Everything That Downs Me Makes Me Want To Fly
The Rim Rock Marathon is a race with origins as a gate-to-gate 37K run, originally dreamed up by a handful of Mesa Monument Striders, in the 90s. I've recounted on other blog posts how I volunteered at the race before it became a marathon. As a new runner, I enjoyed volunteering but this was one race I swore I would never run, thinking "these people are out of their minds." My experience in the snow in 2009 at the marathon changed all that. The race eventually was in the hands of professional race directors, but circumstances led to them eventually giving up the race, and the race almost not happening this year. It was again a small handful of MMS members who took on keeping the race alive this year, just a few months prior to the traditional November race date.
This year, simply put, has been weird and inconsistent. That's in the context of running, and life in general. I had not been training for a marathon. Basically, I had the Imogene Pass Run for a long run over the past four months. That's it. I didn't want to miss Rim Rock, though, and initially chatted with my friend Andy about being a relay team when he posted a Facebook query about it. After all, this would be the sensible, logical thing for two folks not trained up for a marathon to do. It's funny, though-this conversation seemed to steer both of us toward what we were moved to do-running the marathon anyway, lack of training be damned, and being okay with whatever happened. Seven years of continuous running, experience on the course, and a strong desire and pull to be there were going to be what would get me through this year.
I signed up again, knowing that in all likelihood, this would be a long day for me out there. It's a tough race with a lot of climb at the beginning, some middle miles that are not as flat as everyone thinks, and flying down and off the Monument for the "beautiful" (AKA...car exhaust and fatigue) finish down Highway 340 and finally into the park in Fruita. A number of my friends had signed up for the relay division, including Angela, Kristin (who got injured and was played by Shannon on race day), Corey H, Emma-Leigh, Butch, Randee, and Keith. My friend Kim's husband Corey D was in for the full marathon, as was Andy, and a fella named Mike who would sometimes come to the Tuesday morning speed group I used to facilitate. After being on the receiving end of a lot of heckling, Marty became a late entry, ponying up a registration fee at packet pickup the day before the race. We'd done a 20-miler, 10 miles up Little Park Road, 10 miles back down, two weeks prior, and it had gone well enough for me that I was convinced I would not die at Rim Rock. I have a hard time not being competitive but that was reality-I wasn't going to run a PR today on two true long runs in four months. I could still run it the best I could, with what I had, and enjoy the day.
Which comes to that day. The weather was as spectacular as it had been in four prior runnings of this race. Last year had been plain miserable, with rain and snow blowing in sideways. Today, it was crisp, cold, and sunny. I, on the other hand, had not been spectacular, feeling drained and sick for much of the past week. I was a little better, though, by race morning. Some things that had weighed heavily on me in recent days, while far from perfect and totally resolved, were better. I was so glad to be toeing the line in any condition, and that the race was happening this year.
When we lined up to start, it was pretty sweet to see all the starters. The turnout was strong if one considered that the race almost didn't happen this year. I didn't recognize many of the people who were here from out-of-state or out-of-town, and saw a few Marathon Maniacs, 50 Staters, and Half-Fanatics for the relay. I'd donned my new INKnBURN holiday tech sweater (this is not shameless advertising, folks...the tech shirt kind of took on a life of its own as the race unfolded) and it was reflecting my attitude for the day I was feeling celebratory to be here, and needing to do things with color and flavor today.
The start was a little odd, with just kind of a "go" without an audible gunshot or horn. In that anti-climactic moment, I pitched forward with everyone else from the Gem And Mineral Society building on Monument Road, and began a familiar trip. Passing the ranger station at the east gate onto the Monument, I said "Good Morning, Rangers!" and got smiles and a good morning back. There were already a handful of women ahead of me, and Marty had blazed to the front of the pack, but with another guy hot on his tail, and Corey not far behind that guy. I just worked on getting established in my run, trying to play my edge and hit that sweet spot where I pushed as hard as I had any business doing today. This wasn't feeling great today. I hurt. But, unlike last year, when I just wanted to curl up and quit several times, this pain was making me feel alive today. I was stoked, and just thinking "Yeah, let's do this, run to Fruita, baby!"
I tried to stay on my friend Shannon for a bit. She was running the uphill for team WTF 1 (Welcome To Fruita, Where's The Finish, What the ....."). I also tried to stick close to Mike, who tends to be a bit faster than me, but was a good one for me to chase. Working our way toward the tunnel, I saw Marty, guy #2, and Corey disappear several switchbacks above. The front end of things looked like a real race might happen-they were close together and nobody seemed to be running away with anything. I still didn't feel good but I looked around, thinking "hot damn, here I am again. Sweet." It's pretty unlike me to be, well, content with knowing I wasn't going to be mixing it up for overall podium slots, and in all likelihood would run my slowest marathon ever today. I knew the level of my training and that kind of freed me up to enjoy things. I think this is probably a pretty healthy turn for me-turning off the extreme competitiveness for just one day.
Winding up, up, up, I was finally at the tunnel. There's something magical about running through in the dark, in near silence, with just the sound of feel slapping and echoing in the darkness. There was some guy breathing heavily and painfully in there, and I couldn't help it, it made me laugh. I tried to keep it to myself, though.
