I began running in my late teens. What started out as fast paced walking to combat the dreaded freshman fifteen gained on a college diet of take out and rainbow sprinkles with frozen yogurt…yes I meant to type it that way…turned into what has become a lifelong passion. Nearly twenty years, two kids, and several injuries later I still challenge myself at least three times a week to go faster,longer, harder, even as my body approaches the 40 year mark. I do it for me and only me, not to compete with anybody else. The pressures of organized road racing were something I had given up. I’d forced myself to finish bad races in bad conditions too many times. I even placed once, a feat that many runners never can say they did. I took a break from running to undergo IVF and gestate two babies, so when I went back I vowed to run just for the joy of it. I had less stamina and was slower than before. Indeed any race I was in could only now be with myself. My new self felt kind of sucky compared to the speed demon I was at 30.
Last summer I had surgery to repair internal and external defects from my pregnancy. Suddenly, like magic, my stamina came back and I was reaching treadmill speeds I hadn’t seen since my wedding. I found myself competing with strangers on the treads next to me. I was feeling fit again, fierce again, and most importantly fast again. However, I still had no desire to road race. Then I got a call from a friend begging me to do Hook Mountain. The last time I ran this early spring 13.1 miler with hills and inclines that should be illegal was five years ago. I had trained my friend for the race. It was her first half marathon, my fourth or fifth. Neither one of us had gone near that course since. There was less than a month to race day, I had promised myself no more races, “I’ve been running 6 milers the last couple of Saturdays, I’ll be ready.” I didn’t realize until I’d hung up what I had done. Did I just commit to running Hook Mountain again? Shit…I hate that race, replacing my Charmin with sandpaper would be more comfortable and convenient.
A promise is a promise however, and I’d accepted the challenge. Within three weeks my six milers became a seven, then a ten, until I ran almost twelve. Yes, I was ready and I reluctantly forked over the fifty dollar registration fee. I swear five years before it only cost twenty. (The money benefits our local Hospice, a worthy cause)
Race day, Sunday April 6th, was chilly, but the sun was bright and the conditions were dry. I was anxious to get moving. “Can they stop wasting time and just get started?” I said to my friend. As if on cue the bullhorn sounded and we were off. Over gravel and dirt until we got to the paved part of the course, we dodged rocks and potholes. “I’ll stay with you to mile two and a half,” I promised her. When the first mile clocked 10 minutes I reneged on that. That was just unacceptable to me. I left homegirl to her own devices and began sprinting to make up the time.
When a runner starts a race she is positive, she is determined, she has a time in her mind and she’s going to stick to it. Two hours was the deal I’d made with myself. I wore a long sleeve T shirt, my fave running shorts, and two sports bras, which is another post pregnancy running adjustment. It was the same exact outfit I’d been training in. It was comfortable for twelve miles, it will be fine for 13…or so I thought. The wind was relentless that morning and the hills seemed like they had multiplied since 2009. The first three miles were divine, then the wardrobe malfunction started. Suddenly my attached running shorts underpants began creeping up in a way they never had. Do I pick the wedgie? If I pick it, it will only come back. Then again, if I leave it what if my entire shorts go up and my ass cheeks are visible? Miles 4 and 5 I had a mental conversation with my underwear.
Mile 6 was almost all uphill. I stopped caring about my underwear. At that point my lady parts could have been hanging out for all I cared…I just wanted to get past those hills. Those stupid hills that came one after another without any kind of descent between them. I was fixated on the sweaty man next to me who was trying to pace and pass me. No way was I letting him get by. I knew if he got in front of me I’d be smelling his B.O. in that wind. He didn’t look very clean, it had escaped me that I probably didn’t by that point either. Mile 6 was spent trying to outrun McStinky.
Mile 7 started with a steep decline that turned into a lovely beach path, nice and flat only to be met at the end by another killer hill. Then mile 8 was back in the other direction pushing through the wind. March winds in April. I spent that mile singing Against the Wind in my brain, even though it was nowhere on my iPod.
Then that steep decline was a steep incline. Mile 9.5 and we had the two biggest hills of of the race. By this time I’d been in competition with an identically dressed couple. We’d been passing eachother on and off all along the beach and back. They gave up and walked. I gave up and walked. Everybody gave up and walked. At the top I got my mojo back and started to sprint. A man cheered me on. I thought he was one of those bionic people that already had finished. I wanted to spit at him.
I was approaching the 10 mile mark and assumed 2 hours had passed 2 hours ago. Then there was a clock. 1:34:36? I can still make my goal. I hauled ass and left the Bopsy Twins in the dust. Now I was fixated on a girl in red pants. She was suddenly my new best friend. I had to catch up to her. She looked nice, she was pacing well. If I could reach her she could pull me to the end and then maybe we could hang out and get pedicures. I reached her. I was next to her. I passed her. Thank you red pants girl. Then she passed me…and she took off. That bitch in the red pants…who wears red racing pants anyway?
I was at mile 11, there were two miles left. Now I didn’t care what time I finished I just wanted it over. I was in survival mode. I was praying to Abraham, Jesus, Buddha, Jehovah, Allah. One of them would lead me out of the gates of Hell I hoped. Then I saw it…the 13th mile marker. Suddenly I booked it. I was going to escape this Hell, like a bat flying out of it. I began to fly. People were looking at me. I knew what they were thinking, “Bitch, if you ran that fast the whole time you could have won.” I flew across the finish line 2:03:03. Just 00:00:01 slower than five years ago. 9:24 per mile. My friend finished just 4 minutes behind me.
The next day we texted about how awful we felt. How that 50 dollars could have been spent at the spa. How we longed to leave work early to soak in Epsom salts and sleep. Then we began making plans for the next race.