I have competed in the Shut In trail race twice now. Both times it was challenging. Both times I won. Both times it came down to the same steep two-mile death march at the end.

In 2009, the first time I raced Shut In, I had just divorced my husband. I remember driving to the race alone, not sure of myself. I warmed up alone. I watched all the families around me supporting the family member who was running—feeling happy and isolated all at the same time. We lined up on the start line, the gun went off, and I did what I knew how—I ran.

I led about half of the race. Then a girl passed me on a technical downhill section. I kept going, thinking now I was going to be second—she was gone, up the trail. Crossing the parkway about three miles from the finish, a spectator said, “You can get her if you want.” A little confused, I looked up the trail and saw the girl ahead of me. In that moment, I knew I would win.

We hit the wall of a climb the last two miles of the race, and I just moved forward. You cannot really run this climb because it is so steep… it reduces even the best athletes to walking. One foot in front of the other, I climbed the mountain, and I won. My time was about 3:09 or so—I honestly do not remember.

I remember how confident I felt afterwards, as if I had proved it to myself that I could do this on my own.

[I can do life on my own. I can be alone. I am ok.]

This year, appearances were I showed up fit under my coach, Sonni Dyer’s training. Appearances were I was my confident self—after all, I did lead the race from start to finish. But appearances are only surface.

My week leading into Shut In had been an emotional one. I am a very self-reflective person (pretty obvious by now, I am sure), and I spent a lot of the week asking myself deep questions and turning within to find the answers. I am good at facing challenges and plugging forward, but when it comes to myself… I often put others in front of what I need, to my detriment, for whatever reason. Hey, I am in graduate school to be a social worker, so the whole “others before self” wiring fits my professional calling.

The entire time during the race I never felt confident. I was just never sure. I found myself looking back often—something I never do—to see if another girl was coming up the trail behind me. At one point during the race, a guy I running with me said, “Dude the other girl is way back… You have a solid lead, just enjoy it.” I thanked him, feeling a wave of relief come over me… but the unease returned, albeit to a lesser degree.

At one point during the race, I could feel my stomach shutting down from too much sugar. I made the mistake of not carrying water with me. As I was running along, a cyclist I had been running with earlier in the race came up and asked me what I needed. When I said I just needed some water, he offered his. I gulped a bunch of water, and thanked him. “Take care of yourself,” he responded… and we kept running. I was able to switch to water in my gel flask at the next several aid stations and get my stomach under control.

As I crossed the road for the final time approaching the final two-mile death climb, I heard two runners coming up behind me. I turned and saw the second place girl with another guy. Normally, I would have been fired up seeing a competitor. I would have thought, “Oh hell no, watch this…,” given a hard stare, then turned and went on my merry way.

Interestingly, that did not happen. Instead, when I saw her running up behind me, I turned and smiled. No animosity. No competitive feeling. No cutthroat, “I’m going to crush you.” Just compassion. I had this overwhelming feeling of respect and, “good for her… she’s run well and she’s going to win.” I knew how well prepared I was for this race, so I was really happy for her and impressed by her ability.

However, I noticed quickly that she never came up to pass me. I latched on to the guy who was running with her and just thought all I need to do the next two miles is stay on this guy’s feet, and I win. That’s it. There’s nothing else in my life right now. Just his feet.

Just. Stay. With. This. Guy’s. Blue. And. Green. Shoes. You’ll make it.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. I crossed the line in 2:54. Satisfied. Relieved.

[I can do this. I am ok.]

I have learned over the years that no matter how alone I feel, I am not alone. More importantly, I have learned that I do not have to go it alone—like I so stubbornly tend to do.

Appearances are that I was confident. But that is not entirely true. I was continually given confidence during the race by the reassurance stated by my competitors, by the people watching and cheering, by my dad who was running after heart surgery last December, and by my friends who were not there thinking of me, cheering me on in spirit. I needed help to get my stomach back in balance—it was offered, I stated my need, and the need was given.

I do need people, and that is ok.

Ultimately, I found confidence within myself to climb the mountain and finish what I started. A true test of not just my ability, but my character. By the end of the race, the appearance had melted away.

[I am confident. I am this. I am ok.]

Thank you to everyone who made the race possible. Shut In is a special race for many, and without you it could not happen.