The World Through My Shoes is my look at living this incredible gift God has given us. As a busy wife, mother and daughter I relish the alone time I receive on my early morning runs. It is in the stillness of those predawn mornings where I often am inspired. Thank you for taking the time to read my words.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mt. Si 50k

We rolled into the almost full elementary school parking lot shortly after 7 am.  The 2 hour drive was uneventful and now with a good 90 minutes before the start of my first ultra we could relax.  I stood in the line to pick up my race number; I realized I was surrounded by relay runners.

Mt. Si Ultra and Relay has been going strong for 31 years.  The 50 mile runners had started at 6 am and the 59-mile relay race would be starting in the next 45 minutes.  Costumes and team shirts were everywhere.  98 teams (5 runners each) belonged to the relay and their energy was contagious. 

At 8 am sharp, the first leg of the relay runners took off.  There were some very serious and some very not-so-serious runners in that group.  My nerves were starting again; I just wanted to get the show on the road.

On cue, 5 minutes before the race was to start, the winds picked up and the heavy rain started.   Every last one of us had found shelter in the school to stay out of the elements as long as possible.  The announcer grabbed the bull horn and sighed, "Come on folks, there's nothing we can do about it" and he opens the front doors. 

Making our way out of the warmth of the building, I anxiously glance over at my caring and loving husband.  He was laughing.  Hysterically.  

My clothes were soaked at the start.  But that's okay, the wind was trying really hard to dry them for me.  The announcer didn't waste anytime - why should he?  Who in their right mind would want to be out in that weather?  We got to the imaginary line in the road and he yelled, "GO" and my first 50k began.

The course was very simple.  Two blocks out, turn right over the bridge, run to and cross over the other bridge and follow the Snoqualmie Valley trail for 15 1/2 miles.   Within a mile we were on the trail.  The rain had let up considerably and I found it easy to get into a rhythm.  Spring rains made everything so green.  It was beautiful.

We cross a side road where the trail cuts through the middle of a golf course.  There were golfers putting near by.  Who is crazy enough to golf in weather like this?  I'm certain none of them thought the same thing about any of us running by.

At the 5 mile mark, the trail intersects a major road and the flaggers were ready for us.   Across the street, I notice a man in a red jacket on a bike talking to another cyclist.  Wait... that red jacket is my husband!  Dennis road his bike out to cheer me on.  A nice surprise at mile 5.  The two of them loudly cheer me on as I disappear back into the trail.

This part of the trail I recognize.  Here was the finish line of the Light At the End of the Tunnel Marathon I ran in September; single-handedly my worst race.  The day before that marathon my anemia had become severe and our family received bad news concerning my mom's cancer.  Every step of that race was a struggle; that marathon shattered me.  Yet here I was running the same trail again.  I wanted redemption.

The trail we followed made it's way up the mountain.  Although the trail was not too steep in it's climb, it was definitely felt.  My mind stayed occupied with the scenery.  All around me were lush evergreen trees.  The deciduous trees dripped with goats beard lichen.  Bridges crossed swollen waterfalls.

Sun peaked out from behind the clouds and filtered onto the trail.   At times the mix of sun and trail looked identical to September's race and a sense of dread would wash over me.  I pushed it from my mind.  When the uphill climb got to be difficult, I began to chant "Up this hill.  Up this hill."    Shortly before mile 11 I took a small walk break of 15 or so steps and I was good to go for another mile.

My legs were tired and my right quad was starting to bother me.  Up this hill.  The rain started again and brought with it puddles everywhere.  My shoes squished.  Up this hill.  I knew once I got to the turn around point the course would begin to feel easier.  The turn around would bring 15 1/2 miles of downhill.  Up this hill.

The course markers pointed us down a forest service road leading to the main highway.  It was a steep downhill and a welcome change to all the uphill.  Every runner who had reached the turn around and making their way up the hill was walking.  Finally I reached the turn around.  An aid station was there with goodies and I drank some of the soda offered while another volunteer happily filled my water bottle.  God bless those volunteers.

