If you’ve read any of my posts this year, you know full well that 2016 has had kind of a rough start. January was hard. And as it drew to a close, I braced for February to be even more so. February followed through. And just because it didn’t think I’d seen enough, February went and threw an extra day at me. Thanks, Leap year.
As I sit on the precipice of March, I am quite certain it will prove itself to be challenging in its own right. But I am quite certain, I will prove to be stronger. I usually do.
Yesterday was my first race in a really long time. I had signed up for a 15k trail race back in the fall to give me a little focus through the winter months. I’m glad to say that it definitely helped me build my mileage and give me a sense of accomplishment during these weeks that have been a somewhat blurry funk. While I was fortunate enough to get some really beautiful days for some long runs (I made it all the way up to 10 whole miles…albeit slow miles) I never managed to get out on the trails like I had hoped. So I went into yesterday’s event with the motto that it wasn’t going to be a “race”, but rather an “accomplishment”.
When I awoke yesterday morning feeling well rested, I marveled at how unusual that is. I typically don’t sleep well the night before a race, so perhaps there is something to be said for the lack of stress when the pressure is off and the only expectation I have of myself is to go out and have fun.
As I dressed, I took 2 things into consideration. 1. The weather was expected to start cool but warm up to 60 degrees by the time we finished. And 2. Perhaps starting with a personal trainer at the gym on Thursday had been really bad timing. My quads were feeling it, but I managed to make my way down the stairs slowly and gather my necessary gear. I got a good luck text from B while I sat eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and drinking my coffee. A few minutes later, I kissed the kids goodbye and headed off to Castlewood.
When I arrived, I had to drive to the back of the park before I found open parking. I was sitting in the car checking my phone and changing into my shoes, for about 5 minutes before I finally realized that Steve was parked right next to me. He admitted he had even noticed my 140.6 magnet on the back of my car and thought, “Oh cool, an Ironman” but failed to recognize it was me. We can’t even blame being up early since this race has a late start time of 10am. We grabbed our bags and walked toward the Start/Finish area together. When we got there, he still needed to get his bib so he went off to do that and I joined Kristen and Gerry at a nice spot in the sun. As we stood in line for the port-a-potties, Kristen and I discussed our mutual goal of finishing this race and not requiring medical attention. Beyond that, we both hoped to finish in under 2 hours. I knew she would probably smash that, even with the muddy trail conditions due to a typical Midwestern snow storm that hit mid-week and was completely melted making the trails nice and sloppy.
Our group grew as others showed up, Tony, Wes, Roberto and Brian (Laiderman, to avoid confusion). Even Shane and Heather who weren’t racing had run the Al Foster trail over to say hi and bid us all a good race. I waved to several other familiar faces and I found myself smiling. A lot. It felt good. As race time drew nearer, we had begun asking “Where are Nick and Andrea?” but we all know that Nick runs on his own time frame, so we banked on the fact that Andrea would get them there before the gun went off. We were correct. As we all gathered and determined that we were primarily split between waves 6 and 7, we decided to all start together in 7, with the exception of Nick, Steve and Brain who are faster than the rest of us. I was just glad to have friends to run with, especially in the beginning. It made it feel less like a race, and more like a typical Saturday at Castlewood. When our turn came, it didn’t take long for our group to spread out. We basically ice-skated across the muddy field and came to Lone Wolf hill which I haven’t run in ages. I had been chatting with Andrea and we made it up most of the hill before we decided not to overdo it right off the bat. I had planned that this “race” might be more of a glorified hike. We got up to the bluff, veered right and carefully made our way down the switchbacks toward the creek. We ran along the creek and at about 2.5 miles we came up on the aid station. I grabbed a cup of water from Gerry, half expecting it to be Tequila. Fortunately, it went down smooth, it was water. We crossed the road and instead of taking Cardiac Hill we went right to go up the switchbacks. Thank God! It was shortly after that when I gave a quick glance over my shoulder and saw that several people had snuck in between me and Andrea. Rather than stop where there isn’t really room to do so, I just kept going and figured we would find each other somewhere on the course. The next few miles were a lot of sloppy ups and downs. At one point a young kid was running by me and I heard someone ask him how old he was. “12” he answered. The lady right in front of me said, “My 12 year old is at home asleep”. I responded, “My 13 year old is home watching my boys. She got the tougher job today.” We chatted some before she ultimately let me pass to run down the hill faster than she was comfortable with.
