during this event. One thing that always is a known thing with me in these events is I never want to be the weak link. During the Go Ruck Tough in March that was my number one fear. I didn’t want to be the only woman there and not be able to toe the line with the guys. Yes this may sound silly but it’s true. I always want to be stronger than people think I can be and this was no exception.
As we started to make our way back I did allow the team mate to carry my plate and I gave him the water also that he needed. I suddenly felt like a failure. I told my team at the end that I was sorry for holding them back. In my head I failed my team and myself by not being able to keep up and being the weak link.
Once we made our return to Gas Works Park we received our patches, took a quick photo then proceeded to crash. One of the volunteers helped me move my ruck over to a shady spot and as I sat down the person next to me was one of the people I had tried to keep up with but couldn’t. He told me that he was really proud of me for finishing. I just knew at that point it meant a lot. I told the team that ultimately made sure I finished thank you a hundred times over then proceeded to head home.
The last week since finishing has been interesting. The mental games didn’t stop when the event did. When I found out I was one of only 43 that finished. I was floored. How is it possible that I finished this event and others didn’t? How in the world did this happen. Most of these people trained for this event specifically while I signed up 48 hours in advance. I actually felt guilty for finishing which has never happened before. I spent the week trying to understand it all.
I also found out directly following the event and during the week that what I posted live and during the event people actually watched. Friends that I rarely talk to were watching for updates as to how I did and hoping I would finish. I even found out that some people that I’ve never met in person were struck by me finishing the event. I honestly didn’t think that posting the videos or pictures would do anything for anyone else. I was only doing it to document the process.
Now as I sit here and continue to rest and reflect on it all I know that I have a lot to process still. I am happy that I not only finished and proud of what I was able to accomplish and somehow inspired others a little. I know that I will continue to process things more and more as the days and weeks go by. I know that I will be able to look back on this whole experience and be able to learn so much about my physical abilities as well as start to develop strategies to better mentally handle the stress and fatigue.