molly

It’s a great privilege to choose your suffering in this life.

36,000’ of elevation change.

100 miles. 100 degrees.

6 hours of mild heat stroke.

20 miles of trotting on a rolled ankle.

Heat rash and saddle sores. 

24 hours of pushing.

And no reward. Well, not in the usual ‘win a trophy, prize money, cover of a magazine’ kind of way.

The real reward comes in the form of what I learned about myself and my body in this 24 hour meditation on suffering.

There’s an intense choosiness my body has when it’s working this hard.

Simultaneously it wants very little, and very much.

It wants specificity.

It wants exactly what it wants when it wants it.

A handful of M&Ms is too many. But 1 is the perfect amount.

I’m thirsty and my throat is dry from eating dust and smoke. But big gulps are too much. I learned to slosh a mouthful of water around and slowly swallow. Chasing it with 1 sip of highly concentrated electrolyte water.

The slow dissolving of an ice cube in my mouth.

The intense shock of cold American River water on my face and the back of my neck.

The messages are so clear and simple. Loud and straightforward. It makes me wonder if my body is sending such strong signals to me all the time and I’m not listening.

I’m not sure. Perhaps there’s a way that a single point of focus and so much pain drives clarity to the top of the food chain.

After running several miles down the first canyon in 98+ degree heat, I spent the next 6 hours on the verge of throwing up.

Slow breaths, I said. Deep breaths.

My stomach churned.

What grounding can you drink in from this vast nature surrounding you? What help can you get from Mother Earth?

I felt the pounding redness of blood pumping in my face and throat.

What soothing can you get from this peppermint oil in your pommel pack?

I felt faint and slightly dizzy.

Can you keep down 1 sip of water? How about 2?

My lower belly gargled.

10 hours in, I contemplated dropping out I felt so run down and depleted. I still had 14 hours to go.

And then came the inner dialogue. “Remember, all you have to do is stay on this horse. He’s doing the hard work for you. He’s the one climbing 7 miles up this canyon. You’re going to feel sick whether you’re on a horse or not. All you have to do is stay on.”

And so I dug in deep, knowing I’d be hurting no matter what. My priority became being the best teammate for Rader I could possibly be. I stood up in those stirrups, held onto his mane, and breathed as deep as I could. His tenacious athleticism charged us forward, climbing up those 37 switchbacks until we got to Michigan Bluff.

Fast forward to 9:02pm.

Off we went, leaving Foresthill into the night section of our ride.

Seeing nothing but the silhouettes of the 2 riders in front of me, we began a 6 mile descent of Peachstone and Cal 2, a narrow singletrack, sloping, unforgiving, tunneled by trees and branches, sheer drop offs to your left, occasionally taking a branch smack right in the face.

My left stirrup had been giving me trouble all day and it was starting to catch up with me, forcing my ankle into a sickled position. I kept trying to bargain with it, trying to catch a flat foothold, but nothing I did worked. My muscles were so fatigued from trying for the last 16 hours that I had nothing left. I resigned myself to posting on a rolled ankle for the next 8 hours.

As I felt it give way more and more throughout the ride, the deep-set feeling of pain coursed right into the joint. There was nothing mechanical I could do about it, so I started calling on everything I could to relieve myself.

The reiki Naia promised she’d send me.

What I learned from my dad about energy work.

Telling my body that everything it was doing was exactly what it needed to heal more quickly.

Visualizing running a cheesecloth through my ankle and scraping out the pain.

Nothing was working. I wasn't used to my mind tricks failing me.

I noticed how much I resisted the pain so I went with it. Wondering if fully relaxing and riding on my rolled ankle would magically lighten things up for me.

Nope as well.

So began the next 6 hours of knowing there was nothing I could do except just get it done.

And as we trotted through the pitch black night, tree cover obscuring the light from the full moon, I ground down on my teeth, grimaced through every downhill trot, pulled up on the saddle to try and lessen the weight, and repeated, “Just get through this. You’ve come 86 miles. Just get through this.”

As I was trotting along, following Flash the 11 hand, barefoot wonder pony, I thought “we really should be hitting the fig tree near the Lower Quarry vet stop by now.”

No vet stop.

Minutes later, “we really should be hitting the vet stop by now.”

No vet stop.

Minutes later, “we really should be hitting the vet stop by now.”

No vet stop.

As I repeated my agonizing wishful thinking loop, I realized that I couldn’t live on the hope of something better being just around the corner.

I couldn’t keep tormenting myself with “it will be better when…”

I couldn’t keep living for a future moment that I’d assume would make things better.

No, the only thing that exists is right now. Even though it’s agonizing and even though I want to be anywhere other than right now. But the needing of some Future Something was making the current Right Now all the more unbearable.

It’s just Breath and Now and Agony and there’s nothing I can do to change this except to remind myself that a value of mine is to take on great challenges and see them through to completion.

The hours ticked by with no relief, but the finish line did draw nearer.

