Two friends said recently, and a third added agreement, that one of my weaknesses as a runner is I don’t take enough risks and/or push myself to capacity. I did a gut check to see if anything resonated; yes. I’ve played it safe for a long time and haven’t planned to race hard in a long time.
I toed the line at the Collegiate Peaks 25M race in Buena Vista. No matter what, I would push myself as hard as possible and not leave anything on the course.
It was strange to be at the race. A few years ago I registered but never made it to the start line. Back then I wasn’t in shape for a 25-mile trail race, emotionally or physically. Now things were different. Twenty-five miles isn’t a stretch anymore. I can pull 25 out of my back pocket any day of the week.
We milled around the starting line and everyone was surprised by the GO! We started running; I was cold and couldn’t feel my fingers or toes for the first 15 minutes. The little blocks of ice where my toes should have been made my gait interesting and I amused myself with thoughts of ice cube toes stuck at the ends of each foot.
Once my heart rate elevated to a sustained level and blood flow reached the ends of each appendage I took off my jacket and enjoyed the sun in a clear blue sky. The air was chilly but body heat would keep me warm for the remainder of the race.
At the first Aid Station I checked the time- one hour exactly for the 6 miles. If I could hold pace for the next hour I’d be at 13 miles around 2:10… I wondered if there was any room to negative split the course like I did in Boston.
The people at the Aid Stations were friendly as I passed through each one, waving at the friendly volunteers. I carried 2 liters of water and ate 4 gels along the way. My Garmin alarm went off every mile and on the half hour, which reminded me to eat at regular intervals.
At two hours I was at 12 miles. Things were looking good; time to open it up on the two-mile descent. I started to pass people; a single guy here, a few women there. At the crest of a hill two guys were jogging along; the one closest to me was tall and had shoulders like a linebacker. I called out “on your left” and got ready to pass. The guy glanced over his shoulder and his big Texan accent boomed out “Whoa there, bombing the course! Let’s see what you can do!” And with that he put his big meaty hand on my pack and gave me a shove.
I was too surprised to do anything except react to the burst of speed, so I flew down the trail even faster. My reply to him inside my head was “Hope you’re watching, because you won’t be seeing me again.”
For the next two miles I flew on the downs and let my feet skip over the terrain. Then it was three miles of ascent and I was at the top again. After cruising through the last Aid Station at mile 18 I looked up and saw a familiar gait. My Team Alpaca friend Nico was right in front of me.
I let that sink in for a minute and decided that the world had tilted on its axis; no way was I catching one of my incredibly fast Team Alpaca teammates. Running up behind him I called out “I’d know that runner anywhere!”
He said “I knew it was just a matter of time before you caught me.”
I didn’t know how he could have possibly guessed I’d catch him, when I was completely shocked. He said he’d try to hang with me for a bit as we hit the next descent. I thought that was a great idea; a mile later I realized he was nowhere to be seen.
At the end of all the hills there’s 3 miles of railroad grade flats. I suffered through the flats and tried to maintain pace, but it wasn’t easy. No one said racing is easy though, so I sucked it up and pushed a little harder.
I ran across the finish line and stumbled to a halt, where the sweet volunteer lady said “I’ll take the tab off your number when you catch your breath, honey.”
Several friends were waiting for me and I got hugs all around before heading straight to the bathroom to rinse the sunscreen and sweat from my eyes. On my way back to the finish line I paused to look at the record board; my name was being written in as the 2nd place finisher in my Age Group with a time of 3:56:19. Unbelievable.
Back outside I sank to the ground and stayed put for the next 20 minutes. I was slow moving for the rest of the day, but happy… very happy.
To the people that said I don’t push hard enough or take enough risks- I ran as hard as I possibly could and left everything on the course. Of that, I am proud.