My feet were dragging across a rocky singletrack trail in the Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix. It was nearly 90 degrees outside and I was 43 miles into a 52.4 mile run—a double marathon. The entire right side of my body was cramping, my legs were sapped of energy, and I could feel my heart rate climbing like a mountain goat up a scree field.
I hurt. I hurt bad. I was in what ultrarunners call the “pain cave,” and I was trying to claw my way out.
As deep as I was in that abyss of agony, it was about to get worse. Tired from the accumulated miles and stress of the heat, my legs faltered and my toe caught a rock. I tripped, face-planting into the dirt, crags, and cacti below.
It was then that I faced a choice: to pick up my sorry, spasming body and continue on — or, to slither into the scant shade provided by a lonely piñon pine and hope that a hiker or runner would find me before I shriveled up into dust, disappointment, and despair.
That moment called for courage, and I didn’t know if I had any to summon.