Monday, August 13, 2007

A good run

The light in the woods dimmed enough that darkness closed in on the sides, the rocks and roots in the trail appeared to smooth out into the dirt, and ambient sounds no longer belonged to their source but instead became a mysterious part of the night's presence. It is in these few precious moments of the gloaming that the effort of running fades away, and it seems that I, too, become part of the night—gliding over the trail with no starting point or destination. Simply in the moment.

That was somewhere around mile 2 of the Psycho Night 10K Trail Run on Friday, August 10. Over the first couple miles I had settled into this strange little pocket where I was quite alone. I had started the race with Tiffany and Stacy, and thought that maybe I should stay with them for the duration of the race, but somehow they drifted behind me early in the race and I hesitantly went on, figuring they'd catch me once I crashed on the many hills of the course. Once we hit the single track a few hundred yards into the race, the only person to pass me (permanently) was Barefoot Rick. I scampered past a group of three runners going downhill, but they easily passed me again on the next climb. I caught a few glimpses of them on longer straightways, but they'd always duck around a corner, and I made no effort to catch up. At one of the water stops, a pair of female runners stopped to get a drink and, in a rare moment of competitiveness, I accelerated into the woods and down the hill to put distance between us.

In the complete darkness of the Wyandotte Triangle, I ran up on the same three runners I'd been trailing during the first half of the race. One of them was without any kind of lighting device, and all three were moving slowly and cautiously along the narrow, winding trail, desperately searching the woods for flags to indicate they were still on course. I politely hinted that I would like to get past them, and they stepped aside to let me go. As I passed, I told them just to stay on the dirt trail and they'd be fine. I was feeling strong and strode out a little, sensing the group of runners dropping farther back behind me with every turn.

On the return trip, any desire to "race" that had crept into my mind faded away as my legs began to feel like they were running away with me on the rocky downhills (I knew a flat-out tumble downhill was eminent, but for some reason I managed to stay upright), and it became nearly impossible to fathom climbing the uphills—even as each step carried me closer to the top of each steep slope. I let my body go ahead of my mind, which was probably the best thing I could have done, since my mind was telling me, "Six weeks of training isn't enough to be able to run a 10K... You just had a baby 12 weeks ago... It's incredibly hot... Maybe you should stop and rest for a few minutes... Are you drinking enough?... What if you pass out... What if they have to carry you out of here?..."

Then a headlamp lit up the trees from behind me and I found myself racing again. The runner behind me closed the distance between us as I walked up a hill, so I kicked my legs into a half jog before the crest of the hill and then strode out as the terrain leveled out and sloped downward again increasing the distance again. The headlamp behind me flickered on a tree beside me and I noticed a sharp turn in the trail ahead. Knowing it was silly to be worrying about my placement when I was already bringing up the back of the pack, I accelerated around the corner and tried to disappear before the headlamp found my backside again. I never did see that headlamp again. Suddenly two people were walking in front of me, one leading a small deer (it was actually a weimaraner). They stepped aside for me to run past, then I popped out of the woods and onto the pavement for the final downhill stretch to the finish.

My husband was there at the finish line and he caught me and made me stop running (I guess he thought I'd run all the way back to the car if he didn't stop me). My time of 1:18 was about 12 minutes slower than last year, but I really wasn't concerned about the time. I was simply pleased with myself for having the balls to even attempt the run. Six weeks ago I really didn't think I would be able to gather up enough fitness to run the majority of the course, but I trained for it anyway—and, in the end, I was successful.

And, best of all, it was a good, soul-satisfying run.

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