This photo perfectly encapsulates my experience at the Rough Creek half marathon last Saturday.
Slogging up a hill with a stupid grin on my face. If I’m being honest, initially I wasn’t looking forward to this race. In fact, I hadn’t planned on signing up for it again but Endurance Buzz Adventures is putting on a ‘high 5 challenge’-finish all 5 of the races they put on in the year, win a nice shiny engraved cowbell. And while I enjoyed my experience at the race last year (it was my first half marathon), it was tough enough that I didn’t relish a repeat experience. Alas, I was lured by the prospect of actually getting something shiny at a finish line.
So I signed up and figured that it would be a wonderful opportunity to practice running on tired legs. Approximately 4-5 miles of the course is through something called the ‘rusty crown’-a series of steep ascents and declines, all while sliding on loose gravel. Last year the experience left my legs so thrashed that I didn’t run for a week afterwards-I would have plenty of tired leg practice. On top of that, unlike last year, I couldn’t take a break after this race. I am in the middle of my peak weeks leading up to the Ultra in November-this had to be just another training run.
Needless to say, I faced this race with a little trepidation. However, Jason and I showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for our 7:30 send off.
The day was overcast and seemed cooler than my first bought on this course last year but soon proved to be much muggier. We started at the same time (Jason was doing the 10K and I was doing the half marathon) but Jason soon pulled ahead and I settled into a steady rhythm as it seemed like every runner in the free world passed me.
Now, I may not be very fast, but I’ve got as much competitive instinct in me as the next person. Just like in every race, I had to keep myself from speeding up and trying to pull ahead of some of the people in front of me. First, that never gets me anywhere. Second, I knew that my strength lay in the hills we would encounter in a few miles and that I would catch up to people then. Third, this wasn’t a goal race which means I needed to keep myself steady and take it as easy as I could.
I was reminding myself of all of this when I stepped on some loose gravel and my ankle folded, bringing me down hard on the gravel road on one knee. A quarter mile into the race. On the flat road. With like 50 runners around me.
With some embarrassment I picked myself up and kept going and soon we were at the first aid station situated at the bottom of the crown. After grabbing a pickle I headed upwards with everyone else. Leading up to this race, I wondered how I would handle it-if a year of running and longer miles and more hills would make the crown any easier and I was pleased to see that it had.
I picked my way through the first round of the rusty crown at a steady rate, already pulling ahead of some of the people that had passed me earlier. After being spit out of the crown and into the bowl, I settled back into my steady groove and enjoyed the scenery. It really is such a beautiful area. Some of the race was spent alone and listening to music, some of it was spent running and chatting with a couple of other runners. A quick pit stop at the half way point aid station and then a couple of more miles had me back at the crown for round two.
And once again I found myself moving quickly past runners that were ahead of me or had passed me earlier. I may not be very fast, I may have no talent and very little experience but I have a masters degree in stubborn. Those hills, as much as they kick my ass, are also my jam.
By the time I slid down the last hill and met up with the first aid station again (which is also the last aid station), I was feeling surprisingly good. And feeling good about feeling good. Then I looked down at my watch and my mood sunk a little bit. At the half way point, I was on pace to take a few minutes off last years time but realized that wasn’t going to happen.
I admit I was a little bummed. Yes, this wasn’t a goal race. But I had run the race with much more ease than I had the last time I’d experienced it and had hoped that would show up in my times. For a split second I debated burning what was left in the tank and trying to shave off a few minutes but that passed quickly.
As I ran towards the finish, I realized the PR was in the fact that I was running, and fairly comfortably, not shuffling forward like I had last year. The PR was that this year, I got to be the person encouraging someone who was struggling on the hills. The PR was that I was running smarter and feeling better. The PR was that my foot wasn’t bothering me.
The PR was that as I came into the finish shoot, I was still running and still smiling and genuinely happy to be there -even though I came in 3 minutes slower than last year- because I knew I’d run a smart race.
And the REAL PR is that I got up the next day and ran 5 miles. They were the most pathetic 5 miles in existence but I did it and I’m only whimpering a little bit today.
Also, Jason-who never trains and just randomly shows up to races with me-placed 2nd in his age group and 6th overall. I’d be irritated if I weren’t so proud of him. :)