Six years ago tonight, I sat in this same hotel, in a bed just like this one. I ordered spaghetti with grilled chicken, red pepper flakes and olive oil from room service, seeking to recreate the pre-run meal I’d grown accustomed to at home. It wasn’t on the menu, but the kitchen obliged. When it arrived, however, something in the chicken smelled like bleach. I ate cautiously, only until I felt like I had enough calories in me, and tossed the rest in the garbage. And, before bed, I successfully convinced the gentleman that delivered my room service to steal real half and half from the staff break room for me, lest I have to drink my coffee with the powdered cream offered in the room on race morning. I would not let anything, real or perceived, come between me and the personal record I’d spent 12 weeks training for.
I crossed the finish line of the 2012 Runner’s World with a five-minute PR, and the 2013 Hat Trick — a 5k, 10k and Half Marathon over two days — in my sites. I would complete that too, along with the Half Marathon in 2014 (another PR), and the 10k and Half Marathon in 2015 and 2016.
Tonight, I sit in front of the television watching a movie. I went out earlier for a proper dinner. Tomorrow will be race #40 on the year. I am not the same person that I was in 2012, when a half marathon was a daunting endeavor. In the last six years, I’ve run days through the Rocky Mountains; I’ve run marathons on three continents; I’ve run 100 miles without sleep. But I’ve always come back to where I feel like it all began. I’ve always come back to Bethlehem.
The 5k is the entry-level distance. The race that gets people off the couch. The race a friend talks you into over a third drink and it seems like a good idea. For those like me who prefer longer distances, the 5k hardly provides time to warm up before it’s over. For others, it’s the perfect distance to push for the entirety.
The 27 year old winner of this morning’s Runner’s World Grand Slam 5k crossed the finish line in 15:56. Before the clock ticked to 40:00 minutes, my 70 year old mother also crossed the finish line, first in her age group, my aunt and mother-in-law, just minutes behind her.
For some, the 5k is a challenge. An occasional reminder they are capable of difficult things; the burning lungs and quads quickly forgotten. And the reward, be it T-shirt or pint glass or medal, is always sweet; made sweeter by family.
Four races. Three Days. 26.2 total miles. A journey will culminate in Bethlehem.My girlfriends and I are just a few of the several hundred people gathered on a Friday afternoon for 3.8 trail miles in Bethelhem’s South Mountain Park. We will all complete the Grand Slam – 3.8 mile trail race, a 5k, a 10k and a half marathon over three days.
It’s over quickly; I’ve rarely run anything shorter than a half marathon all year. 3.8 miles feels like a warm-up. In a way, it is. Because just 16 hours after finishing the trail race, I will line up at the start of race #38.
The journey culminates in Bethelehem.
I entered Nicole’s house through the garage at 7:11am, 11 minutes after I’d planned to arrive, but with 19 minutes to spare on our 7:30am departure. Plenty of time, I knew, to use her bathroom; I’d change into my running sneakers on the way to Defiance Point, ten minutes away.
As I pinned my bib onto my right thigh, I watched Nicole roll her calves on an acupressure ball. On the couch, Nicole’s friend Jessie appeared completely ready for this, her first 50k.
I am calm to the point of near disorganization on my penultimate race weekend. Races #37-40 will come over three days at next weekend’s Runner’s World Grand Slam in Bethelehem, Pennsylvania.
To get here, I’ve completed 5 ultra-marathons, including the Defiance 50k: 3 50ks, 1 100k and 1 81 miler. Along with 7 full marathons; 3 races between 15 and 20 miles; a dozen half marathons; 7 10 and 15ks, a 10.8 miler, and a lone 5k in January.
I imagine this is how a veteran comedian feels. There are still nerves before the curtain goes up, but I know exactly what I’m supposed to do when it does.
“Mirabelle! Mirabelle!” I shouted and waved my arms, willing her to see me from the other side the street where she was closing in on her final half-marathon miles, at a strong, 7:21 per mile pace.
She grinned, confirming that she’d seen me. It would be hours before I reached the spot where she now was on the out-and-back course, as I was going twice the distance, and at a slower pace.
As the marathoners began to approach, I watch first for pace groups — groups of runners led by the Super Pacers, with their star placards announcing the group’s marathon finish time. 3:40. 3:50. 3:55. I began studying oncoming runners in earnest. Cathy had a 3:55 marathon PR, and she was trying for another one in Victoria.
Then, the blond pigtails I recognized, high on her head. “Cathy!” “Jenna!” “Cathy!” “Jenna!” We high fived over the double yellow lines in the center of the street, squeezing one another’s gloved hand before letting go to continue on our way. Cathy would finish in 3:53, a personal record.
“Jenna! Jenna!” They shouted from the right side of the finisher’s chute, just yards from the finish line. I cut sharply to the right to grab their hands. “Don’t stop,” they laughed, waving me on. “Just finish!” I too, laughed. “I don’t care!” (About my finish time.)
Mirabelle and Cathy were the only reason I was even at this race; the beautiful race weather the only reason I was running the full marathon, rather than the half I’d signed up for. And, with a 50k just six days away, I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything significant in Victoria.
Post-race brunch is filled with catching up (we’d not seen one another since we’d departed trail running camp in July), french fries and croque-madame, before I board the float plane for the 30 minute flight back to Seattle. Mirabelle and I promise to make plans to get together, as only 3 driving hours separate our Seattle and Vancouver homes. Cathy, I will see in December, where she will travel from Mississippi to pace me at the Kiawah Island Marathon, as I am training for a sub-4:00 finish, a 13-minute PR.
Some friends, I realize, plan shopping excursions as a reason to see one another. Mine plan race excursions.
