Monday, November 24, 2008

Monkey Business

Sunday morning I woke up next to a man eating a power bar. I turned over so he could tickle my back and thought about the day ahead. On this day the power bar-eating man and I would run the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon. I was looking forward to the challenge that would be 26.2 miles of hard hills, but as to the level of difficulty it would hold for me…I had no idea.

I eventually got myself out of bed and made my way into the kitchen in search of coffee. We’d spent the night at Jonathan’s house and he gave a hello and a high five from the living room as I passed. There was no coffee except from the previous night, so I warmed it up, peeled a banana, and made my way back into the bedroom to get dressed.

The morning turned out to be a lot colder than I’d thought. I’d originally planned to wear some shorts and a long sleeved shirt, but after stepping outside into the 27 degree chill, I amended this decision to include mid-calf tights. I still wasn’t sure I’d be warm enough, so after getting dressed, I borrowed one of Jason’s short sleeved shirts. With mittens and a headband to warm my ears, I was ready to go.

Jonathan drove us to the start line and we arrived in time for a quick trip to the bathrooms before starting our race. My toes and fingers had gone numb and my face ached from the cold. We jogged to the start and Jason gave me the three traditional good luck kisses plus one more for good measure. I got my Garmin ready and listened as the race director told us what precautions to take if we came upon a flying monkey.

The race began, I started my watch and was off. We ran across a field onto the paved road that would carry us through Percy Warner Park. We had a short climb and then a steep downhill, which I realized with dread I would be climbing during mile 23. Ear phones were not prohibited since the course was not certified and so once the crowd thinned out and I was running on my own, I began with a little Green Day and entered my zone.

By mile 2, I could feel my toes again and my face no longer ached. Once I was warm and comfortable, I began to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The trees formed a golden canopy above our heads, sending leaves showering down on us from time to time. My view of the park changed with every turn, showing me fields, mountains, valleys and other picturesque spots.

When approaching other runners I paused my ipod to chat with them for a moment. Many had run this race before and many had not. We shared marathon stories until a mean hill took our breath and one of us left the other. Around mile 8 I saw the front runner followed by Jason. I cheered and felt energized seeing how strong he looked.

As I ran, I felt the stresses and questions and challenges of the previous week slip away. I felt closer to God and reminded of who I am. For some reason the previous week had been filled with self-doubt and questions, and as I ran, my soul was refreshed by the showers of leaves, the cheers of my brother-in-law, and the sheer effort it took to climb each grueling hill.

Around mile 17 I caught up with Trent, the race director. He had just gotten off the phone with another race official and he told me the winner had just finished. I asked him for names and he said Ben Schneider had won 1st, with Chuck Engle coming in second. He told me the course record was broken by four men. I asked who they were and he wasn’t sure so he called his buddy back and inquired. I learned at mile 17 that my husband had finished 4th overall with a time of 2:40, and that he and four other guys had broken the course record by 5 minutes, setting a 16 minute lead on all other runners.

This information spurred me on, which was a good thing because the worse part of the course lay ahead. It was brutal. I caught several runners among these hills, and was caught by others I’d passed long ago. It was no longer a race of speed, but a race to see how much each runner had left.

At every other water stop, I took aid and munched gummy life savers I carried in a sandwich bag. There was not really a point in this race where one ran on a flat surface. Runners either climbed or ran downhill, both directions proving more difficult as the miles passed.

At mile 25 I heard the familiar shout belonging to Jonathan and saw him ahead with Jason. I passed my short sleeved shirt, mittens, and sandwich bag to Jonathan as Jason joined me for my remaining mile. Seeing him was the last boost I needed and we held a 9 minute pace as we talked about our races. When I reentered the field where the race had begun, I could hear the shouts of the spectators and supporters.

The clock read 4:21 as I passed underneath it, giving me a 7 minute personal record. I was handed some Gatorade and a wooden medal shaped like a monkey, and Jason and Jonathan met me there with hugs and congratulations.

Once I stopped running, the cold found me again and it wasn’t long before I was shivering. We headed back to the car for dry clothes, but once I got inside out of the wind, I knew it was going to be hard to get out. Jason and Jonathan were ready to go, however, and we were all hungry. We headed home, took blissfully hot showers, and headed to Olive Garden – my very favorite post marathon restaurant.

One day later, I am sore but too happy to mind. As I enter another week, I am uplifted by my memories of yesterday and my mind often wanders back to my peaceful jaunt through the hills of Tennessee. My body is tired, but my spirit is refreshed. My cup is filled to the brim as I dwell on those wonderful feelings that accompany meeting a challenge head on and conquering it.

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