Years of practice and I’m finally ready to admit it — I’m great at giving up.
In high school, my lacrosse team was tasked with running a mile in less than 12 minutes. I had been sprinting up and down the field for weeks during tryouts, but this task was daunting. I rarely ran more than one field length and I wanted to keep it that way. Instead, I was facing 5,280 feet of opportunity for me to give up, each step bringing me closer to fatigue.
When the day came, I found myself in the back of the pack, breathing erratically and trying to keep my feet going one in front of the other. After the longest two minutes of my young life, I put matter over mind. My long strides stopped short but my mind was still racing. There was nothing stopping me from continuing to run except my own will.
“I hate this, I hate this, I can’t.”
That wasn’t true. I could but I didn’t want to.
So, I gave up and took a knee, pretending to tie my shoe. Once my shoe was untied and tied again, and untied and tied again, I continued by repeating the following technique — run, run, stop, stop, walk, walk. I didn’t break the 12-minute mark, but I was close enough to keep my spot on the junior varsity team. (No one was ever cut from the JV team.)
That was in my early days of giving up, though, and I tried to convince myself and those around me that I hadn’t given up, that I had the fortitude to run a fast mile and a list of excuses why I couldn’t do so that day. In truth, I had neither. I barely broke a sweat.
But I learned my lesson. High school is miles behind me and now I embrace my glacial speed. If I quit it’s not because I’m too far behind or being lazy.
Giving up comes in many forms, and I’ve been giving up a lot lately.
Homer’s Sea to Ski triathlon in March was my first triathlon and the first time I rode a bike up West Hill Road. (I would not recommend riding a bike up West Hill Road.)
I had spent the winter in high intensity cycling classes, misplacing a lot of my confidence to the bike leg of the race. Instead of the speed I felt I had mastered on a stationary bike, I found myself halfway up the hill, breathing heavy and struggling to move.
So, I gave up and walked my bike.
Other racers and cars whizzed past me and I waved them along with a smile. It felt like West Hill Road went on and up forever, but eventually I reached flat(ish) ground and rode to the final leg of the race with just enough strength in my legs to ski five kilometers. Giving up on part of the hill stopped me from giving up on the triathlon completely.
A hundred yards shy of the summit on Slaughter Gulch in Cooper Landing earlier this month, I threw in the proverbial towel and turned back. The wind was at my face, the snow was getting deeper and deeper and my legs would not stop shaking.
That’s a recipe for disaster as you navigate a snow- and shale-covered mountaintop. So, I gave up and retreated back down to summer ground and stiller air.
On a less precarious hike to Juneau Falls in early spring, the trees blocked the wind, there was no snow and my legs felt fine. It was my gut that threw up a red flag. All of a sudden, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that going any farther than the waterfall was a bad idea.
Images of hungry mama bears with a penchant for snacking on blond-haired hikers filled my mind. So, I gave up and about-faced.
During this winter’s inaugural Tour of Tsalteshi ski race, I was scared I would give up. The first two or three loops on the trail system, my mind was filled with doubt and anxiety about how I would fare on the rest of the trails. But instead of finding excuses, I eventually found my stride and sweated the doubt away.
Giving up is an art, but the cornerstone isn’t creativity, it’s knowledge.
Sometimes, the fear of giving up is worse than the adventure in front of you. Knowing that, my days of untying my own shoes are over. Instead, I push through and face the challenge as best I can.
Because other times, it’s more important to know your limits — whether it’s your body telling you to take a break or the terrain telling you, “Not today.” Trust your gut. Sure, getting a fast time or bagging a peak is fun and rewarding, but so is getting into bed at the end of the night with all your limbs intact.
But, I give up trying to explain all this because I have a feeling F. Scott Fitzgerald did it better.
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”
Kat Sorensen lives in Seward, Alaska. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org