This weekend I raced. Race probably isn’t the right word. I endured. Yeah, that fits. This weekend I endured. I endured two miles of running followed by sixteen miles of biking and then three point one miles of running again. I endured in under two hours, which was my goal.
I thought when I finished I would be excited and thrilled and I am. I also didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. And it was hard. It causes me to wonder if I could have done the Pocono Challenge, since the course I did was flat and the Poconos would have included hills and a kayaking event. Although, the kayaking would have given my legs a break, something they didn’t get from 8:05 until about 9:57 on Sunday morning. But the first and most overwhelming emotion I felt was gratitude and humility.
This race brought into sharp focus how much my family loves and supports me. Because it wasn’t just me that had four hours sleep the night before the race, and it wasn’t just me who was sleeping in what couldn’t be considered even a two star hotel. It was my son who left his first high school dance early without complaining so we could get into Seaside before midnight. It was my husband who got up early and went out in the dark to get me breakfast. It was my nephew who drove two hours on four hours sleep to compete with me, so I wouldn’t have to do it alone. It was my seven year old daughter who made the sign “You can do it” and every time I wavered just pointed to the sign.
Before the race, the one over riding emotion was fear. What the hell was I thinking? Who cares if I can do this? Never mind, I don’t want to be healthy anymore, pass the pizza and beer. People were nice, but overall were, well athletes and competitors. My nephew and I had two of the only mountain bikes in the rack. And only one pair of shoes each. I was pretty sure the night before I couldn’t do this. The day before I had talked myself back into it after having a mini freak out in the morning. The morning of, I felt like a poser. I took off my biking gloves because they felt obnoxious. I was rewarded with my usual two numb fingers for the rest of the day.
I got my number and my timing chip. Somebody wrote my number on my arms and my age on the back of my calves. Maybe they were afraid I was going to wander off. If lost, please return this contestant to the beach. I spent some time reading people’s calves and found that at least one other woman was older than I at forty eight. Winning my division by default left the building. She looked like she could come in first, second and third before I finished the first two miles. I checked out where the bikes were suppose to leave from, as I had read in an article for newbies. Apparently nobody wants to look like a newbie. I gave it away when I didn’t realize that that the red mark on the door handle of the port a potty meant it was occupied.
Some last minute instructions, no drafting, no ipods, yadda, yadda, yadda GO! Seriously, there was no gun. It was just, GO! Maybe they left the gun at home. Maybe they were newbies. People took off. My nephew and I looked at each other and started a nice comfy jog. Chatting away the first mile. We had twenty more to go and didn’t see the point in burning ourselves out. Besides this was mostly about finishing. Mostly. A small part of me was still hoping to find the super hero.
The first mile breezed by, the second we moved a little faster. I was looking forward to the bikes. I love biking and never seem to have the time anymore, so this was going to be great, right? Right!!!! Except there was a small snafu with my nephew’s helmet – he didn’t have one. So while he was off borrowing one, I started on the loop. By the time I got to the turn around of the first loop it occurred to me that he was never going to find a helmet. I started to pick up the pace. The woman’s calf ahead read forty eight. Damn, she was older than me. I started to push harder. I leaned forward in my mountain bike, which now felt as though I was chugging along with a trailer and zipped past her. Okay, maybe not zipped. I would have zipped if I had a rode bike. I pedaled hard past her, but I was fast! The ride seemed really long all of a sudden. The first seven miles are the hardest I reminded myself, which held true even for this. By the time I was half way down the second loop my legs felt fine and I was happy with the breeze. Maybe not pushing as hard as I could, but still going pretty strong, pumping away. My nephew surprised me by catching up as I looped the second time. He must have been seriously motoring to have made it. We chatted fantasy football and promised if we ever did this again we would borrow rode bikes.
And then the third loop was finished and we were running. The last brick I completed was about four weeks ago. I remember how thrilled I was that three miles after a sixteen mile hard ride on the bike felt fine. I remember feeling great and even as though I could have run further. So the feeling in my legs as I jogged up the ramp to the boardwalk was familiar. This was the last leg. I knew we were going faster than it felt. I knew from experience that the first mile wouldn’t be bad, the second mile would be hard but doable and the third mile would be okay. But that isn’t what happened. The first mile was okay, the first half of the second mile I began to fade. My stomach hurt and was threatening to share breakfast. We had to get to the tent and turn around by the cones. Except the tents kept coming, one after another like stinking mushrooms popping up. I swore I even saw some some heat around the top and I had the silly sensation of a mirage. I know, I can be pretty dramatic.
People were walking. Still pushing forward, but walking. Walking was okay. Hadn’t I said that I could always walk if I needed to? Hadn’t that been the plan for the Pocono Endurance Challenge? Yeah, that’s what I said, but I never meant it. Walking would mean that I hadn’t done it. Walking was cheating. Walking was failure. My nephew kept talking me through.
“You’ll regret it forever if you walk.”
“We’re in the homestretch.”
“We can always slow down, you’re running on pace.”
“Drop your arms, so your biceps aren’t stealing your energy.”
I didn’t want to walk, but I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I kept running. When I am running at home and I feel like quitting I push myself to go four more minutes. I didn’t have my phone, or any timer. I asked him to tell me when four minutes passed. I asked him not to lie, to try to make me believe it was only four minutes when it was really seven or ten. And he told me when four minutes was up and I asked for four more. In this way, I was able to chunk the last mile and a half and finish.
The finish line, which was a large blow up with a huge digital clock on the side came into view. Even then, I wasn’t positive I could make it. My family was cheering me on and my nephew said, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you ever saw in your life?”
“Well, next to my children.” I joked. See, I was joking!!! I wasn’t dead.
And then it was over. And we had done it in less than two hours which had been my goal, but I really didn’t think I could do it. I am still waiting for my splits, but I know that clock read 01:51:47 when I ran over the mat. And I know that I was more wiped out than I can remember. I wondered around feeling a little dazed, not exactly sure what to do with myself. I was vaguely aware that someone was getting a massage to my right and that there were donuts and bananas to my left. Somehow this seemed surreal. But the table full of water was my goal. I returned to the food table once, but realized what I was looking for was a bed or at least a seat. And then my family was there and we were just smiling and taking pictures and chatting.
Two hours later we were on the beach, enjoying a warm day. And I was, mostly normal again. Tired and head achy from lack of sleep and maybe still somewhat dehydrated but back to being me.
This is what I got out of the experience:
1. My family really loves me and I am so lucky. I hope I can carry that heightened awareness with me always and not take it for granted.
2. I can dig deep. I can reach inside me and find strength. It was my nephew, David, who gave me the constant encouragement, but it was me that kept my legs pumping. It was me who pushed forward.
3. Even though in the twenty first mile I was swearing off all races period, I know I am going to do it again. Maybe faster, maybe farther.
4. I can.