And at 4:33am, after 1,389 minutes of charging down that unforgiving Tevis trail, Rader and I crossed the finish line and became part of the 44% of riders who finished this year’s race.

It wasn’t an elegant ride, or a beautiful one, or an easy one.

It wasn’t one of those life changing rides that Tevis victors yell from the rooftops about being magical and incredible.

Hell, it’s not even one I’m sure I’d want to do again.

But sometimes it’s just enough to remind myself that it’s a great privilege to be able to choose your suffering in this life.

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Joni Crimmins
Joni Crimmins
15 days ago

Congratulations Molly! Pete and Ellyn, you must be proud. 💜

Anne B Graham
Anne B Graham
15 days ago

Congratulations on a win on several different levels. You refused to give in and give up in spite of exhaustion and pain. You’ve seen your strength. Congratulations again.

Teresa Boshears
Teresa Boshears
15 days ago

Congratulations, Molly, on an extraordinary ride of overcoming extreme challenges and an amazingly succinct and stellar description of your experience! A beautiful photo with two conquerors extraordinaire!

Marla
Marla
15 days ago

Wow. Impressive on so many levels. Fascinating concept to choose your suffering. Amazing accomplishment Molly. Pete and Ellyn – you must be so proud of your abs bug daughter
Thank you for sharing

Wietske
Wietske
15 days ago

Dear Molly – First of all Congratulations! I can sense the edges of your existence, the stretch, the presence, the connection…softening in the midst of “hell”…thanks for sharing this experience…

Elizabeth Dyer
Elizabeth Dyer
15 days ago

My biggest take-away Molly of your experience is that the best way to participate in the arena of life is to live it in the “now.” I will remember you and your story the next time I am feeling overwhelmed by a situation. Thank you for sharing it.

Sarah
Sarah
15 days ago

Congrats Molly. I love the lesson about “I couldn’t live on the hope of something better”. It’s so human to crave something different, better, some relief from the unpleasant (or in your case the dreadful) moment you’re in. And yet from your story it’s clear that this creates more suffering. Thank you for sharing your story!

debbie
debbie
15 days ago

thank you Ellyn, Pete and Molly for this most unusual story of perseverance under the most trying of circumstances. Molly’s human spirit and will to continue and finish is inspiring. The idea of “choosing your suffering” also is intriguing. i keep learning that suffering is a choice, if we are aware enough to recognize this. There’s enough hard stuff that comes our way about which we have no choice. Staying awake enough to choose equanimity seems the most wise path forward.

Lesliekirkpatrick
Lesliekirkpatrick
15 days ago

As close to experience as reading can get me! Thanks for your insights.

Janice McWilliams
Janice McWilliams
15 days ago

Gritty reflections. Teamwork stripped down to the core. Thanks, Molly. And what an accomplishment of body, mind, and spirit.

Hobbit Forrest
Hobbit Forrest
15 days ago

How honest and open Molly is in sharing her reflections on suffering. As a chaplain, I encounter suffering regularly in working with patients and their families who are dealing with loss and grief. Its given me fresh inspiration to draw upon in doing this deeply reflective work with others. That’s a wonderful gift! Thanks for sharing Molly’s reflections.

Dana
15 days ago

Awesome, thank you for sharing the take away.

Sandra Taylor
Sandra Taylor
15 days ago

Congratulations Molly! Your account is inspiring for me as I ride my pony of cancer to the finish line. Though I don’t consider myself “suffering”, I can draw strength from your story of courage and perseverance.

David Brasted
David Brasted
15 days ago
Reply to  Sandra Taylor

Sandra wishing you strength and relaxation on your ride..you say little but hint at much! We are all on our ponies no matter how stringent the journey and we will all arrive at the finish so I agree as Molly shared it is the ride now rather than the end point…I am selling and leaving my house of 12 years soon and it has been a ride…but now i am being called to dismount and get on another pony for the next ride!!

Julianne
Julianne
15 days ago

People take on tasks for many different reasons, perhaps most notably to build and test their own grit, but it concerns me that it has become fashionable to publicize and congratulate extreme sports. My nephew told me that, as second born, he’d not felt confident that he could push for first place. His version of therapy was to push himself. Unfortunately he pushed through several operations, broken this and that with extreme triathlon and mud run events that in his young 40’s already has chronic pain that impairs his ability to enjoy a family hike. I trust that expert stretching and following PT advice for that ankle will prevent long term consequences for your daughter. Friends who work in the ER have told me that pushing too long through heat stroke conditions can result in a permanent hyper sensitivity to heat and dehydration. My wish for your bright, accomplished and kind daughter is that she balance tests of grit with listening to her body’s wisdom.

Sally
Sally
15 days ago

Congratulations Molly /Rader team and support team Ellyn / Pete.
Such amazing tenacity and perseverance . Thanks for sharing your story and thoughtful reflections afterwards.

Gerrian
Gerrian
15 days ago

Thank you for sharing your incredible challenge and how one wrestles with once mind, so much wisdom in your reflections!