A little while later, as I made my way back up, my shoe had come untied, so as I stopped to make adjustments, a passing runner asked, “Everything ok?” And I realized it was Tim. So we walked up hill together, agreeing that neither of us had been on trails in way too long, but we couldn’t have asked for a better day.
About halfway through the race, with the temperature rising, the sun shining through the trees, the mud puddles splashing around me on trails where I have so many great memories, it occurred to me, this is like Homecoming, in the middle of winter. It was so perfect, I couldn’t stop smiling as I jumped over familiar roots and ran down hill with reckless abandon. My park was saying, “Welcome Home”.
With 6 miles down, I knew I would easily finish under the 2 hour goal I had set for myself. So I continued to enjoy myself. At 7 miles, I was almost sad that there were only a couple miles left. My quads were a different story, lamenting how much I had put them through in less than 48 hours. At about 8 miles, we came back around to the aid station Gerry was at. I tossed my gloves to him and said to a runner right over my shoulder, “It’s time to get wet!” and I plowed through the creek. The cold water felt good, but it made my already heavy shoes feel even heavier. I knew I didn’t have much farther to go, so I shook it off and just ran. I passed a lot of folks in that last mile. As we came around the field into the finish, I had my sights on the guys ahead of me, I made a push to pass him. I caught him, but I felt another guy off my other shoulder trying to catch me. I sped up. He sped up. I sped up again. He sped up again. He was a step in front of me. I took back the lead. It was a photo finish. But it was fun having that little bit of competition right at the very end. And because I am who I am, I wasn’t going to let some guy in a green headband come from behind and beat me. I said, “Nice race” and then I easily sauntered over to where Tony was standing, while green headband went hands to knees to catch his breath. I may have been smirking. (Read: I was definitely smirking)
A minute or so later I saw Nick heading toward the finish line to cheer Andrea in. I walked over with him. I said to him, “My face hurts from smiling.” A more than 9 mile trail race I had just completed and my face is what I noted was hurting. I’m a weirdo.
When Andrea crossed we walked over to the pavilion to enjoy the benefits of the post race party. We stood in line for our food and then found a spot at a picnic table in the sun. Other members of our clique eventually joined us. We ate, and drank, and laughed and caught up. And my face still hurt from smiling. As I sat there amidst my crew of friends that I haven’t seen nearly enough lately, it occurred to me that I felt like ME again. The fog had finally lifted. Even if only temporarily the hard had disappeared.
Everything about yesterday made me so happy. Being with friends that I love dearly in a place that feels like home with the sun shining on me while doing my favorite thing in the world. I was so full of gratitude I thought my heart might explode.
As things started to die down and we all had to go our separate directions, I decided to walk back to the car, rather than wait for Steve who was going to ride back with Brian. He had pulled his jeep up to the pavilion but was busy saying good-bye to, um, everyone. I knew exactly what would happen, and sure enough, just as I got back to the car, I heard cat calls from behind me. They had arrived at exactly the same time.
The three of us were single file driving out of the park. I honked at Dan, who wasn’t able to run but came to hang out with us anyway. And I left Castlewood, with the windows down, the sun shining, and my face hurting from smiling. I said softly to myself, “I needed this. I needed this so much.”
I arrived home to find B helping Silas make a “super suit” out of cardboard boxes, construction paper and toilet paper rolls. Everyone was in good spirits.
B asked, “How was it?”
“It was perfect.” I responded, “It was exactly what I needed.”
“That’s what I was hoping,” he said.
Today was another absolutely gorgeous day. This morning the kids wanted to get donuts and go to the park, how could I say no to that? There is this amazing new park just up the road from us and its set right in the middle of the woods. It’s so unbelievably cool. I sat on a bench with my coffee watching my kids play. I could feel my frustrations wanting to come back and anxiety over the week ahead trying to creep back in. No, I thought, just no. I lifted my face to the sun and thought, “In this moment, right now, things are good. I will not worry about what hasn’t happened yet, or the things I can’t do anything about. In this moment, things are good.”
A few minutes later, Ally came and sat with me. She was sharing her frustration with trying to plan out our day, but not getting much of a straight answer from those we were trying to plan with. And we were talking through some things.
I said to her, “Well, adjustments are hard.”
She said, “But I’m happy, I mean I’m glad to have this new (adjustment)”…
“I know,” I said, “but even good change is an adjustment. Even good change can be hard. It just takes time. That’s why it’s called ‘Growing pains’.”
She nodded in agreement and put her arm around my shoulders. We sat there in the sun, smiling. And I realized that all this smiling, has made my heart hurt a little less. It doesn’t mean March will be easy, but in this moment, right now, things are good. Things are very good.