Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Town: The 2013 Other Half Marathon

I'm going back to my town
I won't be there for long
I'm going back to my town
Where I Can't Lose And I Can't Go Wrong

I'm going back to the city
Where everyone turns around
I'm going back to the city
Where my feet spin fast off the ground

I'm going back to my town
I need it oh so bad
I'm going back to my town
When I Leave Your Face I'll Be Sad

(another of several blog titles from The Samples, for whom I sold tour merchandise nearly 20 years ago. check out the live version on their Underwater People album...it's good stuff)

My running joke is always that my second home needs to be a teepee somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Moab, Utah. It's only a partial joke; this city was basically the birthplace of my running, and a place where I have always felt at home. The energy there always feels good, and it's kind of a spiritual home for me. I feel connected to the vastness and beauty of Moab; in that, whatever negative energy, emotions, or circumstances I might be feeling or experiencing melt away. I can't go wrong here; I've learned to race, had some great experiences, some challenging experiences, but have always been able to learn something new and grow from them.

The Other Half Marathon is a race that holds special significance for me. It was the one that started my running "career" back in 2007. It is less crowded than its larger, older counterpart, the Canyonlands Half Marathon, and the beauty plus the challenge of the late rollers on the course make it special. I don't do this thing half-assed; it holds the distinction of being the race where I ran my first, best, and worst half marathons. It's all about getting into a rhythm, and flowing down this course, which starts out gently rolling downhill, then opening up into a series of progressively larger hills in the second half of the race.

Some years, I've flowed along nicely on this course, getting a good handle on the "what goes up must come down" rhythm. In 2010 I ran a race that can best be described as the closest to a perfect race I've ever run, in which I ran hard, aggressively, and made the half marathon standard of sub-1:37 to qualify for an guaranteed entry into the New York City Marathon. The very next year, I turned around and ran a personal worst, twelve minutes slower than the year before. I nearly quit that race, feeling terrible for no particular reason. The rhythm of the hills...I didn't have it that year. I didn't quit, though, and got through it, even though it was pretty much a massacre of this sport we call running.

This year, I came into the race in the midst of a perfect storm of transitions. Some were coming, expected and positive, and others not so much. My "normal" has been turned on its head this past year, and in particular, the past few months. Running has become a precious commodity; I never know when I can squeeze in a run, and it's a sweet pleasure to be able to do so. I've felt pretty darn exhausted a lot of the time, and uncertain when entering races how things are going to go. Despite that, my results this fall have been the best I've had in several years. It hasn't been about the physical part of running; it's been about leaving uncertainty, doubt, sadness, hurt and every other negative feeling at the door, and trusting that I can still do what I've loved to do for seven years now. It's been about making myself stronger in pushing through pain, and knowing that if I can do it in a race I can do it anywhere in life. That feeling is exhilarating.

  I wasn't even sure how I was getting to Moab late in the week; in the barter deal of the century, my mechanic had taken my car on a road trip with his family to Las Vegas (8 passenger van, yo) in exchange for doing a ton of work for free for me. The day prior, I made arrangements with my friend Emma-Leigh, who had run the Chicago Marathon six days prior, to ride down together. En route to Moab, we drove the race course, talking Boston qualifications, training plans, and goals, and she decided that racing The Other Half would be a great idea. Fabulous...I love enabling other runners! Truth be told, she didn't need my help and would've done it anyway...but it's part of what I love about running. These are my peeps...it's not weird or odd with this bunch.

When we got to Moab, there were the usual hikes, hangouts, and meetups with friends from all over the region.

The evening prior ended with a small group of us hanging out, talking, and enjoying one another's company. I went to bed and slept like a log. For a girl who has had a lot of trouble with sleep over the past few years, this set the tone for the day.

We got ready, headed to the gravel parking lot, and rode up to the start. The air was damper than usual, but the temperature was nice. I was a weird ball of many emotions. Anxious that I wasn't going to perform well. Excited to be racing. Stressed about stuff back in GJ. Distracted by a difficult situation that was impossible to avoid this weekend. Motivated to not let it get the best of me, and channel it into a good race. And, finally, optimistic that I could do that. If there's a shred of optimism, there's a chance for things to go well.


Today, I was racing with a sport watch, no Garmin or other specialty timing devices. My plan was simple. Push hard early, manually calculate my mile splits as I ran, which would keep me from obsessing about instantaneous pace or other matters. I'd race, and race hard. I would fight to stay in it on the uphills, and attack on the downhills, which is the one strength I'd say I have as a runner. As we lined up, I greeted my friends Ilana and Kevin. We've got such a good history together in Moab and it was a joy to be at the start line with them here today. I joked around with other runners, a surprising number of whom were in costume or with beer tied to their person right up front. Soon, we were counted down, and off we went. It's on. Time to attack.

Going into the first mile, I ran like a bat out of hell...and by that, I mean a 40-year-old mother of four who was f'in tired all week but had energy to burn now. I chased out with the lead women, even though I knew I probably wouldn't be able to stay with them. Sometimes, you just go with it. What's the worst that will happen? I was running with reckless abandon and it felt terribly, fantastically perfect.

