I have this reoccurring dream where I am running, but I can’t move. Like I am running through water or mud and in the dream, I grab the ground and roots and trees and anything I can to propel myself forward.
Yesterday, I lived that dream at the 2012 Cross Timbers trail half marathon.
As I mentioned earlier on the blog, I signed up for this run as part of my resolution to not take running so seriously and to do fun new things. It was an amazing remedy for the symptoms — self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, self-pity — that have been plaguing me since my November marathon.
Because of some chaos at home (nothing unusual) I sleep only about three hours Friday night. It rains all night long. Wake up at 4 a.m., drink about 40 ounces of strong coffee — this and adrenaline gets me through the 2 hour (dark and drizzly) drive.
This will be my first trail race ever and it is going to be rainy and muddy. The difficult and unprecedented conditions mean no expectations. No pressure. Just go have fun. Perfect.
I love the trail race mentality compared to the road race. So low key. Get your number, line up, follow the little white flags. Seems simple enough. The race starts out on the road so runners can thin out according to speed.
I position myself behind the fastest two women and three high school boys who are holding a funny conversation. During the first 30 minutes or so of the trail it is all fun — people joking, we are moving along, though there is a heavy layer of mud. On a downhill very early on, the leading female tells me to go ahead. I had planned to follow her for a while, but I can’t physically go slow on the downhills at this point, so I pass her and fall in behind two guys.
There is a lot of climbing up and down hills, but I manage to stay upright. We go through the first aid station at 2.5 miles and I take some electrolytes in the form of some terrible liquid called Heed. At about 40 minutes in, one of the guys I am following looks back at me and goes: Have you run this before? And I go, No. And he says, It is a really difficult race and usually really slow.
So I have heard, I say. I know what he is trying to tell me: that I am going too fast and that I won’t last. Maybe so, but I need to follow someone; I am really scared of getting lost. I back off a little, knowing they are probably right, but I keep them in my sight.
Along the route there are short stretches where you can actually run and I run those at what I felt is a tempo pace (I had no watch, no mile markers, so I could only go by feel). Following the lead of others, I power walk the really steep uphills. Some of those I crawl, grabbing trees and roots in order to pull myself up. The downs are tricky — some I literally ski down, like I am on snow.
I don’t look up from the ground much, but at one point I glance out over the ledge and catch a great view of Lake Texoma. It is surreally gorgeous and I smile — I am so genuinely happy to be here! I begin passing some of the warriors such as Dallas runner Libby Jones who started the marathon version of this race a half-hour before us.
About an hour to an hour and a half in (still no concept of time) I am thrilled to see the frontrunners coming back through. The leader — a sinewy guy with a long red beard under a knit cap — embodies the competitive trail runner.
At the halfway rest station, there are all sorts of goodies — sodas, Gatorade, bananas, candy, cookies. I am loving trail running more and more. I try not to linger too long. As I shoot out of the tent, I see four or so girl runners who aren’t too far behind me. I tell them great job and tell myself You are OK. You don’t need to be first. If they catch you, there’s no shame in it.
Then, I have to add, But, since you happen to be in this position, you DO have to try your best to keep it.
Also at the turn around I see a familiar face, Hari Garimella, my friend from the White Rock Running Co-op, who also decided on a whim to come do this thing. I give him a big hug and take off.
So, the way back is trickier than the way out. The mud has gotten muddier and slippery-er and thicker. Keeping my shoes on becomes a problem. I have to try to tighten the laces or else I will be barefoot. I fall hard one time — I rise with a thick layer of mud covering my butt and the backs of my legs. From trying to catch myself, I’m wearing mud gloves. I try to wipe my hands on the trees but just wind up getting an added layer of damp moss.
On some of the uphills, I begin to doubt my stamina. My knee is throbbing. I feel really tired, but then something such as falling or sliding down a wall of mud, or having to reach down with my hands to pull my shoe from a mud puddle takes my mind off of my fatigue and pain.
A few times, I laugh out loud or yell Whoa! as I slide down the side of a hill — I really am just playing in the mud. One guy passes me and says, You know, we are mentally ill? I laugh and think, Well at least we have a fine ensemble of enablers to organize events for us. I also figure we are only moderately sick considering there are others in our midst doing 50 miles of this sh*t.
There are about two guys who pass me on the way back, but I pass a few people myself. One might be the buddy of the guy who implied I was starting too fast. The last hill is an absolute joke. It is so steep and my legs are so tired that I am bent at the waist, holding the ground with one hand and with the other hand, physically lifting my other leg. I’m talking to my legs at this point too: Come on legs, move! Please!
A guy beside me here, doing about the same thing, says: So close to the end and I can’t move. I leave him. It is the words close to the end that launches me up the rest of that hill. Sure enough, I hear bells and cheering in the clearing. Then I see the clock and the finish line — 2:49 is good for first overall female in the half. Not a typo — a 2:49 half got me a first place!
The race director congratulates me and gives me a wooden plaque and a sweatshirt. And I head into the tent where wonderful volunteers serve hot soup, drinks, burgers and all kinds of goodies. Covered head to toe in mud, barely able to walk, eating delicious potato soup, feeling victorious for the first in a long time … life is just about perfect in this moment.
There was one guy about a minute ahead of me that seemed to be easing through the whole race (taking photos of the lake and then taking off as I approached) turned out to be another WRRC friend, Steve Griffin. Trail racing must be his forte (this was only his second ever). He never even looked tired. As I was lounging, I saw another friend Dave Renfro come through the finish line, but he — the 50-mile race leader — was only half done. Dave ended up winning the 50 miler.
I don’t think I will ever forget this race. I know dreams are symbolic of life’s deeper issues, so what does it mean to live out a reoccurring dream? I’m not sure, but it must be meaningful and therapeutic.
Also, my gluteus maximus, quads, back, shoulders, hips and knees won’t forget it for several days. #$%^, Ouch!