I opened my eyes to see how much time I had left to sleep, but when the alarm clock read 6:00 I jumped. Oh my gosh! 6:00! The race started at 7 and I had just over an hour drive to get there!
I calmed myself down by reminding myself that, to a point, it didn’t matter what time I finished the race, as long as it was before the course closed, because I’d have my chip and it would log my time. Deep breaths.
I arrived about 15 minutes after the gun went off. Armed with my race bib, I crossed the starting line and followed the orange cones. All of the other runners were a couple of miles in front of me. I was going to have 18.6 miles of solitude on a race course. This was going to be weird.
Weirder yet, there were no volunteers telling me which way to go when I reached the first intersection. No signs, no cones, no persons. No other runners in sight. Shit.
I was lost. Thank goodness I woke up from that nightmare! The clock read 7:04, but it was Saturday. The day before the longest race of my life, to date. Wait, the race was Sunday, right? I went straight to my computer, unheard of without stopping to get a cup of coffee first, and pulled up the Rogue 30K website to make sure that the race was, in fact, on Sunday and not Saturday. It was…phew!
The night before the race I did what everybody does the night before a race – laid out my clothes, snacks, shoes, and hope. I went to bed early, mercifully sleeping through the night undisturbed by panicked I’m-lost-in-the-middle-of-the-race or I’m-naked-in-the-middle-of-the-race or I’m-late-for-the-race dreams. I thankfully made it to the car at 4:45.
The weather was great! 54 degrees, calm and not too humid. I stripped off my gloves and headwarmer and tossed them in the passenger seat, and wondered about taking off the tights under my shorts. I figured I would have time to strip down when I got there, but I watched the exterior temperature readout on my car drop steadily as I drove. By the time I got there, it was down to 38 degrees (little did I know it would be in the teens by the next day, and for a Texan that’s COLD). I was glad I’d kept the tights.
Because I had changed my Distance Challenge registration from the half track to the full track, I owed money when I picked up my packet on race day. The computers went down three times during my packet pick up, but it was still almost an hour before race time, so luckily I had plenty of time to get everything worked out, head back to the car to drop off my goodie bag, and get back inside the venue and out of the rapidly rising wind gusts and dropping temperatures. I checked the weather app on my phone. Wind gusts from 15 – 35 MPH and wind chill of 28. Brrr!
With gloves and headwarmer on, I entered the narrow chute, where I could see the flag for the pace group I was interested in way up ahead. The pace flags advertised marathon pace groups, and I wanted to stick with the 4:00 group. With the narrow chute, there was no way for me to reach the pace group I wanted until after the race started.
The gun went off and we shuffled toward the starting line, thankful to be moving in the cold. Finally out on the road, I jogged slightly faster than I knew I should to try and get within sight distance of my pace group. It took two miles, but I finally caught and passed them. Sometime around mile 10 I happened upon a gentleman with a GoPro strapped to his head, and a watch or some other contraption that let out a series of melodious beeps every few seconds. I didn’t know if it was a heart rate monitor or what, and I ran near him for awhile trying to puzzle out what was beeping. I never did figure it out, but he and I leapfrogged one another a few times during the next handful of miles.
As I mentioned, this was to be the longest race of my life to date. The course twisted and turned through neighborhoods and side streets and cross streets, and there were stretches that were actually very similar to my dream, where I couldn’t see any other runners and was very literally running my own race, a mantra I have to repeat to myself continually when I’m passed by other runners whose paces I know I can’t sustain. Luckily, unlike my dream, the course was well marked, and well manned!
Mile 13. The longest race I’d run before this had been a half marathon. I was about to break my own race-distance record. Then all that would be left would be to finish for an automatic PR. I was with other runners again, on a two lane street in Suburbia, USA. A woman in front of me stumbled over a stick in the road. I bent down on my way by to pick it up and fling it up into the grass. I picked up the stick and flung, and the stick immediately swung back toward me and smacked me in the face, being hung on one of my gloves. I wrestled the glove off my hand and disentangled it from the stick, all while still making reasonable forward progress, and used my bare hand to fling it away. This time, one of the branches had sneaked in and grabbed the cord to my headphones, tearing them out of my ears and pulling a gutteral, non-word forming curse from my throat. I tugged the offending branch free and threw the damned thing off to the side. No good deed goes unpunished!
The temperature had risen so I pulled my headband down and took my gloves off, stuffing them into my waistband, though I put them back on within a mile or so, after the sweat from my hands had dried. I passed the marker for Mile 16. I was on the only stretch of the race where I would pass by other runners going in the opposite direction on the return trip from a side loop in the course. My gloves were on, but my fingers were starting to go numb. I needed more fuel, so I tugged my left glove off and held it in my right hand as I fished around in the little inside the waistband pocket of my shorts for some Powerbar Gel Blasts. I stuffed a couple of the sugary, rubbery nuggets into my mouth and went to put on my glove…and it was gone! It was mile 17 and I was glad it was almost over, putting my right hand glove on my left hand to try and warm it up a little bit.
The pounding and distance and pace worked their evils into my knee joints and my eyes glazed over with the exhaustion of it all, and as I pushed into the wind, I finally passed the mile marker for Mile 18. I noticed on the periphery of my consciousness that I was passing runners going in the other direction. I saw one of them sidestep a small dark mass on the road, and glanced down, on autopilot. My glove! If I had dropped it anywhere else, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pass by it again! I darted into the oncoming racers (they were pretty spread out by this point in the game) and snatched my glove off the ground, triumphantly tugging it onto my now bare right hand, and grinned as I re-engaged for the home stretch.[pullquote]DISCLAIMER: The photos were provided as a bona-fide free download to runners, and were not screen-captured or otherwise obtained in such a manner as to infringe on the copyright of the photographer.[/pullquote]
I usually look pretty bad in race photos. I usually don’t know when I’m being photographed, but I happened to notice this photographer kneeling by the side of the road, and decided to show my happy. I can’t tell you at what point in the race this was. But check it out – I was happy!! I felt good, I ran a solid race, I beat my (conservative) goal time by nearly 15 full minutes, and I finished in front of the 4:00 pace group. That’s not to say that they didn’t pass me at some point, that we didn’t leapfrog a bit, and that I wasn’t struggling to keep up with them near the end. All of that happened, yes, but I came in front of them. And you know what? The flag bearer congratulated me at the end, and when I thanked him for being there and said that I wouldn’t have been able to hold the pace if they had not been there, he said, “I wasn’t going to let you fall behind.”
At the end of the race, my fingers were still numb. There were water jugs with cups at the finish line. After a bit of effort I was able to free a cup from it’s companions in their plastic sleeve, and get it under the spout. But I couldn’t depress the button to make the sweet hydrating liquid I so desperately wanted flow from the container. My fingers were too numb to control. I was tired and frustrated, and finally I managed to knuckle the button enough to get some water. I put my jacket back on, which had been wrapped around my waist since about mile 2, and stumbled inside for some breakfast tacos, pizza and a massage.
A proud finish at 2:45:37 scoots me up to 7th place in my age group for the distance challenge, and 18th female overall for the full track. There are 87 females still engaged in the challenge (we started with 128). I will be so pumped if I can hold onto this spot!