Near the end of the first mile, I chatted a bit with my friend Ernie, and we hit the end of that first mile in just about 7:00 on the nose. This was waaaaay too fast for me, so it was a good thing I did not have a Garmin to tell me that, and maybe slow me down unnecessarily. I kept hammering through the next few miles, rattling them all off in under 7:30. When I reached the end of a mile, I'd check my time, and calculate where I needed to be by the end of the next mile. The running math was coming along shockingly well, and I didn't think about it again until the time the next mile rolled along. This simple plan that came out of me not being able to find my Garmin was simply fabulous today.

By mile four, I could hear familiar breathing...sure enough, Ilana. She crept on past and I knew I'd gone out too fast, but I was not deterred. I told myself, hey, now you made a big cushion of time to play with. What's the worst that could happen? I continued on knowing that I was not going to be hitting 7:00 miles the rest of the way, but determined to keep up with this "mile by mile" approach, and make this day and this race something special.

Nobody passed me until we started hitting those rolling hills. Over the next few miles, I had two women move past me. I really, really wanted on the podium again and moving from 10th lady to 12th was not what I wanted, so I dug in more to keep it from happening again. I shortened up my stride, increased my cadence. I felt like I was really tiring, but every time I did my "mile by mile" check, I was not in nearly as bad of shape as I was feeling. I guess that's a good thing...if you're running your hardest, you're going to hurt really bad.

I kept looking around, filled with joy at the beauty of the red rocks around me, the sky, this road filled with people who all love to run. I thought of my friend Rachelle whose mother is in the end days of her fight with cancer, and has ALWAYS had a smile on her face when I've been around her. I thought of friend Judy whose daughter Katie lost that battle as well. My discomfort was nonexistent and silly in comparison. I pushed hard, kept looking around, and fighting to stay strong.

Coming through the biggest hills, I found myself approaching that magical spot where the Taiko Dan drummers pound on their instruments to the rhythm of the runners hitting the road. I remember how full of emotion my heart felt here in 2007 when I ran past the drummers. That emotion was here today, but different. It was like coming home, back to my town. I wouldn't be here for long but I was sure going to soak in every little moment of today's journey. I clapped vigorously to the rhythm of the drums before raising my thumbs to third eye, and bowing to the drummers as they played, mouthing "thank you" as I ran past. Now it was time to really kick it into high gear.

Heading down, down, down toward the turnoff to Sorrel River Ranch, I realized I'd made it through this whole thing on a pace that appeared to be much faster that last year, when I had podiumed in the 35-39 women. I didn't know how things would shake out this year, but I knew my result was going to be better than all but one run here..the one that happens to be my dream, perfect race three years ago. I kicked it into an even higher gear, feeling just about ready to die but knowing I was really ready to live in this moment.

Making the last few turns toward the finish, I could see the time clock and realized that, wow, I think I was going to come in to the finish in under 1:40. This only happened once prior, at that aforementioned Race Of Awesomeness. This wasn't that day, but then again, my circumstances coming into this race today were a LOT more challenging. I was emboldened...filled with positive emotion at what I was doing today. There was no good reason for this to be a strong race, but here it was. The finish line. And I crossed in under 1:40 for only the second time ever, finishing in 1:39:36. My friend Jeff Recker was announcing finishers, and I heard him call my name as I passed through. With that, I was finished, spent, nothing left. I'd given it my all, and then some. I was thrilled that I didn't let "stuff" hold me down, and had managed to use "stuff" to propel myself forward.

When it came time to check the results, I'd been joking that half of those dozen women in front of me would be in my age group. I'd done research and it's a funny bracket. Some years were incredibly difficult to make the podium...the age groups just under and over age 40 seem to be that way. This was another one of those years. Despite running three minutes faster than the year prior, when I finished third in my age group here, I'd failed to podium this year, finishing 5th woman out of 121 in my age group, and 12th gal overall in the race out of 750 or so.

I'm a competitive gal and it would be a lie if I said "I'm just happy with the great time!" But, I am looking at it as positive fuel in the fire to come back and run a PR next year. Getting older doesn't mean getting slower-just ask Ilana who won the Master's title when all was said and done. I wasn't crashing and burning after all-she'd just had a phenomenal race, and it was a thrill to see her do it.

One by one, my friends came in...Emma-Leigh running a PR just a week after her first marathon, Angela finally running her first half marathon in under 2 hours, and countless others. We joyfully drank our 3.2 beer, listened to the band play, and watched friends go up for awards, one by one. Our friend Ray was honored as one of the first 10 Year Club members at this 10th anniversary Other Half, and we all whooped and hollered accordingly.


  The weekend seemed to come to an end very quickly. It was sad to leave the faces of friends I don't see all the time, and sad to know the race was over and that it would be a year until the next incarnation of this special race. That's part of what makes it special though. I know I won't be there for long. None of us are here for long. We should make the best of those moments when we're together with the people we care about, doing the things we love. That's what happens when we come to Moab. We can't lose and we can't go wrong.