This year I was determined to run 41 miles for my 40th. It would be tricky because of the injury that’s sidelined me for almost six weeks. Was it feasible to run that many miles in two days?
Because it was my birthday, my goal and my legs, I decided to make it a 3-day weekend of running. I told Matt, the massage therapist at Handled with Care Massage Therapy, what I wanted to do. His eyebrows might have lifted ever so slightly at the challenge but I don’t think he actually rolled his eyes or made a sound that could be interpreted as “you’re insane, woman”.
By Thursday night plans were in place for the first run of the weekend. Jeremy and I were meeting several hours before dawn to start our run from Boulder to Nederland. I’ve talked about doing this run for months; as he’s done this run at least eight times, he was excited to lead the way. We had to start early to make the 11:23am bus that would take us back to Boulder and still allow us enough time to run easy.
After a quick stop at the grocery for oranges and bacon bits, we pulled into the Eldorado Canyon parking lot. He reached into the backseat to grab our packs and tossed mine on my lap. Except it wasn’t mine. It was a brand new ultra running pack, the same one I had coveted online several weeks before. When I finally remembered to breathe again I opened the zippers and almost fell over. There were my favorite gu’s and bars and gels, Body Glide, Camelbak bite valves and an extra hydrolock. It was the best present ever.
I quickly switched the water bladder into the new pack and we headed out. The next two and a half hours passed quickly in the dark. We stopped a few times to turn off the headlamps and marvel at the warmth of the pre-dawn air and the stars. I know I had perma-grin; being out on the trail with a pack and good company is the best place in the world.
We stopped and stretched when legs got tight and ate more calories than I’ve ever, ever eaten on the trail in my entire life. Jeremy made it his mission of the day to get me from start to finish whole, healthy and fed; no bonking or injury allowed. At the end of 26 miles on the trail I felt great. The body was tired, the soul was happy and the legs were injury-free.
The following morning I had to make a choice. Would I run with the Saturday morning girls on a flat trail in Louisville that I have ambivalent feelings about? Would I race a St. Patrick’s Day 7.77k with Team Alpaca in Westminster less than 24 hours after doing a trail marathon? Or would I head out alone onto the trail, to go at my own pace with my new pack?
I’ve missed a lot of runs with Team Alpaca due to injury and made a split second decision to join them on race day. I decided to sit out the Erin Go Braugh 7.77k race but be there for the warm-up and cool-down, and cheer my friends at the finish line.
We met at the coffee shop and carpooled to the race. In the fifteen minutes it took us to get there they talked me into running the race with the caveat that I wouldn’t try to blow it out; I’d treat it as a tempo run and we’d line up together for the last run of my 3rd decade. Perfect.
With smiles and a light heart, we chatted through our warm-up and made our way to the start line. Jen and Nico would race hard, Dave wanted to pull out anything under a 7:00/mile pace, and I was hoping for something in the range of a 7:15-7:20/mile.
I ran hard but didn’t blow it all out. My legs felt surprisingly good during each of the 4.7 miles and when I rounded the last bend and sprinted down the finisher’s shoot, my three teammates clad in Team Alpaca shirt cheered and screamed my name.
Nico and Jen both placed first in their Age Group. Dave hit his goal time and I pulled in a healthy 7:17/mile pace; not bad for coming out of injury. We bought coffee and stuck around for the awards. I clicked pictures of Jen and Nico on the podium and Dave took a picture of me having a dance break on stage.
As we walked back to the car someone commented about how wonderful it was to be together again. They had missed me. I told them about waking up that morning and deciding that my running choice that morning was less about the run than it was about whom I wanted to be with. I had missed them terribly and chose to show up and cheer for my friends. As we made plans to run again the next morning, Nico said, “I have a theory about why you need to do Boston this year. I’ll tell you tomorrow on the run.”
We met at 6:30am Sunday morning. I just needed 8 more miles to get to 41, but 8 seemed too little for a warm Sunday morning of trail running and who can stand to do just 8? I could fit in 10 before I had to head back to my house to get ready for my family birthday party. Dave was starting early to get his 18 in before 8am; Jen and Nico would run 8 more after he and I peeled off.
We headed up Hogsback Ridge in the dim light. Dave was fighting a bad cold and felt awful; Jen, Nico and I were simply tired and not awake yet. We were quiet as we crunched along the trail. I remembered that Nico had a theory about me running Boston. He knew I had bailed and was going to try to talk me into going.
It went something like this: You’ve never loved racing on road for the sake of road racing. You’ve already qualified, you’re registered and chances are you’ll never try to qualify again. Jen and I are going and a race is always more about the people you’re with than about the PR or course. You already have a place to stay; you should just come and enjoy the adventure of getting to run Boston. Don’t race it, don’t hurt yourself. But be there with us because you can and we want you there.
And just like that, Boston stopped being a race that would hurt me. It became an experience that I could have with my friends because at this exact moment in time, I’m registered, I’m a runner, and we can be there together.
We ran for almost two hours that morning. At the turn-around point Jen and I led the way and somehow managed to drop Dave and Nico on the singletrack. We were caught up in our conversation and the miles rolled by easily.
Dave and I grabbed a cup of coffee after Nico and Jen headed back out, then I went home to get ready for the party. A quick tally of the days’ miles gave me 43 miles in the bag. My legs felt good after the easy miles on Friday, the tempo run on Saturday and Sunday’s nirvana on singletrack. My 4th decade has started with a bang; I can’t wait to see what comes next.