Last fall, while tapering for the Richmond Marathon, I laid out my 2012 goals. Among them was this line:
February 2012: First Ultra. With a friend. Awesome.
And it was, even when the pain and the doubt and the tears crept over me, it was a truly awesome day.
But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
I planned to run Holiday Lake with my friend Kelly and her husband Matt. Jimmy agreed to “crew” for us. Give the ample aid stations and mid-point drop bags, his was a pretty light work load (Case in point, after the race started, he took a long shower, ate breakfast, caught a movie, took a bike ride, made some phone calls, and met up with us for the last five mile stretch — lucky man).
We left Richmond Friday afternoon, and got to the 4H Center in time to eat dinner and secure a heated bunk. Thoroughly enjoyed hearing Dr. Horton’s tips & tricks for surviving one’s first ultra and seeing all the college kids ready to tackle such a run. When I was in college, I ran sporadically, usually in March as a futile attempt to get in shape for Spring Break. Only later did I become a Runner. If I had been exposed to this lifestyle when I was in school, would I have had the discipline and maturity to endure? I wonder.
The four of us turned in early, and after a lot of tossing and turning and precious little sleep, we awoke and got ready for the start. It was dark and cold, but dry when we started at 6:30 a.m
Everyone gathered under the banner, sang the National Anthem, and locked in their satellites…
and we were off….
The course is a 16+ mile loop, run clockwise to start, and counter clockwise to finish. Our plan was to go out slow and easy, keeping our pace in check and walking any daunting incline. Aid Stations are set every 4 miles, with ample food, water, and cheering volunteers. I’ve been nursing an injury since December, and was hoping and praying that I could get at least 20 miles under my belt before my right hip and ankle realized what I was doing to them.
The first loop was a blast. The aid stations appeared just when they should, and we clocked along in the 9 min/mi range. When I felt tired, I took a gel and bounced right back. My ankle hurt, but not terribly. My trail shoes (Brooks Pure Grit) were a dream, and handled the stream crossings and slick spots with ease. We chatted with friends and new acquaintances and rolled into the 1/2 way point around 2:40 – perfect. I felt great, and couldn’t believe that I had 16 miles on my legs. Now turn around and do it all again…
Things were OK for the next 8 miles. I was tiring, but holding my pace. I left my water bottle at the turn around, but a quick pit stop assured me that I was properly hydrated. I borrowed Matt’s bottle and was able to roll on. At one point I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe that we’d been running for 4 hours – it did not seem that long. I noted to the group when we hit 26.2 miles and took our first steps into ultra territory.
But between miles 24 and 28 the wheels started to come off. I slowed a bit, and my injured right leg was weakening quickly. As a result, I kept hitting my toes on roots and rocks and tumbling down. I fell three times hard. I was still running with Kelly and Matt when Jimmy found us about mile 27. We stuck together for another mile or so, but soon after leaving the last aid station, I lost it. The magnitude of the day and the distance overwhelmed me. I thought of Jimmy’s dad, and how much he would have wanted to be a part of this day, and I wept. I decided to drop back and walk a bit. I pulled myself together, but no sooner had a started to run when I kicked another rock. This time, instead of tripping forward, I twisted. My knee immediately seized up, and I couldn’t run another step. Heck, I almost couldn’t walk. And I still had 3 1/2 miles to go.
I hobbled along for 10 minutes, crying and muttering to Jimmy that this was not how it was supposed to end. Through it all, I remembered Dr. Horton’s words from the night before. Just keep moving forward. The important thing is finishing. I kept walking.
And like a miracle, my knee eased up. I started to run again, and was able to go on with a run/walk combo until we hit the road. 1/2 mile and I would be at the finish. Jimmy stayed by my side, and we traded running quotes to keep the motivation high. I let gravity pull me down the hill the to finish. Dr. Horton gave me a hug, and just like that, I was an official ultra-marathoner.
One day later, my knee and ankle are more swollen than I’ve ever seen them. I can’t really walk with bended joints. And yet, I’m already counting the days of recovery before I can do this again.
It took me 5 hours and 40 minutes to run Holiday Lake. I came into the day injured, which kept me from running to my potential, but in the end that did not prevent me from enjoying the experience. My father-in-law passed away four days before the race – I ran for him. I ran for my daughters, who will grow up with the legend of their grandfather and know that anything is possible.
I run, not for fitness, but for serenity. In the miles and hours on the road (or trail), I go into myself and find a greater understanding. What did I learn from Holiday Lake?
I learned that I can run far, and I can run through injury and pain.
I learned that ultras attract a great group of people.
I learned that a good conversation can make the miles melt away.
Looking at my fellow runners, I learned this is a lifestyle, and one that I want to (and can be) living for the next 30 years
Thank you to everyone for making this such a special day!