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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Barkley Marathons an important lesson learned

Frozen Ed, Edward S and Me

Cyber Bullying
What does it have to do with one of the most famous ultra marathons in the world well I experienced it first hand, and it was based on my running of this race.  My happy face in this picture is how I choose to remember this race.  Crossing the finish line after the cutoff but with all 12 book pages in hand...
but
the days leading up to the race were and still are hard for me to wrap my head around.

The race is small as only 40 people can run it each year.  You need to follow a specific series of steps to have the chance to run which I am not going to give away in the blog 
: ) just let it be known that I have been on the wait list 2/3 years I have tried to get in.  This year I was very high on the list...and never thought I would, but with only a five days before the race I found out I got in.  

but I am getting ahead of myself...

An important part of this story is that a month before the day I was taken off the wait list and allowed in I hurt my ankle at another race.  I had twisted it and had a terrible sprain that caused me to limp around for quite a while and not even be able to walk let alone run.  I questioned the protocol for taking oneself off the wait list if you are injured and you are not sure that you will heal in time. It was a resounding "DON'T" from the majority of respondents.  They explained "if you do you may never get back in again". People said it was better to show up slightly injured and deal with it instead of giving up your possibly one chance to run Barkley.  So I kept my name on the list. 

One Barkley veteran emailed me off list and questioned my motives for not taken my name off the list when I may possibly be injured. He questioned if I was running the race for accolades or bragging rights.  I responded and assured him that he does not know me, but if he did he would never have asked that question of me.  I do not do the things I do for bragging rights..never have and never will.  I do the races I do and the adventures I do for two reasons. First to celebrate the fact that I am here and able to do this incredible things while others who went through similar health issues are not.  Secondly to raise money and awareness for cancer research and the Special Olympics.  I felt that this person did not have the right to question my reason for wanting to run this race, but I gave him a respectful and honest answer.  I mean I am not on any social media sites to have bragged about Barkley and I told pretty much no one, but all of a sudden I have someone who does not know me in the least question me, as if I was some sort of media crazed person looking to brag. I wonder if all the people putting things on Face book or Instagram or Twitter about running Barkley also received emails from this person?  Or was it just me...the middle of the pack uber nerdy Lego loving middle school teacher?

Jump ahead 4 weeks.  It is five days before the race (which by the way is in Tennessee!)I find out I am off the wait list and in! Well I respond saying I can't go because I believed I had to arrive at the park Friday morning and I had school that day.  I am not going to use a sick days for something like this...that is not what sick days are for.  I have a great deal of respect for my job and because I am a teacher first and foremost I do not take my career lightly.  I was certainly not going to be able to arrive to the park in TN for the race earlier then Friday night at midnight because I had school.  The fact that I did not want to call in sick or because I was unable to plan months in advance for a race I never thought I would get into to was judged by many on the list as a serious offense(mind you I got in because so many other people who officially got in declined and or people on the wait list ahead of me got in and declined).  In this case lying was what some people thought I should do...and they let me know it!  I was actually taunted for being a coward and using that as an excuse not to run?!  I was called out and I had to stand up for myself to a bunch of adults as to why I did not plan ahead for this race when in truth there is no way I could plan ahead!  When I was so high on the wait list I used my two personal days for something else and therefore had no more days to use.  After a full day of cyber bullying directed at me the final straw was when a very respected and in my book pretty famous female ultra runner asked why I felt I needed to arrive Friday morning when the odds of the race starting before 10pm Friday was slim to nil.  Well that was great news to me!  I went ahead and booked a flight to leave at 5pm and arrive at 10 giving me two hours to get a rental car and get to the race.  I went ahead and privately and publicly thanked her for sharing this with me.  Her response to me which was only public was: "I think you misjudged my comments to you as kindness" and this followed a sign off that I was told by my social media savvy friend equals something very inappropriate and rude.  I was crushed and of course embarrassed. I was not sure why someone I had always looked up to for her athletic achievements would attack me on a public email list followed by people all over the world..yep a 47 year old professional woman cyber bullied a 45 year old professional on a public list serve....and we wonder why our children bully...  

4 days later and I am rushing around after a day at school to pack and catch a flight and then run a 100 mile race that as I said before is believed to be the toughest race on earth. When I arrive to the airport I have a few minutes before boarding to look at the list serve where lo and behold I am again attacked by another adult for going to the race so late and therefore setting myself up to possibly not do as well.  I was called out by this person where he said I did not deserve to be going because I do not take the honor seriously. 

I was hurt and of course I must admit I did cry a bit, but I talked with my dear friends and Bob and they said just go and run your race, and ignore the bullies. So I did.  What happened on the list while I was running was people emailed me off list to show support and tell me that they think the public shaming was wrong and unfair.  Other responded directly on the list to this person calling him a bully and telling him he had no right to judge me or to decide who has the right to run Barkley.

After all is said and done I know no one has the right to judge my running that race. I NEVER once said I would be the first woman to finish Barkley in fact I NEVER bragged at all on any public forum about my running ability.  When the RD laz told me I just need to get to TN he did not say "you must do it a certain way and you must arrive early and you must this and that.." NOPE he just said get there before the bugle is blown (that is the sound you hear across the camp to know in one hour the race begins) and it probably won't be till after midnight.  It turned out to be around 11 am the next morning making all my rushed plans for naught and I ended up spending a very cold night in my rental car fully dressed with my race clothes.

Lesson learned
The old adage do as I say not as I do is alive and well.  I made the mistake of interacting on the list and trying to be funny or silly.  My desire to run Barkley was to meet some of the amazing men and women that have been my heroes since I started running ultras at the age of 39. Steve Pero had told me all about this race and he told me how to get in.  Steve and his wife Deb are two of my greatest running heroes of all time...add to that a list New England royalty in my book of Craig Wilson, Fred Pilon, Sue Johnston just to name a small number of the many people I have had the honor to run behind the past 7 years.  Add to that list my new running friends Frozen Ed and Edward S. and Chris G. 

Before I left I told this story to a group of my 8th grade girls.  I shared the story of being bullied by the woman on the list and how it hurt me.  I shared this because their project for my class was to create a movie on bullying at the middle school and how to handle bullies.  I told this story to explain to them that sadly bullying never really ends.  

When I returned they were happy I was happy with my race.  One of the girls asked me
"Did that woman who bullied you finish?"  
I said nope.
Her response (given with a BIG smile on her face) "good".