We drove all day Friday. Traffic was really bad and our GPS kept diverting us to quicker routes. I thought we'd never get there, but once we reached Virginia, the sites from my passenger window got really beautiful and made me a little more patient with the drive. We reached the Appalachian mountains and they were breathtaking. Jason and I also began to get a little silly after so long in the car, cracking ourselves up, and that was fun. I enjoyed seeing him so funny and relaxed, and he said the same of me.
We finally reached our hotel and checked in around 9:00p.m. (8:00p.m. central time) just in time to watch the city's fireworks display out of our hotel window. They had decided to have them early since it was supposed to rain on July 4. It was beautiful and fun to get to see them. We soon fell asleep after that, exhausted.
Saturday morning arrived quickly. I was nervous and excited. I'd seen pictures of the course and it looked beautiful, so I figured if it turned out to be a long, slow slog, at least I'd have a lot to admire. Jason and I had looked at last year's results on our long drive up, and the female winner the previous year had finished in 2:10. Jason said he thought I could do that, and he said I should run to win. So despite my apprehensions about running on these mountain trails, I decided I'd run as hard as I could and I'd give winning a shot. This race was tiny, so it was possible...
The race began on a gravel path, and I kept an eye on the females around me. The 5k started at the same time, so I really had no idea who I was up against until those runners turned around at the half way point. I could see a girl in a light blue tank and I was passed by a tall, muscular woman I named "Tippy Toes" because of the way she ran. She looked like the real deal and she passed me with ease. I kept my eyes on her for a while until we reached mile 4...the never ending descent. I'm not sure how long this thing was, but it was so steep I had to stop running and sort of squat-shimmy down it. I was afraid the rocks under my feet would move and I would fall, so I took it super slow and was passed by 5 people. It went on forever (FOOOOREEEEVVEEER) and my quads were screaming by the time it finally flattened out. Screaming. Begging for the end. When I finally reached the bottom, I could already feel the extreme muscle fatigue and a hint of the soreness that would come.
But I ran hard. And I caught all five runners who passed me. Two women and three men. We ran through endless creek beds and this part was really fun. And wet and muddy. Sometimes the trail didn't simply cross the creek, it was the creek. I finally gave up jumping around to avoid the deepest parts and just started plowing through them. I laughed out loud a few times because my splashes were so loud and clumsy. A guy in front of me continued bounding from one side to another, lightly tapping the water, and then he got to hear the herd of elephants (me) stomp right through the center. SPLASH SPLASH SPLASH! If anyone had been watching, I'm sure it was comical.
Despite the continual dips in the creek (it felt very Last of the Mohicans), the trails were in great shape and I was able to run much faster than I'd imagined. Not only did I catch those who had passed me on the never ending descent, I caught light blue tank and Tippy Toes. Tippy Toes had music playing from her phone, so every time I heard her music behind me, I knew I had to keep pushing. I started the get excited about what my finishing time would be as the miles flew by. I was pretty sure I'd get under 2 hours easily. And if I could get my quads to keep going, I'd stay ahead of all those gals I'd worked so hard to pass.
And then I saw it... the never ending climb. Surely I had to know this was coming. You can't go down without having to go back up. There was no running on this thing. It was so steep, I actually used my hands to steady myself a few times, my chin inches from the ground. On the never ending climb, I caught two more guys and spotted another female all in black up ahead.
By this point I was seriously worried about my legs. They weren't hurting, exactly, but there was a strange weak feeling, as if at any moment they were just going to quit working.
Finally... FINALLY I reached the top and a water stop. The volunteer gave me the most delicious Gatorade I'd ever tasted. I guzzled and ran on. We were at the top again and it was flat! There was a short out and back before we passed that water stop once more, and I was able to see how far in front of me the girl in black was. This part was fun because I saw several runners in front of me and behind. We all smiled and encouraged one another, thrilled to be finished with that climb, excited to be so close to the end.
I ran as hard as I could...a little surprised at my pace (8:30), closing the gap between myself and the girl in black. We were back on the gravel path and there was only one more steep climb before we reached the finish line. I finally caught her, and when I reached the last hill, I could see Jason at the top and hear him cheer for me. I was running as hard as my tired legs would let me, and the site of that finish line was beautiful. Everyone cheered as if I was some sort of celebrity - that's how they cheered for every runner. They immediately had results, and I learned I was the 4th female and 1st in my age group, finishing in 2:00:25. I got to pick out a cool moonshine jug as my award, and Jason and I tried some actual moonshine.
A local news anchor overheard Jason and I talking to the race director, and he asked if he could interview us, so we did that too. (It's always good to be on TV after drinking moonshine.)
I was completely spent, but it was one of the most fun, most beautiful, most challenging and most rewarding half marathons of our little series so far. Jason and I were both a little surprised at our performances out there. He finished in 1:27, and was 2nd overall. It was one of those experiences that shows me I'm a little tougher than I thought I'd be. It reminded me not to label the kind of runner I am too soon. Not to decide I'm not good at something, or how it will be until it's actually done. I was proud of myself for pushing so hard, for trying to win. This race experience reminded me of a quote I read from Pat Summitt:
"Winning is fun...Sure.
But winning is not the point.
WANTING to win is the point.
Never giving up is the point.
Never letting up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you've done is the point."
I love that. The wanting, the pushing, the risk involved in giving so much so early in the race...that is what made this particular race such a great experience for me. Am I paying for it? Man, my quads are killing me! I am so sore I can hardly walk normally, and I certainly can't run. I joked with Jason this morning that I was broken... but that I'd do it again. It was totally worth it.