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  • Writer's pictureAlice Wyatt

Safety Pins and Electrolytes

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Dear # 406, 

You might not remember me from that freezing November morning. I am a race volunteer with clipboard, checklist, and the all important safety pins. My job is to find your name on a sheet of paper, check it, and then hand over four safety pins so you can attach # 406 to your shirt. 

 At 6:30 am the New Mexico temperature is in the mid-40s, but four to six hours from now, when you finish the 50K race, it will be over 80 degrees. What do you wear when the temperature will soar by 40 degrees? Not much, by the looks of your outfit. An orange tee-shirt, black running shorts, ankle socks and, I imagine, very expensive shoes. Standing in front of me, a mat of dark, just stumbled-out-of-bed hair and full beard, you are blowing on your fingers and doing that dance runners do to keep their toes from freezing. After just a few minutes, paperwork completed and safety pins attached by numb fingers, you disappear into the crowd under the starting banner.

Photo credit - Big Mood Photography @bigmoodphoto

Four and a half hours later, you stagger under that same banner, now the finish line marked by a small cheering crowd and the flash of a race photographer’s camera. By now my role has shifted from safety pin dispenser to electrolyte dispenser. I thrust a red plastic cup filled with some orange powder/water concoction into your shaky hand. Gulped quickly, it runs down your salt encrusted beard and blends into the sweat drenching your shirt. As you hand back the empty cup with a quiet, “Thanks”, and bring up your forearm to wipe the moisture from your beard, I see them for the first time. 

 Delicate horizontal lines, silver with age, make their way from wrist to elbow. As you collapse next to the three runners who finished ahead of you, eagerly asking their times, comparing course notes, I see the same marks etched into your ropey thighs. Scars - from cutting. I shift my gaze, hoping you don’t notice me - noticing.

These scars are a pictorial time-machine into past darkness so deep and encompassing, the only relief came from harming your beautiful, finely tuned machine of a body. I feel like I have seen something private, a part of you needing my protection. My heart is overwhelmed. I want to gather you in my arms as I would a child, tell you how precious you are. Convince you of your intrinsic worth. Keep the world at bay like a mama bear with a threatened cub. 

But you are not a child. You are a complete stranger, our only exchange one of safety pins and electrolytes. The surge of emotion is all me; you are clearly comfortable showing the world your scars. You are obviously very healthy, physically and mentally. Today, in the 80 degree desert heat, you ran a race very few ever have the courage, physical ability, or mental will to even start. Ultra running is mind over body, one step in front of the other - for as long as it takes. You, # 406, definitely have what it takes!

 I walk away from the excited race chatter, needing to collect my thoughts. In my struggles with darkness, I never needed to harm my physical body in order to release mental pain. I have no external scars for strangers to notice. I have internal ones though. Neutral situations trigger intense emotions, seemingly out of nowhere, knocking me backwards into a place I thought I had escaped. All the healing, the work gone into becoming healthy, the “races” I have run, have taken their toll, but have left no lasting scars for the world to notice or comment on. 

I wish the circumstances were different, that our paths had not crossed for just safety pins and a cup of electrolytes. I want to know your story, hear of your victories, understand what it took to be here today, crossing not only this finish line, but all the ones before it. 

Photo credit - Big Mood Photography @bigmoodphoto

 This letter will not make the journey to the mailbox, as I have no way of finding you based on a runner’s number and an orange tee-shirt. It will stay tucked away in my journal as an encouragement to be brave enough to uncover the cuts to my heart. Not to fear the looks or judgement when people see what lies beneath the surface of a cheerful personality. You have reminded me to never cover up emotional scars in shame. Let them be what they are - symbols of what was. Symbols of the journey, the race, before healing came. 

Keep running, fellow human, I am there beside you, if only in spirit, 

Lady at the Registration Tent 

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