First off, a deep and heartfelt thanks to all of you who took the time to read my previous post, and to offer encouraging words for my run. It was very motivating thinking of everyone pulling for me. As promised, I wanted to post up a recap of the race. If you are interested in how things went, read on…
It was a dark and stormy night. Ok, so technically, it wasn’t night. It was about 7:00am. And it wasn’t really stormy. It was really quite clear. But starting your story with “It was a rather clear seven o’clock in the morning” just doesn’t have the same kind of dramatic panache. But it was dark! Very dark! I had the pleasure of having my Brother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law running in the race, and they picked me up to make the early trip to the Canyon. I had never visited the canyon before so didn’t really know what to expect. I was surprised and how long it took us to get down from the park entrance to the campground that would serve as the base of operations for the day’s event. It’s odd having driven right by, never knowing the country’s second largest canyon was so close!
We assembled with all the other race participants in the predawn darkness. I tried to shake off the trepidation I had about not having thought of it being dark and needing a flashlight at the start of the race. It was starting prior to sunrise, after all, but the thought never occurred to me. The stars were beautiful and I even caught a couple of streaks of light in the sky from the Orionid meteor shower, which was pretty cool. Weather was just about perfect, in the upper 50s, with the promise of 60s once the sun was up.
As I stood amongst the crowd waiting to get things started, I reflected once more on my goals for the day: 1. Finish (preferably while still breathing, and having not done any irreparable damage to self or other race participants). 2. Finish with a pace of below 15min per mile. 3. Finish in under 3 hours total. After being herded like cattle to the starting area, and a few short mostly unintelligible announcements from one of the race organizers, the race started with a simple shout of “OK, go!” A short loop around the central start/finish area and into the wilderness we went, lit by the interspersed headlamps of other runners and the now lightening sky. There were 300 racers registered for this event, so, the early part of the run was pretty stacked up. I was perfectly fine with this as it played to my strength of mostly not running very fast. In the world of running, I’m definitely more aligned with the proverbial tortoise than the hare. This was just perfect .
I have been using my apple watch, iphone and mapmyrun app all through my training. It gives me audible cues every half-mile through my run, which is nice. I typically find the first half to be more challenging because even when I am just a short distance into it, if I am feeling tired or fatigued or breathing heavily, I am still moving away from the end. That is a mental challenge I often seem to deal with. I didn’t want to focus too much on the cues. I also wanted to take in the entire environment during the race so I opted to leave the earbuds back at the hotel. That ended up working to my advantage in the early portion of the race as I was able to just fall in with the rest of the runners and get a nice pace going.
Before I knew it, I was already around 5k into the run. The sun had crept up above the horizon, and I was just enjoying the scenery. The line of runners had started to spread out at this point so there were fewer slowdowns and the level of effort was increasing. We hit the first aid station and a good number of racers stopped there, but I had my trusty hand-held water bottle and forged ahead. Around a turn or two, and I found myself all alone for the first time. It was a bit surreal but very enjoyable. Several times along the way I felt I was not moving fast, but I didn’t really care as I was really trying to take in the surroundings and soak up the entire experience. Running–trail running in particular–is about more than just moving from point a to b in the fastest time possible. At least it is for me.
As I got close to the half-way point, my phone and running app gave out. The lack of signal in the canyon caused the battery to deplete much more quickly than normal. So I found myself without any feedback about how far I had gone or what was left. That definitely was not advantageous. It’s the equivalent of not eating anything the morning of Thanksgiving so that you can more completely gorge yourself at Thanksgiving dinner. You may suffer a little, but the promise of what is to come keeps you going, and knowing it’s just a little more time before you can start two-fisting those tasty bits keeps up your mental fortitude. With my feedback lost, things started to get more challenging.
Step and breath. Step and breath. Just keep trudging forward. The sun was shining. The canyon was beautiful. The scenery changing from one section to another. One moment you are moving through an arid environment, just scrub brush and small trees here and there, with a dirt trail winding through. After a bit, you look up and realize you are running the crest of some of the foothills in the canyon. You turn to glimpse a glorious view of the opposite canyon wall running (pun intended) for miles in either direction. Before you know it, you are running along the canyon wall, on a narrow trail, with a big drop off to the side. As much as I thought of just throwing myself off and rolling my way to finish, my aversion to pain prevented me from taking the plunge. Plus, I realized I was nowhere near the finish so rolling to the end was out of the question.
I passed through another aid station and continued on the journey. I knew I was beyond the midpoint and was happy about that because at this point I was definitely feeling it. I ended up running for a bit with a nice woman who happened to also be from Springfield. She was wearing a garmin watch and informed me were about 7.75 miles in (about 12 and a half kilometers). I was both happy to get some feedback but also a bit disheartened. I find that I (and I think a lot of people) have a tendency to overestimate their distance while running. So, I was glad to know I was beyond the midpoint, but had expected I was about a mile farther along. The mental struggle really started to kick in at this point.
Undaunted (ok, maybe slightly daunted), I kept pushing on. More beautiful scenery. More ups and downs. Just keep forward momentum. Stay within your limits. Don’t overdo it. Be the tortoise. Be THE tortoise. BE THE TORTOISE! Sometime later, a spry gent that had been cheering on runners earlier on the track came buzzing by announcing we were almost there. Only 2.75 miles to go. OK. That’s less than the 5k I run at home. Great. But it’s a goodly distance yet to go. Legs… tired… must… keep… going…
The last couple was a serious mental struggle. The kind of mental struggle when you are trying to think about how you would spend that $500 million powerball. Or when you go to that favorite restaurant that has so many options and you can’t decide what to order. Or when the server asks, “did anybody leave room for dessert?” The struggle was real! Right ankle in some discomfort. Hamstring feeling tight and underhappy about being utilized to such a degree. Uncertain about how far there was left to go. I wanted to just power through. Like powering through those veggies so you can have your dessert. But without knowing how much farther, it was a struggle to push through. Just get over this rise and run steady for at least 30 seconds, I’d tell myself. 1… 2… 3…. 16…. 17… just count the seconds… 21…. 22… what number was I on again? Awww crud. Then another hill… ok, walk a few and we’ll try that again. And again. Around this corner… and Again. Over this bridge here. I can hear people so it can’t be much more. And again. 1… 2… 3…
Then, a break in the trees. People. I hear them shouting… “Just one more turn. You’re almost there!” Resist the urge to punch…. too much energy to punch people. Keep going! All you have left. Then, like a light descending from the heavens…. the finish line! Who is that strange person pointing their phone at me? Why would anybody be recording me, I don’t know any of these people? Oh! It’s my wife! She’s going to take the usual ugly-running-face picture. NOT THIS TIME! This time it’s going to be a slightly-less-unattractive-but-still-questionable-running-face picture. But… everything hurts. How can I possibly smile? Because of a wife that loves you enough to make you feel like you can do anything, and shows you that she believes in you by being there at the end to take a picture. Because of friends that ask you what you’ve done to move yourself closer to your goals. Because of friends that run alongside you when it’s too hard to run on your own–and run behind you when you need to be pushed–or run ahead when you need something to reach for. Because of friends and family, some of whom you haven’t seen in years, who lift you up with encouraging words. How can I possibly smile at a time like this? How can I possibly not.
PostScript: I complete the race in 2:42:04, and with it met or exceeded all of the goals I had set. I never expected to come in anywhere close to that time. I just makes the entire event that much sweeter. Thanks again to everyone that encouraged me. I never expected there were that many who would even read that post, let alone offer such encouragement. You were with me in those tough spots, and I carried you with me through the finish line.