30 seconds later I was walking up that steep hill.  At the crest of the hill I began to run and it felt so good.  The downhill made the running feel effortless.  My watch chirped at mile 17 and I saw my pace started with an "8".   I knew I had to slow it down with nearly half the race still ahead of me.

Oh my gosh.  I still had 14 miles to go.  FOURTEEN MILES.  The thought was overwhelming.

Mile 18 the sky remained cloudy, but the rain had let up.  Mile 19 my stomach started to get upset.  I wanted to take off my fuel belt as it felt so restricting on my waist.  I tried adjusting it.  Cruising into mile 20 the hail started; slight at first.  Then the skies opened and hail was bouncing off everything including my face.

That was it.  I was done.  I was cold.  I was tired.  My stomach was upset.  I couldn't feel my fingers.  And there was a man on a bike in a red jacket along the side of the trail.  Screaming as loud as possible at the sight of me.   There was a man in a red jacket!  I ran up to him and gave him a kiss.  I was surprised to see Dennis this far up the trail.  He was drenched and his bike was filthy.

We turned and headed down the trail.  He took my fuel belt and wrapped it on his handle bars (true love!).  My stomach instantly felt better and I felt 10 lbs lighter.  The downhill made for very little pedaling on his part and he coasted next to me.

As this was an out and back course, I met several runners heading up the trail to the turn around.  The 50 mile runners were inspiring and no one crossed paths without a shout of encouragement.  We were all miserable, but we all smiled at each other.

Mile 21 I reached an aid station and knew the hardest part of my run was over.  Today's goal was to have a strong 20 to 24 mile run and then lighten the pace considerably for the remainder of the race.  I called it good at 21 miles.  Grabbed a swig of soda and headed back down the trail.

Keeping pace behind me, my husband - who had been with me at the September race - remarked how I am running much stronger than last time.  "Your pace is stronger, your posture is better - it's like your running is completely different."  He gave me the redemption I was looking for.  I was am a different runner.  My anemia is gone and Mom is with Jesus.   My haunts of that September race disappeared.

The rain let up again by mile 25 and the sun came out.  Mile 26 brought us to the highway again and Dennis went left heading back to the school while I continued straight onto the trail.  Glancing at my watch at 26.2 miles I smiled as each step forward would be a distance I'd never run before.   I ran some, walked some and enjoyed each step of the way. 

Relay Exchanges were vibrant as many energetic-cuz-they-didn't-just-run-28-miles runners cheered loudly as we passed through.  As I made my way down the trail, I could hear fast footsteps behind me; their speed giving evidence they were relay runners.  Without fail, every single one would tell me "Good job" or "Looking good" as they passed me by.  They instinctively knew how deflating it could be to be passed at that stage of the race.

Mile 29 my watch chirped telling me the battery was low.  OH NO YOU DON'T.  You better last as long as me out here Mr. Watch.  If I'm doin' it, so are you.   Of course talking to your watch is normal at mile 29.

Mile 30 I was on the bridge greeted by a volunteer telling me to be careful on the stairs.  STAIRS!  At mile 30.  Oy vey.  I carefully made my way down and ran toward the last bridge.  I was in the home stretch. 

I crossed over the last bridge and had less than half a mile to go.  Two women were lazily window shopping in town.  Upon seeing me, they set their purses at their feet and began to clap for me.  I threw my hands in the air and told them I was treating myself to a latte when this was over.  Not just a latte but a grande latte.  Yes. I. Am.

A relay runner, who looked an awful lot like the running Forest Gump, stood on the side of the road screaming for me.  He ran by me and gave me a hard high five.  I thought my hand was going to fall off.  Maybe I was a little tired.

The finish line was a buzz of relay runners waiting for their team to finish.  The announcer calls my name as I crossed the finish line.  I JUST COMPLETED MY FIRST ULTRA! 

My watch read 31 miles exactly with a time of 5:33:09; 11th female overall and first in the 45-49 age group.  I hugged my husband and cried.   This was my strongest race in 2 1/2 years and brought me the redemption I sought.

Winning doesn't always come from a time on a watch or from being the fastest.  Winning can come from pushing past that which haunts you and finding strength on the other side. 

Today, I won.