Continuing onward, I passed Cold Shivers point, and eventually reached the High Point on the Monument sign, crossing to the other lane to run over and give it a slap. The guy running near me did the same. Around now, I did the first of what would be many leapfrogs with another gal. As we continued along, she'd let out a "yow!" with each passing mile marker. I would wind up like a fast-pitch softball pitcher, slap each mile marker, and let out a "woohoo!" If she was ahead of me, I'd see her fist-pump in the air. She'd overtake me every time we hit an uphill, and I'd cruise past on most downhills. We were pushing each other, and this was just what I needed today. I could be a realist about my training but can't turn off the urge to race altogether. I would hear occasional comments at aid stations or from runners behind me about my attire for the day ("Is that a sweater? Are those jeans?") It was starting to amuse me because a lot of the conversation was coming from dudes.
Hitting the middle miles, I was running by a fella in Vibrams, neon green shorts, no shirt, and rocking a perfectly curled Snively Whiplash mustache. I still did not feel physically good at all, but there's just no way you can't enjoy yourself running next to that. My good friend Tom was working an aid station and I heard his familiar whoop as I approached. This is the cool thing, as a local-you get to see your friends, and the local businesses out, working the aid stations. Soon, I saw the mob scene at mile 12, which is where the relayers were to hand off. The gals I knew on relay teams hollered at me, and I heard a "no, those are DEFINITELY jeans" from yet another Dudeman. I still had strong notes of "Feel Like Crap" but with definite hints of "But It's A Beautiful Day And I'm Halfway Through With My Favorite Part Still To Come."
Shannon was up at the 13 mile aid station, looking for refreshments after passing off to Angela. She got me as I went past. When I saw this later, I was surprised to see that I didn't look as miserable as I'd felt.
The rest of the race sort of continued on as a pain-filled, fatigue-tinged, yet blissful blur. That gal and I kept leapfrogging and whooping through the mile markers. I eventually lost Snively Whiplash (I think he stopped for a bathroom break). I had long been following a guy named John who makes a great video of this race every year, and I finally caught up to him a little bit past the Visitor Center and downhill tunnel. We joked about how gimpy those of us in the marathon looked compared to the jackrabbits hammering through on fresh legs in the second half of the relay. I looked at my wristwatch (I'd been paying it little mind) and could see that I was probably on track for a personal worst (I have a PR of 3:29 on this course, and a PW the year before at 3:47), yet was delighted that it looked like it was still going to be a far better time than I had any business running today.
There had been no aid station at the bottom of the hill coming down from the tunnel, and this threw me off. I always planned to drink here, and part of my race strategy every year included the oddly missing aid station. I learned later that it was my fault-if I had read the course description on the website, I would have learned that there was indeed NOT an aid station scheduled in this spot this year. I hoped I wouldn't start bonking hard, and that there was still an aid station coming off the Monument.
Getting off the Monument, I was relieved that yes, there was an aid station here. I was getting pretty spent, and slammed a water and a Gatorade here. Leapfrog gal passed me one final time coming down the road. My kick was gone but this was somehow the least mentally torturous run I'd ever had on the 340 section of the race. There were so many relayers out here, and so it felt like we were all in this end-of-race pain together.
A relay bus went flying by to the finish, and I heard the heavy New Jersey accent before I saw Emma-Leigh, screaming out the window at me. She joked later that this was probably not something awesome for a school principal to be doing-exactly what she tells her students to not do-but hell, I dug it in the moment.
Turning into the park, I was just wanting to get this sucker done. Heading down the gravel path, I was surprised to hear bagpipes-yes, bagpipes, and then saw Bagpipe Lady playing a tune for me.
(taken later as I was watching other runners finish)
I hit the last corner for home. Not a banner day by time at all. But, hell, I knew that's not what I was going for today. Grand Junction to Fruita over the Colorado National Monument in 3:51 is something that I think was the best I had with what I had today, and fuel to train properly for a marathon this spring, not disrespecting the distance, and doing what needs to happen for a few months in order to run my best race possible.
I watched finishers come in, and checked out the results. It was a bonus that on what was not my best day, I'd snuck into third place in the 40-49 women, 11th lady overall, and gotten some groovy, hand-cut hardware for that. Keith and her teammate finished third out of 29 relay teams, and Angela and Shannon fourth. Emma-Leigh and Corey H got a podium as well, and it was a true joy to see Randee squealing that she'd never won anything before as she and Butch collected their co-ed Masters hardware. Marty had led up to about ten miles before the younger guy in second pushed past, and came in second overall. Corey D had dropped off that third but still finished rock-solid in fourth-pretty amazing if you consider he's a family practice resident who is working, well, all the time, and in a constantly sleep deprived state. I had no less than three women come up after the race, comment on my race attire, and ask if they could touch it. I don't know why this seemed perfectly normal...maybe because these are my peeps, and this WAS perfectly normal for the day-and let them touch my clothes.
Getting a hug from Kim Cole at awards
(those are real jeans now)
This was just such a cool day. If you know me, you know I hate the expression "It Is What It Is." True, sometimes you can't change certain facts and truths, but you can change your perspective and attitude for the best possible outcome. That's what today was about. Everything that kills me makes me feel alive. Gonna take that money, watch it burn, sink to the river the lessons I learned.