You know that part in the movie "Tombstone" where Doc tells Ringo, "I'm your huckleberry." Like he's the one Ringo is after. Like a challenge. "Come after me, if you dare."
Many times in a race I'll find someone ahead of me who seems to be just a tad faster, and I will try to hang on or pass them. I don't think it is so much out of competitiveness, although that certainly has its place, as much as having someone to chase who will drag me along and challenge my pace. Like the rabbit before the greyhounds. Like the carrot that keeps the horse moving forward. Like Ringo's huckleberry - his only worthy opponent.
It was this action of finding and chasing huckleberries in yesterday's marathon that spurred me on, providing something to think about other than my own untrained legs running 26.2 miles. It turned the marathon into a game and instead of racing my time, I was simply out finding huckleberries.
The Southern Tennessee Plunge Marathon had 80 runners. There was also a half marathon, so at the start line it didn't seem so sparse, but when the half-marathoners turned at mile 7.5, only a thin line of marathoners could be seen spread out along the road. I ran with my friend Sarah, for the first 7.5 miles. She was running her first half-marathon and as we chatted and ran, I did not feel like I was running a marathon at all.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day. A bit windy, but I did not mind. The temperature was perfect, starting around 43 degrees and getting up to 55 or so by the end of the race. The sky was a crisp, brilliant blue and as I ran, I could see the tips of tree leaves beginning to turn shades of red. After Sarah turned off, I turned on my ipod, found a comfortable pace and settled in. I fully expected to run out of steam sometime after mile 16 and so despite how good I felt, I tried to reign myself in. I needed to last. All I had for my training was a 12 miler, a 16 miler, and consistence in my weekly runs. That is good, but I wasn't sure it was enough to run a strong marathon.
There were two ladies and a man close to me. Two of them were taking walk breaks and so it wasn't long before I left them behind. I caught a man in a cap and another guy in a yellow shirt wearing a water pack on his back. After him, all I could see far in the distance was a blue shirt. So I made for the blue shirt.
Around mile 14 we turned and I began to have that wonderful sensation of heading back. This is one reason I like to look at the course map. Despite the fact that I had 12 miles left, that feeling of heading back made me feel like I was almost done. I still felt pretty good and I could see far ahead that two other runners were near the blue shirt. Slowly and steadily, I got closer.
I passed the first and dubbed him The Cyclist because he had on what appeared to be a tri top. Next was the bright yellow shirt. This was also an older man and as I passed him we looked at each other and said good morning. At this point I was close enough to Blue Shirt to realize she was a female! That's when I heard it. "I'm your huckleberry." Due to the smallness of this race, winning my age group was a possibility. Females had to be passed.
The thing about Blue Shirt was she looked really good. From behind she did not look tired and she had great legs. A long braid swung down her back as she made strong strides up each hill. I followed. The distance between us was not growing, but it was not shortening either. I wanted to catch her, but we were nearing mile 18 and I just wasn't sure. I fully expected to run out of steam any moment and to push now seemed sort of foolish.
I noticed, however, that she took longer at aid stations than I did and I decided to make my move on our next one. I had taken 3 Gu packets with me and I forced down my last one as we approached mile 18, took some sips of water and began to close in. As I got closer, I saw yet another female. I named her Tights. Now I had to take them both. At the next aid station, I made my move. They both stopped to drink their water as I grabbed mine, squeezed the top and slowed to a walk as I took two gulps and resumed running. I passed Tights first and we spoke briefly about the hills. Blue Shirt was right there. I ran up beside her and she said, "You must be feeling good." I said I was, but that I wasn't sure how long it would last. She said her goal was not to be last, and I said she shouldn't worry about that as she looked great. And she did. I knew when I passed her I had to hold a strong pace or she would catch back up. This was around mile 20.
I was still cautious about my pace. How long was I going to last? I had no more Gu (and I couldn't imagine eating anymore anyway), and a 10k. I imagined a 6 mile run with my morning girls and it seemed more doable. My quads were incredibly sore by this point, but it was nothing I couldn't run through. My left foot was aching and it seemed I'd aggravated a tendon, but I knew I could run through that as well.
And that's when I saw him. Green Shirt. He was wearing Vibram 5 fingers and I decided that right there was reason enough to take him. At the next aid station I almost ran into him as he stopped suddenly to eat an orange. I moved around him, grabbed a gatorade, took one sip and ran on. Down with Mr. Green Shirt.
When I reached mile 23 and still felt strong (ish), I quit holding back and quit listening to the voice of warning. And that's when I saw it. A yellow shirt. It was a long way off, but there was no mistaking it for a female. The tiny steps and all the swaying gave her away. In fact, her form was so terrible that I thought she must be a half-marathoner. Her head kept moving from side to side, her shoulders twisted in such a way that made my own form seem perfect (I twist when I run). I couldn't imagine running 26.2 miles with all that weaving, twisting and bobbing. There was only one thing for it. I had to catch and pass her. I had 2 miles to do so.
I ran an 8:48 mile to catch her, but I wasn't just chasing my last huckleberry. I was running for the 4 hour mark. I was running to shake off anyone who might be close behind. I ran because I knew my steam was running out. When I passed mile 25, I was tired. My legs were screaming, and my lack of training began whispering in my ear, but I only had 1 more mile and I was taking it down. There were no more huckleberries, except for the finish line.
I crossed in 4:03:17 as they called my name over the loud speakers. It was a little anti-climactic because no one was there, but I smiled anyway. I could not believe I had just run a 4:03 on no training. I was so thankful. I'd had so much fun! Despite all my chasing and pursuing those in front of me, I was still able to enjoy being out there, running on the most gorgeous first day of October. I was thankful to my God for getting me through it, thankful for the time out there with Him in His amazing creation. And I was excited! What did this mean for my ultra?! What might I be able to do with adequate training?! I put my medal around my neck and gulped down a cold bottle of water as I sat in the sunshine huddled against the wind.
Eventually Mary, mom's friend who had driven us there, found me and I got a jacket from the car and money for coffee. We waited for Mom, who ran in strong right under 5 hours. She was ecstatic having no idea she was capable of a sub 5. It was a wonderful day all around. The perfect day to be out finding huckleberries.