While people love to live in the house of their dreams, few speak of the journey to get there. The reality is that it’s not too different from running 100 miles. In the beginning, it seems so simple. Take down walls, move things around, and rebuild exactly how you envision it. It’s just like reading the Facebook report of how amazing every step of a race was. They leave out the months of grueling training and all the hard miles before they ever crossed the finish line.
I found my only way to relate to the chaos around me (and not being even close to seeing the finish) was to put our home remodel in terms I could relate to: running Western States 100, a race often considered the Boston Marathon of 100 milers.
The day we moved back into our demoed house, we had to look forward to being confined to only a portion of it for the next five months. I came to realize our ‘race’ was going to be a battle to the finish line.
The beginning seemed smooth, as though I was floating through the early miles of snow with ease. We needed a beam to raise our ceiling to the same height. Simple enough, like gliding in and out of the first few aid stations. Not so fast. It appeared our second floor didn’t love the disruption in homeostasis and settled. It was that first fall in the slushy mud at mile 15, and realizing there would be 85 more miles of filth to come. But, you get up and you keep going—and that is just what we did. A little creative engineering, and back to clicking off miles. (A little dirtier than before.)
The miles passed, but in the usual fashion of endurance racing, we fell into months of “hurry up and wait.” Momentum would build up ordering all the big and small items, only to wait on the next piece of the puzzle to come together. Just as the heat settled in on the canyons and dust kicked up with every step, so did the reality of living life in what was essentially a large garbage bag.
As you approach the party at Foresthill mile 62 aid station, you know you are approaching the downward gift to the American River. The canyons are behind you, and things are starting to cool down. After the drywall was done, the popcorn was off the ceilings, and we finally saw uncovered floors at our feet, I felt like we were heading to the river, refueled with a pacer in tow.
But, then the painting began. We could hear the river below, but oh my goodness, did it take forever to get there. The prep, the sanding, the dusting, the priming, and then the paint. The miles that should have breezed by, trudged and at times stood still. Two weeks became over a month.
Right when defeat shows its hand the river, mile 78 comes. It’s at this moment, after the painting was done and the floors were down, that we started making detailed lists of what was left, and we realized that the “flat” miles to get to HWY 49 (mile 93) were going to take longer than we had planned. While things start to look finished, there is still so far to go.
HWY 49 to the finish became the defining moment both when I ran Western States and in those final weeks of our remodel. I remember coming into mile 93 with my pacer and hearing the volunteer say, “If she moves well she can break 24 hours.” I was on the cusp. Every moment and detail mattered. We were living in the exact same situation of wanting to be finished, but every detail matters. The reality was we had gone 93 miles, we were tired and ready to be finished, but there were still miles to go. The wrong ceiling paint was used and needed to be redone. There were nine tiles that needed be pulled up and redone. These items seem so small and insignificant, but when everyone leaves after the project is complete you are sitting with the buckle you earned.
Did you give your all and fight for what you wanted or did you let those last precious minutes slide by? And given that I had known how to fight to the end, that’s how we approached it. What our remodel team didn’t know is that I was willing to fall one last time with 2.5 miles to go, get back up, and claw my way to a 23:56 finish around the track. The result is as meaningful and beautiful as my shiny silver buckle.
In both cases, I don’t feel the need for a repeat performance anytime soon, but I will enjoy all the hard work and the result for a long time to come!