I’ve done the McKay Hollow Madness 25K two years in a row, now. I’m a much different runner in the second photo, than in the first. Between those two photos there have been two marathons, two 50Ks, and one 43-mile run. I’ve learned so much about running and about myself and yet…
I was still surprised at my run on Saturday.
Here’s the thing. Right now, I’m slower than I was this time last year. Once I started training for my marathon (almost immediately after that 2012 photo) and increasing my distances, my speed seemed to be sacrificed. Mainly because I stopped doing speed work, but also because I stopped caring about my speed.
BUT! I’m in better shape overall. I have a better endurance (the day of that race, that distance was the longest I had ever run) and I’m stronger than I was then. So, I thought – at best – I could finish in the same time that I did last year. 4:26. But, because I’m slower overall, I was leaning more towards a bit slower of a finish.
Then I was awoken at 3am by thunder the morning of the race. That course is my favorite, but it is filthy/sloppy/muddy on the DRIEST day in the BEST of conditions. Then, when 100+ people run it in front of you, it gets even worse. THEN, add rain? And “miserable” may be an understatement.
The actual storms passed before the start of the race, but it was still drizzling and wet and yucky and COLD. And I was considering backing out. My only “goal” before had been to MAYBE beat last year’s time. But add extra mud and water on the slick technical trails? And I’d be lucky to even finish under the time limit of 5 hours. Or so I thought.
But my friends were there, and several were doing this amazing race for the first time. So I sucked it up and decided my new goal would be to cross the finish-line in one piece. After about a third of a mile, one of the guys in our group said, “Okay. This has already stopped being fun.”
That was exactly the line of humor I needed. I cracked up. We were cold, wet, and not even a mile in and yes — I was already kind miserable. So, I needed that laugh and the commiseration of others in the same boat.
We got to the first downhill which is where I figured I’d lose a lot of time, trying not to break bones. And it was bad – don’t get me wrong. I ended up modifying my goal to the following: When I Fall, I Don’t Want To Take Anyone Down With Me. Because the trails were so muddy, you would just start sliding and not be able to stop, it was crazy.
But somewhere along the way I started getting a groove. And the “rain” was more of a foggy drizzle. So, I was cold, but it wasn’t pouring like it had been right before the race started. We made it to the 5-mile aid station at 1:30, and I had read the cutoff at the 10-mile aid station was 3 hours, so I started to panic a bit. I killed the next downhill section, as it’s one of my favorites, and made a friend for a bit on the flat part of the course in the middle. But then she and another running friend pulled ahead right before we got to the 10-mile station and I started feeling a bit down. I was afraid I was going to cut the 10-mile stop too close to the 3-hour mark. I was cold and was having trouble getting my shoes tied or my camelback nozzle open. I was hitting my typical middle-of-the-race blues. I don’t know why I always succumb to them because I always get past them, but still. Every longer race, somewhere in the middle I start feeling depressed.
I ended up rolling into the 10-mile aid stop at about 2:40 which was faster than I thought I’d make it. This gave me a bit of a confidence boost. Then I started thinking, Wait. I might be able to still beat last year’s time! And suddenly? My spirits were lifted and my drive was ignited.
I did the third leg of the course in 1:38. Last year it took me almost 2 hours to do that leg. And I can tell you EXACTLY why I was able to do it so much faster. BECAUSE I EMBRACED THE PUDDLES. I had been dodging puddles and opting to run around them in the mud. But I kept slipping! And the mud was caking on my shoes! So, I tried just running straight through the 100s of puddles and it was the key to my success. I didn’t slip as much, AND I kept my shoes cleaned off.
So, even though I was cold? I was moving at a much faster pace than I would have moved otherwise. And I felt good. I felt strong. I even passed two guys at the very end who told me later that they cursed me, and then sprinted past me before we got to the finish line because they, “Didn’t want to get chic’ed at the last minute.”
And there I was – beating my last year’s time – when hours before I had thought about just going home. I felt great at the end, finished strong, and I’m not even sore 24 hours later. (Last year my quads were so sore the next day I could barely walk.) I don’t know why I continue to let the self-doubt creep in. I know how much of this is mental, I’ve learned that lesson time and time again, and yet I still fall in to the same traps. I still get worked up because I’m still “slow” compared to the rest of the runners out there. I get stressed because halfway is always such a shitty place to be. I get upset because my hands are cold. I start to wish I had brought my chapstick.
100 different things cross my mind trying to bring me down at every race. And yet…YET…I still end up getting that Finish-Line High about 5K from the end of every long-distance race. I start to feel euphoric. I start to feel proud. I start to feel badass. I start to feel accomplished.
And every race I finish with a smile on my face and pride in my heart.
And every race it surprises me how low you can get, and still rise up to that high at the end.
As long as you don’t give up.