Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Half-Wit Half Marathon

"You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. 
 You are a spiritual being having a human experience." -Dr. Wayne Dyer

I have finally started talking about my 40th birthday idea.  Some days, I wonder if I can really do it.  Other days, I read or watch a story about someone like me (or someone who is struggling more than me) accomplishing an amazing feat and know anything is possible.  

As I see it, I have 2 steps in front of me right now.  I have to keep running, injury-free, and I have to get an outline of the plan for the 40 mile run together.  As much as I want it to be an individual endeavor, it's looking more like I will do it within the race environment.  It will just remove any external stressors I don't need.  I have a few good leads close to my birthday, so I'm going to follow-up and see where it goes.

In the meantime, I did a race last weekend.  It was the Half-Wit Half Marathon in Reading, PA.  Tough technical trails, much single track, loose rock (lots of it), steep ascents and descents (for the East Coast) and 128 stairs thrown in just for fun.  I went with Tim, who suggested it just a few days earlier.  I was scheduled for an 18-mile training run for an October 2nd marathon with my running partner, Jen, and a few other girls.  But, I love trails, I love road trips and I love the challenge.  I had been on this trail for a shorter night race a few months ago and had a great time.  So, I signed on.

We left at 4 am Sunday morning and the sunrise I was looking forward to was blocked by increasingly darker clouds as we drove away from NY.  My mind went into overdrive.  I have very few trail races in my legs and I knew how tough this one was going to be. But, in the rain, slippery rocks, extra mud?  I kept the fear away by surrendering and reminding myself it is all part of the journey.  

The start was good.  It began to rain just as we began to run, but then tapered off.  Tim hates it when I push our pace and he is much more experienced on the trails, so I hung in behind him, becoming mesmerized by his feet planting on the earth, hoping mine found the same safe spots to land.  We were good for a while, but, on the first steep incline, he told me he wasn't feeling well. Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 (I think) I got a little unfocused, was f-ing sick of running on jagged rocks that consistently caused an ankle to turn or a foot to torque, and I started to stumble.  Once, twice, and, before I could reign it in, I went down.  Luckily, I landed on soft ground and came up dirt-streaked and scratched.  I was able to breathe and regroup and we went on to run a bit more.  But, it became increasingly apparent that Tim was in no way able to really run this race.  We decelerated from walking hills and running everything else to a fast-paced hike to a slow walk.  His core temperature was way too high for a humid but cool cloudy day and he was feeling dizzy, obviously fighting an illness.  I was worried.  He told me to go on and run my race, and my mental battle began. As a couple, we have struggled with racing together, so we made a deal that, if we sign up for the same race, it is not contingent on the other person doing it.  If one person pulls out at the last minute, the other has the support to still go and do the race.  But, this was murky.  Because we were walking for so long, we had been passed by tons of people and everyone was so spread out, we were often alone for long periods of time.  I did not want to leave him out there for fear he would have to sit down or pass out and no one would be there right away.  So, I surrendered "my" race and continued to walk with him.  I knew we were at risk for missing the 9-mile cut off time.  I also knew there was a water stop at 9 so, if we made it in time and I was up for it, I'd leave him there and finish my run.  

Luckily, there was water at 8.3 miles and a group of people being driven back to the start/finish.  Tim decided to hop in with them and encouraged me to go on.  Physically, I was fine.  Mentally, I was done.  And a little fear crept in.  I had not navigated many trails on my own.  He was usually with me.  What if I missed a marker?  There were many other "what if's," but they don't matter because, before my brain could process, I heard the words "I'm going on" come out of my mouth.  I got my running legs back on the road leading away from the water stop, turned back into the trails, and said a little prayer of gratitude for Tim being encouraging and understanding.  There was a girl running in front of me, slower than my pace, but I hung in a little behind her just to get the feel of being out there (kind of) on my own.  Then, I went around her, on my own.

The race course was well marked and my confidence grew as I picked up the pace.  It grew even more as I began to see people ahead of me, people who had passed by as we were walking earlier.  I was surprised by my pace.  I still walked the steepest inclines, some almost impossible, half-way up, needing to lean on my bended knees just to catch my breath.  But, everywhere else I ran, lightly landing the descents, smiling the whole way down.

Judging mileage in the few (mostly unmarked) trail races I have done has caught me by surprise.  For me, what usually happens is that the first miles go by quickly and the middle ones drag.  Then, I completely lose sight of my distance.  Running in the trails has an almost out of body, dizzying effect on me.  It becomes meditative, but in a different way than the rhythm of the road.  At the same time, I am trying to both stay focused and relax. Both help me stay safe, but the combination creates such a zone that I have not found elsewhere.  The miles completely vanish.  I always think I have many more to go and, like in the past, was shocked when someone at a road crossing told me I only had 2.5 left.

Before the race, one of the organizers was talking about the course and running it with children.  Her comment was "oh, children run the trails like gazelles."  I had this experience once when I watched my 7 year old run in a trail ahead of me, doing it with such ease, skipping along, his whole body soft and free of tension, absorbing whatever the trail gave out.  Since that day, I pull up his image when I feel I am getting tense, thinking too much about the task at hand or fighting the terrain.  It helps me reconnect with the joy.  And those last 2.5 miles were joyous.  It was a long day, but reaching the finish at the top of the last hill, knowing I had pushed myself beyond more than one comfort zone felt great.  It was even worth the 3 days of post-race quad pain that I endured.  Note to self...downhills...must work on the downhills...


Running Diva Mom said...

so happy to be one of your first followers here!

shellyrm aka jogging stroller mama said...

Great race report! I love trail running too. Unfortunately most of my training is on the road or groomed trail but my running heart is on a technical single track.

Great job! Way to push through.