Well it had to come to this at some point – my explanation for withdrawing from the Mongol Derby. Hopefully you have been reading up until this point… and I wanted to keep you in suspense because each part played a role in my decision… the details are important! Though, at this point, it seems a little anticlimactic. But I think it also demonstrated that although it came to such an early end, the race delivered far more than I could have expected, and far more than anyone sitting behind their computers could imagine, so I hope I was able to pass that excitement along to you before losing all your interest.
Alright. So what happened after I pulled into horse station 3?
First, they took my saddle off Electro, and immediately stuck it on another horse. Having not really drank anything that whole leg, and the pain of my ankle becoming a huge concern, I waved them off and went and found the medics. Thankfully a consultation with them does not incur a penalty. I removed my boot and sock, and the ankle was swollen and shaking uncontrollably. I was told that it was likely a muscle strain, and yes it hurts like hell, but it is something that can be worked through.
Maggie (endurance guru) also came in to talk with me about my options. Knowing that only 35 kms had killed my ankle, I couldn’t see myself working through the pain in THOSE stirrups (still remembering that they were the last set). Maggie kindly offered to check to see if they were on improperly – they were on fenders (which I am not used to) and they had a strange twist to them. I was guessing there was a left and a right and was hoping that perhaps they were on backwards.
I stayed in the shade inside the ger, watching my foot tremble and thinking about my options. At that moment, the pain was #1 on my thoughts. Maggie came back and told me that the stirrups WERE on their correct sides and I fell inside. Completely deflated all my hopes for the race.
(Later that day, after I had already made the decision to withdraw, Unenburen, the head horseman took a look at them and agreed that something was not quite right about the stirrups, but suggested it was more likely the fenders giving me grief. My guess was because I am used to riding English, and having a lot of movement in my legs, where the fenders were stiff and didn’t work with my movement.)
I was left alone to think for a while. Still my first thought was the pain – it was hard to forget about… yelling at me as loud as it could to cut through my reasoning. What happens to my ankle after another 900kms? Eventually my mind wandered to the fear of the lost stirrup – knowing how dangerous that ride I just had was. I really began to appreciate Electro and how kind he was to me. Would I get lucky enough to select such an understanding horse 25 more times? And again, if I did, what happens if my horse makes an honest mistake: trips, falls, spooks, whatever?
The short answer was: I didn’t think I would be that lucky through another 25 more horses – the chances were so minute and there were so many things that could go wrong, especially if I cant stay in the tack, and I have a potential bomb on the side of my horse (or how he will see it at least). I have a lot at home to lose, and I was positive that whether it be on horse 4, or horse 28, I wouldn’t be finishing the race anyway, and it would be for an accident.
Only it wouldn’t have been an accident, because if I continued on, I was knowingly endangering myself. Maggie asked if I could live with myself knowing I had not completed the race. I knew that I could better live with that, than not completing for a serious injury because I was more concerned with my ego than my safety. I also believe that I would have been letting my supporters down by doing the same – many of whom made a point of telling me (before I left) how proud they were of me regardless of whether I completed in first, or only made it 5km. To this day, I stand confident that I made the right decision despite the confused looks I get when I try to explain it to non-riders and riders alike.
It was a smart decision – not an exciting one or one that will go down in history, but it was smart. And to be honest, I felt braver pulling from the race than I did riding the race. Its hard. Its so hard… there are only a handful of people who will completely understand exactly what I gave up, but also what I gained from it. Despite the tears, I became a new and better person right there – and I will keep that forever.