What the hill?

Back in January, I signed up for a tune-up race as a part of my marathon training. I selected a half marathon based on it’s location and date. And before I knew it, the day was upon me. On Saturday, I woke up early. I ate an English muffin, drank a little coffee. I strapped on my Garmin watch and my iPhone and headed for Schramm State park.

When I had signed up, I assumed it was a nice scenic trail run. But a few weeks ago a coffee shop customer informed me it was that insane hill that Steve and I couldn’t even walk up, over and over and over again, a seemingly endless loop. When I had signed up, I knew about the hill, but I thought it would be one and done. I didn’t know. Saturday, I learned all too well. 

I started the race appalled that everyone was walking a tenth of a mile into the race. The hill was big, yes. It was waging war on my quads, no doubt. But I thought this was a run, not a walk. So I ran it. The first lap, then the second. On my third lap, I noticed maybe everyone was walking up the hill because your pace walking and running it isn’t that much different.

Your run is so incredibly slow, it’s like running through water waist-deep. So I too, walked. Not the whole hill: I made myself a goal of where I had to run to before I slowed to a walk (a sidewalk chalk encouragement that said “Go,” ironically). Then at the goat sign near the top of the hill, I had to resume running.

And then, there is this glorious downhill side. At first, at least, it was glorious. I felt like I was flying. I was wondering why no one was running it as fast as I was. Why was everyone seeming to slow themselves when gravity was on your side for this one short stint? So this loop continued for 24 laps: straight uphill, straight downhill, a short flat part where you cross over the mat and the water station.

It became a total battle of wills. Hearing the same volunteers with the same canned encouragements, seeing the same runners with the same running shirts and sweat stains: everything was running together. Even the felled tree began to annoy me. When volunteers would ask what lap I was on, I pretended I couldn’t hear them over my music. Who knew? Who cared anymore? I just wanted it to end. Even the once glorious downhill became monotonous, and I began to slow myself like the other runners, because I was losing the coordination to stop myself from falling if I sped too fast.

Around lap seven or so, a guy who I was always right near mentioned we were at the same pace. “You kept me motivated the first five laps,” he said. And I realized my hill running had inspired someone. “I’ll try to keep pace with you,” I said, a promise to myself more than to him. I needed a motivation not to quit. I needed someone to keep me accountable. It’s easy to quit without anyone to shame you out of it.

Spencer and I checked in with each other every now and then. I asked him between huffs if he was training for something. “Lincoln marathon in two weeks,” he answered. “I’m Seattle in two months,” I replied. “I’m just hoping it’s not as hilly as this is.”
“I don’t think there’s much that is,” he replied.
And I realized he was right.
A marathon is a feat.
But this also was a feat. And yes, it was only half the distance, but the conditions were tough. It wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Once I got to eight miles, I told Spencer this is where continuing to run becomes unnatural.
“Dig deep, I guess,” he said, half-assing the popular workout mantra.
I lost Spencer. I started walking before the “Go” sign which used to be where I would catch up to him on each lap. With each new lap, I thought, “I can’t let Spencer pass me.” And so, I didn’t. I dug deep, as much as I hated that phrase. I thought of a quote I liked better: Henry Ford’s, “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
I could finish. I could and I would.

So I did. I saw Spencer at the finish line and joked that I thought he had dropped out. We didn’t though, we dug deep and finished what we started. Not everyone did, however. Over 20% of the participants who signed up for the half marathon dropped down to doing half of the half marathon instead.

I was 15th place overall, 5th place out of the women’s category. Had I raced last year with the exact same time, I would have placed third for women. Steve brought the boys to greet me once I had finished. I was so happy to see them. Brandon has been wearing my medal today, asking if he can be in a race with me one day.

Yes, it was only half of what I have to do in two months, but it was a feat in itself. I am digging deep.

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