Nothing very interesting happened in the first 15 miles of the Golden Gate Dirty 30. I started off running with Julia and Meaghan at the back of the first wave. I ran/hiked steadily in the first uphill before turning down. My hips got sore descending way earlier than I had hoped, making me realize that “not running” turned out to be poor training for “running” a 50k.
I stayed steady and consistent refilling my Tailwind and moving through the beautiful course, I passed people on the ups and got passed on the downs. My calf said hello for a quick minute at mile 7.5 and then I slightly tweaked my ankle around mile 14.
Mile 15 was where I discovered that I had reached the distance that I had trained for. Or should I say the distance that remained after I was forced to stop training. This created a pang of disappointment at the moment, because I didn’t want it to be this way. I had made a training plan that I had kind of followed for a while, I had lined up some races that would ramp up my intensity towards race day, I lined up a race afterward to increase the importance of being ready to roll at this one.
Yet here I was, walking downhill. The intricacies of agility outside the reach of my subconscious. The mindless movement slowed down to deliberately processing each step to avoid an untimely demise. I plod down towards Aid Station 3 where I am met from behind by my friend Franny crushing her first 50k and from the front by Starbuck and KG who have been cheering along the course all morning. Their enthusiasm picked me up and keep me moving after a couple of half cooked potatoes.
The up hills are the only place where I have any strength left, so I try to dig in and give it a push leaving the pit stop. Even as I’m passing people on the steep sections, I quickly lose the ground as the trail turns down. My mojo is hurting as I stop to pee and realize I have become dehydrated. This surprised me at first as I have drank at least a gallon of Tailwind, but made sense when I considered the lethargy that I was meeting this challenge with. I retreat into my head as I plod forward wishing I had looked at the course map so that I knew the quickest way home.
I reach an intersection staffed by trail marshals and half jokingly ask them the fastest way back to the Red Barn. “Follow the pink ribbons,” he says confidently. “Liars!” I think as I double down on figuring out how to escape this self imposed suffering. Self imposed in the fact that I signed up for this race, and self imposed in the sense that there was nothing really wrong with me. It was just hard. And I didn’t want to try. I told myself that I had used up all of my “try” before the race. Putting the “try” in other aspects of life, but still hoping that experience and stubborness would get me through. At this point, I’m only stubborn enough not to quit.
Over the past few miles, as footsteps approached behind me I turned in a mix of hope and dread of seeing someone I knew. I wistfully wondered how Kaitlin was doing behind me. Hoping that her training had paid off and she was having a great day. The answer came shortly after I left the intersection as I heard them cheer for a more energetic runner and turned back to see her bright orange shirt coming towards me. I shuffled a little faster to try to not look so pitiful as she pulled up alongside me.
She had a smile on her face, was feeling good, and made me pick up my shuffle a bit to keep the pace. In response to her questions about how I was feeling I shrugged, told her I was fine, just tired and sore, and unmotivated. I told her I wanted to drop, and I would see her at the finish line.
As she ran off after a kiss, I was overwhelmed by a surge of emotion. Not pity this time, but pride and love. In her first 50k, she was absolutely crushing it. Running within her limits and pushing through the pain with a smile. As I gathered myself, I looked up and saw her disappearing on a switchback above me. At this moment I realized that if I didn’t pull myself together I was going to miss her at the finish line. Which is pretty much the only thing I had cared about since starting this race.
I looked inside the darkness that I had inhabited for the past few miles to see if I could find a light. I had spent the last mile drinking heavily and realized that some life had come back to me. I checked in with my legs and they were fine, just as they had been all day, and I knew what I lacked in downhill speed I could make up with climbing. Everyone else is hurting too, you’re just the only one being a baby about it. I checked in with my heart and like the Grinch on Christmas it had grown three sizes since Kaitlin left my side.
I didn’t know much about the course, but I know I needed to act on the small uphill in front of me, because even on fresh legs, she can crush me on the down.
So I went. Not fast, but faster than I had been. Moving with purpose up the trail and up the switchbacks that I knew wouldn’t last long enough to give me the edge I needed. I caught up to Kaitlin near the top of the hill at 22.7 then had the pleasure of running downhill with her into the mile 24 aid station. It was the most fun I had had in the race in hours and all had had to show for it was choked back tears from trying to tell her how I proud I was.
I’ve told many a story about the Mile 24 Aid Station from my race two years prior and the Rocky Mountain Runners were there again with an A+ showing. They grabbed our bottles 100m from the station, so that we were unimpeded as we ravaged the potatoes, pickles, pierogi, and otter pops offered to us. I made sure to drink a couple of extra cups of water to wash down the Tailwind as my pack was refilled for the coming climb up Windy Peak.
As we left, KP pulled slightly ahead as I maintained a slight kick to my step that I would have bet against existing just an hour earlier. We cruised down until we met up with KG and Starbuck again who ran with us to the base of Windy Peak before peeling off to race to see their ladies finish.
We turned uphill and I knew the only way I would be able to share her finish would be to put a gap on her during the climb. I pushed as hard as I could; power hiking towards the top. I came upon a few runners who had passed me long ago and who I thought were long gone and by the looks on their faces thought I was in their dust as well. I slogged the two miles and 1200′ of gain breathing heavy and hoping that the now cloudy sky wasn’t going to rain on this parade.
A quick turn at the top brought me to a sustained technical downhill that identified I had put a quarter mile between me and Kaitlin. Everyone I had passed quickly returned the favor as as I tip toed through the crevices, expecting the orange shirt to be the next to go by. When I broke free of the rocks and the trail opened up a bit, I stayed up on plane inching towards the last climb.
I didn’t have much left in my legs, but I was impressed that I was still moving at an accelerated pace up the final hill. I turned down towards the finish to some of the smoothest trail of the day. I was able to keep a run going, but kept checking my shoulder to look for the inevitable.
With less than a quarter mile to go, I see the bright orange bumble bee round a bend behind me and lock into step with me. Her smile radiates through her labored breathing as we approach our goal. She slows a bit to run the final 400m with me, but puts on the gas to cross the line as I choke back tears again, ecstatic for her success and enthusiasm at the end of the race.
We gathered around the finish line with our friends. Celebrating every one’s races whether they were second, fifth, or somewhere down the line. Our shared emotion of successfully navigating the course enveloped the group as stories of the highs and lows of the day coursed through our circle.
For me, I was satisfied with how the day went. I wish I could have run faster, but it’s hard to do when you have barely run for 6 weeks and almost none of the miles you’ve run this year were on trails. It was a great reminder of how you have the ability to push through physical pain when you have a mental edge, but if you lose the edge it’s easy to get lost in the easy way out. I have been less enamored with putting in the hard miles of training as of late, but still love to be out moving along the trails and breathing in the fresh air.
I have a lot of planned miles ahead of me, and am excited that the snow is melting to reveal the trails that I have grown to love.