To my dearest Smokin’ Aces (aka, Baywatch, Bugs, Buttons, Dropbox, DTH, Mad Hatter, the Minimalist, Ray, Secret Weapon, Sexecutioner and Thumper):
As soon as I started unpacking tonight, my emotions got the best of me and my tear fest began. We’ve all expressed what a fabulous weekend it was. Despite a total deluge at the Start that lasted into the first few legs of our race, several navigational mishaps and many misadventures along the way, eventually the skies cleared and we ultimately took 2nd overall. We shared lots of laughs, made some new friends and created many memories. But what some of you may, or may not, know about me is that I need this race. I need the Smoky Mountain Relay, like I need to breathe. Last year I needed SMR for a host of different reasons than why I needed it now, but I need it none the less.
Last year I needed this race to learn about confidence in myself and in other people. This year I needed SMR to be reminded of just how far I’ve come in doing that. I needed to see for myself that I am not the same person who ran in the Smoky Mountains a year ago. Thank you, Aces, from the bottom of my heart, to each and every one of you, for being a part of that.
Smoky Mountain Relay, Then & Now:
This year I only ran 3 legs, versus 4 last year, because we were a full team of 12. I had to wait what felt like an eternity to run my first leg, in the dark, which is a stretch that I ran last year during sunset. We can blame poor navigation, resulting in a late arrival to the starting line, for that one. This year, Leg 11, was about setting the tone for a new race in 2013. It was about leaving last year where it belongs, behind me. This was a whole new race. And I was amped!
Leg 19 hasn’t changed a lick in the past year. Except maybe it got harder, if that’s possible. It’s still steep, rocky, and run in the pitch blackness of a Smoky Mountain night. But something has changed since a year ago…Me. Last year I ran Leg 19 thinking I had something to prove. This year I ran Leg 19, because I knew I could. I believed in my own abilities. Like I kept saying all weekend, “We all have our strengths. I know mine.” Today in the car, Ken was saying how I have an ability that is unlike most people. If you put me up against any of those super-fast guys on the road, they’ll smoke me; but put me up against any of those guys on Leg 19 and that margin decreases significantly. Hills level the playing field, thus my nickname. Last year, as I climbed Leg 19, I ran into mist and fog, which was symbolic of how unclear everything was in my life. This year, as I climbed, the stars were bright and beautiful, just like the still unknown future that I know lies ahead of me. This year I did that crazy hard climb 5 minutes faster than I did it last year, I’m not even sure how that happened other than knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I am a stronger person than I was a year ago. Ironically, the song playing on my ipod as I reached the top, with legs so fatigued I had to be practically carried to the van, was Alicia Keys’ Brand New Me.
I asked everyone last night at the house, what their favorite leg was that they ran this year. However, I didn’t answer my own question. 34. Without a doubt. I’d be willing to say that leg 34 is even harder than 19, or maybe it just feels that way to me after running both. But I don’t yet know SMR any other way. Leg 34 has an elevation change very similar to that of 19’s 2400 foot incline, but it’s over the course of slightly more than a mile, rather than 5.5 miles, leading me to believe that it’s close to a 20% grade up gravel and trail and leaves and roots. After the hard part was done, my legs were trashed and my Garmin died shortly thereafter. That’s when the fun started. Last year, I questioned where I was going every step of that leg. This year, I knew exactly where I was headed. I even got to point another runner in the right direction, just before I left him in the dust. Last year, I ran the steep downhill switchbacks feeling fearful and totally out of control, which mimicked my life at that point. This year, I ran with a smile on my face, feeling free and loving the momentum. Stretches of 34 were longer than I remember, but I loved every second of it, particularly running beside a bubbling brook that I eventually got to cross. Last year, I got completely lost on Leg 34, adding over a mile to my route. This year, I trusted my directions, trusted myself and stayed the course. Last year when Ken showed up to help drag my butt out of the woods I was surprised to see him and I didn’t think I’d even make it to the end. This year, Ken and Craig were waiting right where I expected them to be to run me out of the woods. I couldn’t have been happier to see them, not because I needed help, but to share that part of the leg with my friends, and I smiled as I yelled, “Let’s go, Boys.” Ken still had to help pull me up the last hill because my legs were so wasted, but unlike last year I accepted help happily, rather than feeling totally demoralized for needing it. Friends help each other, it’s just what they do.
Next year, I’m looking forward to turning Leg 34 over to Ken and trying out some new parts of the 214 mile course. But rest assured, I’ll still be crazy enough to tackle Leg 19 again.
With all of my reflections on the Smoky Mountain Relay, this letter doesn’t begin to cover all that we had to laugh about, most of which is not even appropriate to share in this forum. It’s interesting how runners can take something completely innocent, turn it around to be totally inappropriate and find it side-splittingly hilarious. Some things just never get old. We laughed about day old sandwiches, French Press coffee, timely birthday cards, Poops McGee and running serenades. We bonded by saving each other from Lymes disease, discussing the qualities of a good boyfriend, fending off the stench of Ken’s feet and sharing visors. Just in case anyone missed that, yes, I have a thing for guys in visors. Just call it one of my many quirks.
This morning, as we headed toward home with the sun coming up over the mountains, Ken’s playlist filled the van with Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise…” This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, and all of the Aces, past and present, are secure in my heart forever for being a part of it.
I think the theme of the weekend came when, in reference to what was happening in Boston, Alamar said it best, “Choose to love, People”. Yeah, I choose love.