I have been wavering whether or not to line up for a race, 50K, on Saturday. After my sad day at Miwok, I felt this immediate urge to search for, "what's next," as I was not content with the obvious lack of outcome or exhaustion that would have followed me leaving everything on the trail.
At first I was just digging for reasons: I love running in the heat (it will be in the upper 80s/90s on Saturday; my legs feel fresh and ready; I want to release this energy. But, none of these seemed to be enough to have me pull the trigger and say, "I AM going to race." Thank you for those who gave non-advice, advice..."if you can't find a reason, don't go."
But, then I thought about it, and I decided my reason to race is simply because I can. If I truly appreciate this healthy life I have been given, and I truly appreciate my gift to be able to run...then I need to do it in the way I love it the most. I love to pin on a race number. I love to run in the woods. I love to push my body, and see just what it can do. Sure, there will be bad days and outcomes I wish wouldn't be. But no day running, even if not as long as planned, can compare to the hardest day these people or my sister endure.
So with these thoughts in my head, I headed to Huntsville. Once I settled in Huntsville, I watched the weather, and was pleased to see that it would be in the low 70s at the start and warm up to the mid-80s before my race would be done...with the highlight of a pre-rain 100% humidity. Now that's my kind of running weather!!
I got a decent night's sleep, although the 3:50 alarm always feels early. I got to the park and set up my "transition" area. Right before 6 we lined up at the start and I said hi to a guy we know from Houston, Joe Constantino. Also, before we started Catherine arrived in time to wish me luck. She was running the 25K. A little after 6, off we went.
The race starts with almost a mile on the road. I took off with Joe, catching up and chatting away. Before long I notice that we are in the lead pack with the rest of the race behind us. I also grab a look at my Garmin 7:05...oops. First mile beeps as we head into the trail, and the same number shows. I tell Joe, and he says, "no wonder I could barely talk." Fortunately, since I couldn't get hold of my pace, the trail Gods slow me down...I fall. I bounce right back up, but take it as my definite sign to slow the heck down and run my race. I settle in, 6th place behind the guys. I definitely am feeling great, but I am just 2 miles in. I am also now on my own.
For the first time I am appreciative of the out-and-back on the jeep road. It becomes my chance to see other people. I am just a very few minutes behind Joe and the others around us. I cheer on the rest of the racers as I head back from the jeep road, but mostly I am following the path that Joe takes. Since it hasn't rained recently, the course was VERY sandy. It wasn't bad, but the sand kept coming.
I was wearing my new Garmin for the race, and was really enjoying seeing the miles pop up, even if they ended up not being perfect. I ranged between 8:23 and 8:50 with a few miles faster and slower when I would stop at aid stations for water. I felt really smooth and relaxed. Before I knew it the 15.5 mile loop was over: 2:11.
I headed out on the 2nd loop, and felt really good. I knew the temps were going up, so I knew hydration and electrolytes would be my key to success. Maybe that is why I love running in the heat so much. It is such a practice in solid nutrition. If you fall behind, your race is gone. If you stay on track, you are golden. So far, I was golden.
As I hit the jeep road I told myself that this was two miles of solid running...go for it. I knew I would be home free after the jeep road. I got ice water at the 1st aid station, put my head down and ran. At the end of the jeep road my Garmin peeped: 8:02. I had a 1/2 marathon left, Bolinas Ridge out and back.
I kept moving along. I thought of Jamie and her telling me how it was so much easier to run when it was for something bigger than herself; she had just represented the USA at the World 24-hour. I thought of a friend who is killing himself to train while fighting injury after injury. I thought of what a gift I have to be able to be running so pain-free. I thought of my client who was just diagnosed with breast cancer, and thought about how I was going to give her my medal from the finishline to share with her my strength. It was in these miles that I realized that so often in the past I would slow, or walk, because I had moments of "I can't." It so stemmed from my start as a runner. It was not so long ago, and there were always moments of me running farther or harder than I had before. It was always such a scary place to be, and there would always be a moment when I would throw in the towel and give into that fear. But the reality of Saturday was that there wasn't a moment of "I can't" that I couldn't fight back. My legs were hardly tired, my nutrition was beyond 100%, and nothing was going to stop me.
I went through the aid station with about 7.5 to go, and I was ready to head home. It was here that I started catching the backend 25K runners. I gave them each a cheer as I went by, as they were amazing to just be giving the distance a shot! As I made the left to wind through the last set of trails to the bridges, Love Story by Taylor Swift came on my MP3 player. The song means more to me now, as it is a concert that my sister so badly wanted to go to but just couldn't go to because of her chemo treatments. Every time it plays I think of her during my run. I thought of how hard it is for me to hear that cancer has not changed the person she is...so hard to explain, but I just wish this journey would have changed her core to make the most positive out of all the days she has. I still took the moment in the woods to reflect on her journey, and send prayers her way.
I hit the bridges and knew I had less than 40 minutes left to run. I kept telling myself, "this is your day, how do you want to end it?" I knew that I wanted to end it strong!! As I got to the last aid station, one of the guys that had been well in front of me was taking off. The aid station had just poured him a coke, but when he saw me he took off. I took advantage and grabbed his cold coke and went after him. I ran so hard, but didn't see him. It wasn't until I hit about 1/2 mile left on the open road headed to the finish that I saw him again. I tried, but ran out of property...
4:27:?? 1st female 6th overall 16 minute PR on the same course from November 86 degrees at the finish 100% humidty
Yes, I can and I loved every minute of it!!
Thank you so much for all of the support, guidance (making me have a reason to race), love and friendship!
Pics to come when they post!