Big Horn 100

The Power of Being Alive in the Moment

By Betsy (‘Boots’) Nickle

As I came up to the line at Big Horn, I knew that I had a long day ahead of me. I had lost an essential part of my race gear: lube. I knew going into the race that I was going to suffer as result. At the start of my first Western 100, I felt small in the crowd against the towering mountains. Many of my VHTRC buddies were there to see me off. My first 100-miler pacer (Judith) gave me a motherly hug and best wishes. I was thankful for her kindness!

Standing there with good running shoes, a pack, and my Bull Run 50 miler visor, I had one of those “What the heck am I doing here moments?” Bang! The gun sounded. Like the sound of the gun, I came to quick conclusion; I was here to finish a 100-mile race in the West.

Within the first few miles, I felt my lungs constricting as I was talking to another runner. It was a little overwhelming because I have had asthma attacks while running. I was concerned that it might happen again. I let the other runner go ahead. As I found myself climbing a hill, ants appeared to be summiting the mountain ahead. I realized those could be my friends.

The noon sun beat down on us. However, the scenery was captivating. We were running in a meadow that you find on computer screen savers. I didn’t know if I was hallucinating. Thankfully, I realized that cannot happen at mile 5. I used the scenery to my advantage. Rather than get caught up in my breath problem, I busted out my iPhone and took photos. My thought was that at least I’d have photos even if the day went haywire. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to make it to mile 50. After my picture-taking break, I found myself much more grounded.

Rather than dwelling on what the race was going to dish up, I found these words from my meditation practice echoing in my mind “Nothing else is supposed to be happening right now.” Step by step and hour by hour, I found myself embracing the beautifully difficult terrain with a real sense of presence. As a trail runner, I find that my mind wonders to the future: what food do you think they will offer at the next aid station, how far ahead of me are my friends, will I have a good enough day to finish. Yes, those thoughts came up as they always do. Today, I labeled them as thinking, rather than creating a story that had no bearing on my performance. That action helped me create a sense of spaciousness, where I found myself enjoying the race and connecting with other runners on the trails.

During ultras, we experience great highs and lows just like life. I have found the key is to embrace the moment. There might be some major soul-sucking suffering. Like the moment when I found myself shoeless in a huge mud-whole (both of my shoes were sucked off) or the moment at mile 90 when the bottoms of my feet hurt so bad that I walked down hill and counted as 20 people passed me. During these moments, I just accepted that suffering is part of the experience.

The suffering makes you appreciate the runner’s high moments much more. Like running along the mountain ridgeline in the moonlight and observing how the moon reflects off of the mountain. Or climbing up a 16-mile hill experiencing altitude over 10,000 ft, to sit with my friend Misha who helped me change my shoes and brush my teeth. I felt so comforted on many levels: the camaraderie, embracing a creature comfort of a toothbrush, and accomplishing something that my mind was trying to talk me out of doing many miles ago.

As I found myself running along the trail, I became captivated by the fields of wildflowers blooming on the tops of mountains. Weeks ago, these flowers did not exist. In fact, they were covered with snow. Often we associate snow and winter with bleakness or depression. Yet, these flowers served as a beautiful reminder for me. That even though something might seem dead on the surface, there is often something underneath that with a little bit of light and/or encouragement; it will surely bloom.

Often in our lives, we find ourselves in difficult situations where the journey ahead of us seems overwhelming. Yet, running has taught me that breaking an overwhelming task down into little pieces gives me faith in my ability to achieve it.   When I crossed the line after running down the road with my brother by my side, it was rewarding to share that experience with him in hopes to inspire him. There was also an amazing sense of accomplishment in doing something that is really freaking tough, persevering through the struggles, and accepting that I did the best that I could do on that given day. Honestly, it made this finish the sweetest one for me.

Even though, it’s a personal worse for me by 19 minutes. It was one of the best races because I embraced the beauty and struggles in the present moment. I also worked hard to not allow something that happened in the past be an indicator of my current performance. Over the course of the race, the hours rolled by like minutes and minutes felt like hours at other times. Yet, they were filled with many pleasant views including a 10 minute sit down with my brother in the middle of a field only to embrace the beautiful scenery in the moment. Spending the time to embrace nature is the real reason why I run, I’m thankful that I had such a beautiful course to take the time to do it.

Often I find that people (including myself) are so caught up in the performance, that we busy our minds with unnecessary anxiety and pressure. I learned that taking moving from a performance based focus to enjoying the present moment enabled me to create more memorable moments with the people I love. I hope look back on Big Horn 100 in many years with my brother and say, “Do you remember when I told you that we needed to sit for 10 minutes and look at the scenery?” I hope his response is, “Yes, it was amazing, but remember your sock issue.” Then, we will laugh.

In March, I lost my cousin. She was in her late 30s. Her death reminded me of something important. The only thing that we are sure of is the present moment. While you may be spending your time planning for life in your 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, they could not happen. Over the years, I have seen successful runners suffer with injuries that have sidelined them for months. That has helped me recognize that our running careers in the present moment may appear to be infinite. Yet, they could be taken away from us initially.

Trail running has taught me that being is more important than doing. As a city person, I’m rushing from thing to thing, but I often find that I miss out on being in the moment. All that rushing creates so much anxiety. When I take a few extra minutes to anchor in the present and connect with my environment, I find my contentment increases. Honestly, I don’t think my performance is hampered.

Racing on trails is a lot like life. I’m not quite sure when the end is near. At least if I’m being, I know that when things end that I enjoyed the experience. When you find yourself lost in your rushing mind (happens to me all the time) remember: “Nothing else is supposed to be happening right now.” I hope that statement will bring you ease and comfort in a world that expects us to do rather than be.



3 Responses to ‘The Power of Being Alive in the Moment’ by Betsy (‘Boots’) Nickle

  1. Beautiful thoughts, Boots! Congratulations on your finish and being able to enjoy and process along the way. You are totally an inspiration!

    • Betsy says:

      Thanks Kirstin! I’m so glad to be part of the WUSsies. They are what inspire me to go out and try the tougher races.

  2. Donnie Chapman says:

    Boots that was a wonderful piece about finding peace. Glad you were able to enjoy the incredible scenery.

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