Thirty-four races, and it’s just another Saturday. Just another 10k, and I run, not drive, to and from Magnuson Park in Seattle, turning the morning into 18 miles. There is nothing remarkable about Race 34, on a course I’ve run before. Except perhaps, the sky.
DNS. Did. Not. Start. Trail runners fear its dirty cousin, the DNF: Did. Not. Finish. But people rarely talk about the DNS which is, to me, the worse of the two by far. The DNF says, “I tried; I really tried and I fell short.” The DNS says, “I never even tried.” Put that way, it seems as though one would need a really, really good reason to DNS.
Mine was commute related. On Friday night, just 12 hours from the start of the Cle Elum Ridge 25k, I realized I was also registered for the Run/Walk for the Poor trail 13.1 mile in Lakewood, Washington. Two races, 103 miles apart, starting on the same day at the same time. Cle Elum, I knew, would be tough. Billed at nearly a 30k (despite the official “25k” listing) with 3700 feet of gain. The Run/Walk for the Poor would not only be 5 miles shorter, but I expected it would be nearly flat. In the end, it wasn’t the course difficulty that steered me away from Cle Elum and towards a DNS, though; it was the fact the race was further from my house.
I don’t know what I missed in Cle Elum. At Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, the clouds burned off early, and the trail stretched like my personal yellow brick road for just over 13 miles. What the race lacked in participants, it made up for in tranquility.
The Cle Elum results list me as a DNS. I never even tried. But in Lakewood, I finished 13 miles without regret. 33 races down, and I feel like I haven’t missed a thing.
One person’s fun run is another person’s race.
I signed up for the Beat the Blerch half marathon because someone in my 24,000 person online running group asked me if I was running it. Really, that’s all it took. I didn’t even know they’d be chocolate and bacon dipped marshmallows at the start. Or Doritos.The Blerch is the brainchild of comic artist and author, the Oatmeal. According to the Oatmeal, the Blerch is a “fat little cherub that follows me when I run.” It’s a creative manifestation of what runners know as “the wall,” that time late in a long race when your mind tricks you into thinking that you can’t go any further.
I don’t typically have a half marathon wall; not since I began running full marathons three years ago, and ultra-marathons the year after that. Thirteen miles is a fun run, a training run on any given day. But one person’s fun run is another person’s race.I crossed the finish line 11 minutes faster than last week’s half marathon, but still many minutes slower than a person record. In other words, just a fun run. Seconds after a volunteer placed a half-marathon medal around my neck, another runner approached me from behind. I recognized him as the person who’d run beside and behind me for the better part of the last 10 miles of the course.
“Thank you for being my pace bunny,” he said, referring to someone in the race that sets the pace for those around them. “This was my first half marathon. And this is much faster than I’ve ever run before. Thank you.”
That guy, I thought, had one hell of a race.
“I had you down for a 7:40 start, but it’s closer to 7:45, so I’m changing it.” Dena sat at the picnic table, while Rose pointed toward the paved trail.
“Go left, and when you get to the end of the pavement in a half mile, turn around and come back. It will be obvious. Then go until you reach the snack station and come back. That’s one lap; 13 miles.”There were more than 17,000 racers in the Disney marathon I completed in January. I had to get up at 3:30 am to be to the park around 4:00; to be in my start corral by 5:00am, to begin the race at 5:30am. Sharp.
There were less than 30 people in this Sporty Diva half, full and 50k. It was scheduled to start at 9am, but with temperatures forecast in the 90s, I got an email from Rose, the Race Director, letting me know I could start at 7:30am if I wanted to. It was 7:45am by the time I actually got onto the course.Despite the small crowd and the flat course, races like this are slow. There’s a lot of chit chat on the course. You learn people’s names. There is no pretense. If someone is having a rough day, they will say so. No one cares about their pace or where they are placing. I slow, turning into the picnic area serving as the start/finish. Rose and Dena are there, along with 4 other half-marathon finishers who started well before me. I read my finish time off my Garmin and Dena records it on her legal pad. There is no official race clock.
This was not a race. It was a training run with free food and friends. And a medal at the end.
The phrase “elevation profile” is meaningful to most trail runners. It refers to the rise and fall of a race course over the distance of that course. The elevation profile represents, in layman’s terms, how hilly the course is.
The Boston Marathon, with its famous “Newton hills” and infamous “Heartbreak Hill,” has 783 feet of gain over 26.2 miles. New York City, with its five bridge crossings, has 885 feet of gain. The Toro Trail Run is 3,750… in the half marathon.
It’s a rather hilly course.
Though cool in the shade at the start line, I made the last minute decision to ditch my long sleeved pullover behind a bush for safe keeping at Toro Park in Salinas, California, approximately 30 minutes east of Carmel. Everyone in the start area was in tank tops, and I thought maybe they knew something that I didn’t. Sure enough, I felt the sun bouncing off my sunscreen-free cheeks and nose inside of the first mile, and I would have heat rash where my sweat-soaked shorts rubbed against my legs by the time the race was over.
Did I mention this was a hilly course? When I posted this photo on Facebook, I got two responses.
The friend on the left is a road runner. On the right, a trail runner.
Just past the five mile mark, I was passed by the first and second place runners in the 30k race. These were men who’d started with me but, after a nearly 6-mile detour, we were now back on the same trail for the remainder of the race.
And the hills kept coming.
I crossed the finish line in the back third of the field, ten seconds behind the second place woman in the 30k (yes, a woman who completed 6 more miles than I did). Nonetheless, it was a good day, and I will remember it as the first race I completed as a forty year old.
And the hills.