Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eyes on the Prize

Back at North Country (wearing the hat we received) and ready to
take another hit in the a.m. Don't we look ready?
"Eyes, eyes, eyes," is the chant I kept repeating—sometimes out-loud—while running the North Country Marathon Run. This year I went down to 26.2 instead of the 50 mile Ultra in preparation for my first attempt at a 100 mile race. It's hard to write that without my heart-rate increasing with a panic. It's hard to sound completely sure as well, when yeah, I know, that is a really BIG number!

North Country Run was just too close in timing to run the 50 this year. I had followed my plan and I was not going to sabotage it. I had no other goal this year other than to:

walk the hills at a quick manageable pace,
 run when the trail would give it to me,
 stay comfortable,
 and above all … keep my eyes on the trail and try to avoid a threatening fall like last year's hematoma bamboozal

I kept my speed and tempo well in control and although it would have been nice to hit 5:10 at mile 25 like last year, I decided not to pace myself by time. The thought of "don't be a dick," entered my mind more than once. Meaning, don't push like I want to place while forgetting that this is a practice challenge for the race of my life—as it spans in the next month anyways. Nothing would matter if I hit the ground and can't run.

This was the first time I ran the marathon at North Country. I have complete the 50 twice and the half marathon once. This race felt different from the get-go. People were not as social as in the 50. I missed it within the first 2 miles. Maybe it's the speed that some people try to put out, but it's a trail so just chill.

I decided in the first mile to run by feel. 26.2 is still a marathon and in the woods on a trail, it's still a long voyage. I actually looked at my watch twice the entire race. Once to see why I was feeling "stuck" behind the conga line going too slow at 14 minute miles—which I passed to move on—and one other time to check the miles when a couple runners were talking about us being less than 8 miles from the finish, which I knew they had to be wrong. It was more like 10 plus! I really didn't want to think of numbers, but since they threw it out there, I was compelled to look. Numbers, numbers, numbers…

Within the first 4 miles my run buddy Evie hit the dirt. POOF! A reminder that this is a trippy ride. When I heard the action behind me I had flashbacks of last years' tumble. She hollered that she was alright. That would be her one and only fall that day. Although we started out together I lost her around the first aid station. I waited up and snacked practicing my ultra fueling—don't rush just fuel. When we set out again, I lost her beyond a bees' ground nest which stung me and the runners following. My shin was immediately hurting, and I thought of my son who was stung twice the previous week. I decided that if I was focusing on this pain then my IT band wouldn't be nagging me at all if it decided to be vocal—pretty much exactly what happened.

Further down, I stepped out of the conga line I was in to see how Evie was doing. My pace was feeling really good, but I wanted to make sure she wasn't in misery somewhere out there. She had settled in with the "party bus" led by a guy in a kilt who was blasting music thru the forest. She told me I didn't need to wait up. I ran with her to the next aid station and then kept my comfortable pace for the rest of the race.

When I broke away from other runners—that weren't talking anyways—I felt that familiar freedom I had the first time I ran the 50. I can't describe the joy I feel at these moments and the conversations in my head. And the conversations I have with God for that matter. "You know how much I need this. Just don't let me fall," I asked. Running is a spiritual event.

"Just don't excel," I told myself. "Eyes eyes, eyes on the trail … slow… control down the hills." I struck my foot around three times on roots, rocks and a very narrow path with moss. No falls, but again little reminders. Note: Narrow trails make the Hokas feel clumsy, but I wouldn't wear anything else for comfort.

I revisited locations I wiped-out last year after that giant hematoma impaired my leg. I recognized the changing forest sections I had ran through in previous years and felt reconnected with the fern forest, pines, hardwoods, and hills. In the last 11 miles, I was surprised I had so much juice left. I was cranking along and reeling runners in and saw some at aid stations who looked whipped. In the last 6, I continued to push thru at the same speed passing quite a few half marathoners and some marathoners as well. I actually felt like this wasn't fair. I have been training for a 100. Granted I had a long running week, no taper and needed 15 miles the next day, I still had a lot left in the tank this day.

One larger gentleman running in the half marathon stands out in my mind who was waiting at the top of a hill for his wife. As I cruised up to him he shouted, "You're awesome!" I replied, "YOU, are awesome!" That is the way it's suppose to be.

"Eyes, eyes. eyes." Keeping my vision on the trail. I thought for sure I would cry if I didn't fall this year. But instead, when I saw that last hill, I had a high. Down the hill and one last mile loop on a flatter trail. That was all I had to do now. And there was Dena and Brian waiting to cheer us on! People make the race! They would have their's tomorrow in another half marathon. What a journey they were in for!

I did excelerate in the final mini, mile loop. The only moment I would feel like my heart was pushing through my chest. "Come on Ultra, don't let go," I thought. Power to the head talk!

Final Score: 
Jill: 26.2
Falls: 0

Clockwise from top left: Showing the finisher medal because we are goofy | The age group award patch that also doubles as a beer tray | Evie checking the placements and she did excellent as well | The SWEET patch that now needs a special sweat shirt!
And to top it off, when I did check my time after retrieving a beer, catching up with Dena and Brian while cheering for more runners coming in—which we saw a lot of dirty knees and bodies from taking some spills on course—I learned that I had placed 2nd in my age group. 5:17 was worth 2nd place this year out of 12 contenders. It isn't lightening but it is the first placing I have ever had.

First time I ever age group placed. 2nd out of 12.
Kissing my reward patch and holding the enormous finisher medal.
My INKnBURN Flutter singlet must have given me some wings.
North Country is refreshed as my favorite race once more. It isn't the substantial array of goods you get to take home—that I am not even going to talk about. The after party can't even be compared to any other race I have ran. None could compete with it; burgers, veggie burgers, brats, rice, potatoes, corn, beer, dessert, and the list goes on…

The stand-out here is the trail beneath my feet where I get to relax and breath. It's the feeling I get at an over-stocked aid station (every 4 miles!) with friendly and helpful volunteers assisting runners. It's the camaraderie of trail runners (usually) and a race director listening and asking the mentor group and runners for their thoughts on improvements for the next year. It's welcoming.

The "people" blow this one out of the water and it feels like home.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have some Focused Drive to share? Leave me a message.