Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Half-Marathon that Almost Wasn't

Several months ago the husband got this brilliant idea that maybe we could do the Tough Mudder in February. As the weeks ticked by I hounded him to register (his idea, his responsibility kinda thing) and he continually forgot. By January I told him we needed to sign up right then and there so we could plan out some solid training sessions to prepare for the insanity. He finally went online and discovered the entry fee was $150 or something ridiculous like that. Well, that kind of made up our minds for us. No Tough Mudder.

My ego would not be content to just forgo a winter race all together. When I only enter 2-3 events a year, I need to make sure I have something planned every few months to just ensure that I don't slack off or plateau. So I searched the local and regional race calendars and found a 21K trail race in Winder, GA, which is part of the Xterra racing series. If I wasn't going to crawl through mud under barbed wire, run through fire, or subject myself to electric shock therapy, I could at least challenge myself to a half-marathon trail race.

Then the 3-week funk bug hit the household and whoever wasn't coughing, snotting, puking, or laid up with a fever was taking care of someone else who was. My plan to hit some decent mileage in January went out the window as I had to focus on just getting and staying healthy and in the midst of that, training for a new job. I started to have my doubts about doing this race at all, and then I got an email informing me it had sold out. I knew I could not back out without some serious guilt.

The funny thing about doubt is that it creeps in even when it has no place being there. Despite lack of mileage (my longest run since Thanksgiving has been 8.5 miles), I had kept up with interval runs and spin classes. Still, come last week I was still worried that having gone over two months without moving on my feet for much more than an hour would leave me gassed out half-way through the trail race. I knew that if I was scheduled to work Friday night and/or Saturday morning, I'd try to give my entry up to someone on the wait list.

I wasn't scheduled to work Friday night or Saturday morning. Hooray! I could still run this thing!

Crap! I'd have to run this damn thing!

As I've mentioned before, it's hard to ignore when things fall into place in a certain way. This race was destined to be.
The only time I see the sun rise is before a race.

I managed to go to bed at 11:00 the night before and actually fall asleep before midnight. I didn't hit snooze on my alarm. I left with plenty of time to get gas for my car and for myself (we have the best gas station in all of Atlanta around the corner: they carry G1 "prime" in the cooler and Snickers Marathon bars among many other calorie-dense runner snacks). I made the 1-hour, 10-minute drive in just one hour flat without getting lost. I got to go to the bathroom TWICE before the race started (if you don't run longer races, just trust me, this is a big deal). My race outfit was perfect for conditions. I was ready.

My plan was to run without holding back or pushing too hard. The first part of that is a challenge because it seems like no matter what, once an air horn or gun goes off, my legs are like, "Oh shit! Go! Go! Go!" and I my brain has to force my muscles to just back the F off and relax for a bit. With a path that quickly narrowed down to a single-track bottleneck, I was forced to start at an uber-conservative pace until the field started to space itself out and it was safe to start making passes. The first two miles were the 2nd-most difficult part of the entire race. I felt like I was trotting in place and going nowhere, fast.

As we were able to gain some breathing room I was able to increase my pace from 10- to 9-minute miles. This felt comfortable as I was still working toward my "zone" and carefully picking my way around slower runners who didn't position themselves appropriately at the start (my #1 running pet peeve). Finally, by mile 5 I reached the point where no one was nipping at my heels and I wasn't forced to tailgate the person in front of me. I've never been much of a group runner so I really enjoy the part of the race where I have my eye on the next runner a little ways ahead but otherwise, there's no one else around me.

The miles were starting to tick by really quickly. I actually completely missed a couple of the mile markers. Thanks to having to pay attention to every footfall and navigating changing terrain. We hit this one section of trail designed for dirt-bikers with these huge jumps. To get over one of them, I had to practically pull my knee up to my ear to get my leg high enough to jump up.

The most difficult part of the race came toward the end, from miles 10.5 to 11.5, where we had to climb a monster of a hill one way, loop down through the woods, then come back up the other side of the same hill. The first time we saw it, a bunch of us cry out, "Crap!" The second time, it was more like, "F***!" I slowed to a trot but did not walk. More importantly, I did not puke. I hate puking.

A little after mile 12 I glanced at my watch and knew I was on target to finish around 1:50, which is more than I could have hoped for with my complete lack of trail training runs (by "lack" I mean "none"). We came out of the woods at the parking area where we started, right next to the reservoir where I first saw the sun come up. Now, the sun was high and shining bright over the water, creating a dream-like effect, making me forget for a moment that I just murdered my legs for 111 minutes.

My official time as 1:51 and change and I placed 2nd in my age group.

The race was truly a great experience and I feel like I want to do some more trail running and maybe find another race. I would train for the next one, though. Because as much as I tell myself during a race that I don't care if it hurts later, when later comes around, it hurts, and I care.

I really, really, really don't want to go work brunch today but alas, I must be on my way. Stiff and limping, but I'll do it.

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