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Friday, June 7, 2013

On the Road - The Journey to the First Finish Line

So the final week...week 14 is behind me.  It did not exactly go as planned, but I had set my mind on two goals for the week - -  1) Finishing the Half Marathon and 2) Getting to RFK for a Soccer Game.  It ended up that I had two finish lines...this blog entry will capture the adventures in getting to the first one.  The second is a whole other story...and worthy of it's own smattering of words.

All of the books will tell you...there is no "perfect" race scenario and that you need to plan for what could happen while you are on your way.  This is completely true...before, during, and after the race.  On Wednesday night while doing strength training my throat started to hurt.  By Thursday AM...yep...another cold with an added party favor...a cough!!  I didn't do any walk/running leading up to Sunday...just stretching...sleeping...and hydrating.  I was NOT going to let a pesky cold keep me from my second fitness goal of the year.  And then it was Sunday AM...I was finally going to be on the road to get those 13.1 miles.  It was time for the North Face Half Marathon Endurance Challenge.

The Moments Before

Good Number
My trainer/coach/friend Stacy K and I were each doing our own thing.  My bib and number were different from everyone else's since I am at the end of the alphabet and they ran out of numbers.  I panicked initially because according to the bib I was to do 50 miles.  This was quickly clarified and then I was back to zen.  SK was getting her gear ready.  I was really quiet...completely in my head.  My mind was clear...there was no sense worrying about what I did not know was ahead of me.  I just told myself...if I face something that scares me...I need to just keep moving forward.  I could not waste time hesitating.  I have to finish.  I heard other people chatting about how it was their first half marathon on trails.  It was my first half marathon ever.  It was my first time on trails ever...well except for that one time on the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls...where my fear kept me from moving past the cliff and I turned around.  No matter what I faced...I knew I had to keep going.  I was not going to turn back.

All Smiles...Ready to Crush It!!

The Twists and Turns

I now understand why this particular event is called an endurance challenge...the entire race was on trails...gravel paths...dirt paths...with lots of tree roots and rocks to navigate around.  Most passage ways were wide enough for just one-way traffic.  The elevations were crazy.  For a clumsy city girl who had never been hiking...I was definitely not in my comfort zone.  I'm glad I didn't know what the road was going to contain...I'm not sure I would have done it.  When I fall asleep at night...there are still parts of the course that appear to me in dreams...and I wonder...will I ever get to the end?  There was one particular incline that I know will help me to run any hill on any Baltimore street during the marathon in October.  No hill on pavement will ever be like that one that extended and twisted up the terrain.  I should have taken a picture.  The first five miles plugged along...but something happened between mile 5 and mile 6.  My right knee started to really hurt...I think it was the uneven pathways that jostled things.  I could not run on it.  This was not so bad at first since many trails I was too afraid to run on for fear of falling off the side of the earth!!  The miles went on.  It was beautiful...but I spent most of my time looking down trying not to trip on anything. 

A sample view...stolen from the Race FB page.

Another sample view...stolen from the Race FB Page.

The Ticking Clock

My goal was just to finish...I kept looking at my watch...there was one point when I thought that we would finish before the race was shut down at 12:00pm...even after my knee started hurting.  But I did not want to get too hopeful.  I figured if we finished anytime after 12:00pm I would not get a I spent a lot of time working my way through that.  I just wanted to finish.  A medal is not what this is about.  I really can't thank SK enough for taking the trails at "joy speed".  I know that she would have finished the race at least an 2 hours (or more) faster if she was doing it on her own.  She kept track of the miles...cheering each time we got one more done.  Hearing her watch ring in a new mile was the best sound ever.  The time between the sounds kept getting longer and longer...I was slowing down.

The Trail that Never Ends

It went on an on.  And then it went on and on some more.  The pain got worse and worse.  I was gingerly stepping around rocks and tree roots.  Side stepping up and down steep inclines and declines.  It was crazy.  I kept moving forward.  I remember stopping for a few seconds only about twice.  I slipped in the mud only once.  I will never ever, ever forget this experience.  Not one single moment.  It was definitely the most difficult thing I have ever done physically.  It was horrendous and fantastic.  I talked to my Grandpa.  I talked to my Grandma.  I talked to Joel.  I talked to Chass.  I needed all the help I could get.  The time kept passing was 12:20pm...and I don't think I looked at my watch again.  The road before us seemed so long.   It was mostly flat...but I was still struggling.  The good news was...we were in no danger of being scooped up by the special bus that comes along to take you back to your car.  This was promising.  This was my fuel.  I knew that even if I didn't get a medal...I was going to finish.  I was going to get those 13.1 miles. 

The Beautiful Arch

It was finally within sight...almost 5 hours later...the red arch that I had been waiting to see.  I tried to run the last little bit...but my knee was just not going to let that happen.  It did not matter...I was going to second fitness goal of the year was about to be realized.  I came in next to last....that was about where I figured I would.  I'm not fast.  I know that.  But I always finish.

Almost There!!

I crossed!!
I could actually still High Five!!
Mission Accomplished!!

The Realization

So back to that trail that never seemed to end...there is a funny story about that.  At the last aide station, SK's watch registered 13 miles.  But the last aide station was not the end of the race.  There was no red arch in view...just a long gravel path that we needed to continue down.  The folks manning the station asked if perhaps we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.  We were pretty sure that we had not.  Fast forward to email comes across the wire thanking everybody for going the extra distance.  Yes...that is right...we did 14.6 miles on Sunday...not 13.1.  There was a glitch in the race calculations.  I'll take it!!  I'm that much closer to being ready to get those 26.2 miles in October.

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