Natalie
Natalie
15 days ago

Incredible! Thank you for sharing about your experience, Molly.

Ann L Burke
Ann L Burke
15 days ago

such mental tenacity!
congratulations Molly!!
Ann Burke, LCSWR
NY Member Advanced Group Couples Institute

DIANE PISANO
DIANE PISANO
15 days ago

Ellyn. Thank you. & Molly for believing in herself

Tricia
Tricia
15 days ago

Congratulations Molly and Rader….well done!

Joalie
15 days ago

Hello Molly,
Congratulations for every inch of the journey. Congratulations for the first foot as much as the last foot of the ride. Each step is a testimonial your body, your resilience and your spirit. I wish for you continued resilience and sense of fulfillment whether you choose suffering or bliss, whether you allow yourself to rest or toil, and whether you choose risks or safety. with love and blessings, Joalie

David Brasted
David Brasted
15 days ago

Wow Molly that was something to be proud of!

Bev Bescher
Bev Bescher
15 days ago

Another challenge accepted and met! Molly, you continue to inspire me to push into the unknown. Congratulations!

Dario
Dario
15 days ago

Wow, what a wonderful experience and your telling of it with such clarity and peace of mind. “Choosing your suffering.” This is a great metaphor for the Road Less Traveled that you took.

Alexa Elkington
15 days ago

Thank you Molly. I think you must be a little crazy to do such a miserable ride…maybe a lot crazy. But you did it. You chose to do this. And you stuck it out. Knowing you were there because you chose to challenge yourself and your poor horse Rader kept you going. A great accomplishment. I love the way you weaved into your summary the many methods and thoughts that gave you the ability to hang in there all the way to the end. So, what is next? Good luck and thanks for sharing this message.

Maddy
Maddy
15 days ago

Wow…Amazing endurance! I am totally exhausted just reading about it! Congratulations!

Caleen Wieg
14 days ago

Hi Molly. Very proud of your accomplishment and tenacity!! Have you ever read the book, Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales? I think you would find some similarities to your experience in the stories shared by the author. I apologize for my state’s temperatures and current fire conditions 🙁

Gale C Vance
Gale C Vance
14 days ago

I guess this has been a no pain no gain, humbling experience. An exercise in commitment and endurance.
And perhaps the wisdom and the gratefulness and the pride of finishing make it worthwhile.
I would certainly be proud of you too.

Gail Nelson
Gail Nelson
14 days ago

It is a skill to suffer well! Congrats Molly!

Mark A. Hirshfeld
Mark A. Hirshfeld
14 days ago

Congratulations Molly, a terrific accomplishment.

A G Maxwell
A G Maxwell
14 days ago

Listening to your body with your spirit and being mindful and riding with equanimity on harshest of trails is accepting suffering as part of life. Kudos for self-realization.

Wendy
Wendy
14 days ago

“The messages are so clear and simple. Loud and straightforward. It makes me wonder if my body is sending such strong signals to me all the time and I’m not listening.“
The answer is ‘yes’.

marita
14 days ago

What a groundbreaking attitude to adapt along such hurdles of hurt/pain,,, aweinspiring Molly…. Touched me your honesty and courage, congratulations and thanks, Marita

Dr. Dan Rosin
Dr. Dan Rosin
14 days ago

Molly your thoughts and deed brought tears to my eyes-just hang in there is sometimes all we’ve got.

Alice
Alice
14 days ago

Wow Molly, how inspirational, insightful, connected you were to every part. Dealing with the push/pull in every agonising strain yet underneath there is such steadfastness, such strength of character. To allow yourself to feel the pain, the yearning for ease, the longing for help to be there. To hold all of these and keep going , I’m beyond impressed and totally inspired. I’m facing huge physical and emotional challenges in my life right now and it takes huge amounts of courage to keep stepping up to the plate, walking in the darkness of uncertainty not knowing what each new day will throw at me, it’s the toughest journey of my life and I’m 65 years old but I really want to say a huge thank you for sharing so honestly the rawness and pain of your journey yet at the end the triumph of getting through it, of endurance and a reminder that we are body, soul and spirit and we need all three to hold us up when any other part is suffering, weak or vulnerable. Thank you Molly you are tenacious, courageous and a complete inspiration. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

Caroline J. Clark
Caroline J. Clark
7 days ago

Congratulations, Molly! Thank you for sharing your journey, your insights, and the wholeness you gained as you connected with the Self within. In the midst of your pain, you described a beautiful reconnecting process with the Self. Thank you for sharing your ‘precious experience’ with the rest of us.
Congratulations, Molly!

Frankie
Frankie
6 days ago

Thank you for the reminder about choosing our suffering. I truly believe that many of us have abdicated the right to choose our suffering. Congratulations on completing this amazing journey.

Ann Ladd
6 days ago

Thank you. We may all need this in the challenging years to come before we leave this life plane.

evelyn
evelyn
4 days ago

Congratulations, Molly, for the grit you endured and displayed and for sharing your story with us.