The day was crisp, with some sloppy snow on the ground, but nothing that would make running too treacherous. As we geared up in the Ridgefield elementary school gymnasium, Coach Josh gleefully told us that this was his favorite course of the series, because, "it has a lot of hills, especially a killer one right at the end." This didn't sound like very good news to me--the girl who dreads running in her hometown precisely because it has so many hills--but I reminded myself that this race really didn't matter in the scheme of things, and to just wait and see how it went.
From the start, I already knew who would be faster than me. R___, S___, L___, and M___ started right at the front of the pack, and A___--while he started midway back with the rest of us--was out of the gate before I had even taken my first three steps.
I spent the first two miles reminding myself that this was a 15k, not a 10k, and that I had better not take it out too fast, or I'd really be suffering at the end. Nor was it a half marathon, however, so I wasn't quite sure what pace I should be setting for myself. Not that I had any way of checking my literal pace, since I had left my Garmin watch back in my gym bag, opting for the tried and true non-GPS watch that I could at least be sure wouldn't lose battery power halfway through the run. (See my previous posts about the Garmin for a more completely explanation.) I just tried to keep track of how my body felt and how I was breathing, and if it seemed too labored, I backed off.
Of course, going up and down hills gets your heart going like nothing else. The whole course was just one hill after another: a little incline up, a steep drop down, a gradual never-ending up, another downhill. . . . It would have made for a fun roller-coaster ride!
Closing in on the halfway point (or what I assume was the halfway point; since the course wound up seeming like an out-and-back), I started seeing other runners speeding back in my direction. It was at this point I realized we were turning around--stupidly, I hadn't checked the course map before the race--and I started scoping out the runners for my teammates. As expected, R___ was one of the first women I saw speed by, followed by S___ and L___. I kept running along the weirdly squishy dirt trail--it felt sort of like running on a very firm sponge--wondering when I'd see M___ or A___. I must have missed A___ entirely, because by the time I saw M___, I could see the turnaround point, too. Geez, I thought she'd be way ahead of me, I thought to myself. I knew her half marathon pace, and it was much faster than anything I knew I would be running on this course. Nevertheless, I smiled, waved, and headed on toward the end of the dirt road.
A few miles later, after chatting with a man who knew one of my teammates and finally pulling ahead, I recognized M___'s knee-high socks and blue headband a few hundred meters in front of me. Am I going to catch her? I almost wanted to slow down, because I felt like if I was gaining on M___, I was probably going way too fast and would consequently fall to pieces in the last 5k. But I actually felt okay, especially since we were finally heading downhill, and there was simply no way I was running anywhere near 6:30/mile. So I ran behind her, and then with her, and then finally past her.
Over the last 5k, my mind essentially acted bipolar. One moment, I would be desperately wondering when the race would end, and the next I'd be thinking, "Hey, this isn't nearly that bad. You must be in better shape than you thought!" Finally, when I saw a "Slow--School Zone" sign, I knew the end was near. There was one blond ponytail bobbing a few hundred yards in front of me, and I knew now was the time. If I was going to catch her, I'd have to do it on this final hill. I closed the gap, and on the last turn, up a steep incline into the elementary school parking lot, I made it in front. Sprint to the finish and . . . oh my gosh, was that A___'s red hat still in the finishing corral? He had only finished two people in front of me! Incredible!
What was even more incredible was the enormous hug he gave me when I got out of the corral and onto the sidewalk. "Come here. You killed it!" he said disbelievingly.
That was probably the happiest reaction anyone has ever had for me at the end of a race. I felt like I had won something! And maybe I had. Maybe I had won the right to be on this awesome team of supportive runners. But really, I think that was just luck.
Results of this race:
Age Group Place
(F < 40)
13 / 341
10 / 50