Every other week insane runners have the opportunity to drag themselves up a massive incline, spiking heart rates, burning quadriceps, searing calves, gasping for breath (or, if you are like Pete, breathing like a not-to-distance freight train) and, with luck, not vomiting from the effort. This is done while trying to catch slower runners who have left the safety and tranquility of the parking earlier, and while being chased, like a wounded animal, by the masochists who have been able to complete the 3.3 mile, 1750 foot climb more quickly in previous outings.
We short-hand this little adventure "Towers", and I dread it. I have only journeyed up the full length of Towers, so called because the route takes Towers Road up to radio towers at the top, about 5 times including tonight. I am told that the torture lessens with time, but this will need to be proved to me. My experience is that I start well before most people even arrive at the base, run myself until I keel over gasping (well, that only happened my first, and fastest time) and then, at the steepest part, within half a mile of the finish, I am passed by a herd of gazelles who don't seem to be having any trouble trotting up the slope that makes me want to crawl into the woods and go fetal... mountain lions be damned.
This is not a fun experience for me. Again. I. Dread. It. For several days before my first ascent, I was seriously nervous. I feared humiliation all week, but the actual running of it was worse that I had expected. After a few outings, my pre-Towers panic has reduced to a number of hours rather than days. I still fear it.
I have several tricks that I use to motivate myself. The mental preparation takes a lot out of me. Today, I got help. It was amazing!
On my bike ride home from school, I started to think about my friend Christine. She changed my life when she asked if anyone wanted to run the 2009 Global Race for the Cure with her. I had only run one other race in my life, the 2006 Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Training and running that had been a lonely experience. I pretty much stopped running after that. However, I was not about to let Christine run this thing alone, so I signed up. After that, she kept suggesting that I join her at races. She got me out on my bike. Through her, or outings with her, I met many of my best friends in D.C. I learned how to race and have fun. Most importantly, I gained confidence in myself as an aspiring athlete.
Christine is running her first half-marathon on Saturday. I cannot tell you how much I wish I could be there for her. I have no doubt that she will obliterate my PR, but I am looking forward to that so that I have a new goal time for the half that I will run next month. She has always set a bar for me.
When I arrived home, I had a package from Christine. It was a fantastic surprise (and lucky cuz I almost never check my mail 2 days in a row as I did this week). She had already sent me the book "Running Through the Wall" to congratulate me on my first ultramarathon, and now she was sending along another gift. The package included a beautiful card made by her cousin in which she said, among other things, "it is great to see you out there pushing yourself." (and she also included a race calendar for EX2 Adventures, a race company of fantastic, supportive and fun folks)
What a gift to get on a Towers day! A reminder of how far I have come and that I need to keep getting out there and pushing myself... carefully, so I don't break... but steadily taking on new challenges and sharing new adventures.
So I went to the hill tonight. It took longer than ever for me to get to the top. I wanted to stop, but a little encouragement from my friend 1600 miles away would not allow me to give up on myself. I ran it.