Saturday, August 30, 2014

Running a Colorful Gap

The beauty of running and racing would start upon arriving at Pocatello in order to Run the Gap. While my stomach is always queasy before races, Idaho had me more nervous than most because well it starts at almost 6,000 feet (is that what they mean by runner's high?) and both the beauty and the fears were literally jolted as the small plane had a few bounces before the landing. It also had me my stomach because despite having done both several times, this race had both a podium I was supposed to speak from and a 26.2 mile course, both things where the start comes with worry and excitement and the finish comes with relief and happiness.

Still arriving into the land known for potatoes, I was immediately taken in by the beauty from the landing. They actually gave us some potatoes as part of the race swag and my speech opening was a challenge to the audience to figure out what we'd call lazy people since we shouldn't insult my carbing up method by calling those do nothings "couch potatoes." But just as I was settling in to my lodging, I was lucky enough to catch a gorgeous sunset... No camera, perhaps no eyes could do justice to how gorgeous it was at each moment, one of those lights that impresses you by walking in the room. It wouldn't have mattered if you were inside or laying on the grass, you felt fortunate enough to have turned around and caught some moments of this sunset.

Still, when the sun was setting, I was on the phone which it was a nice enough evening to where I just took the call outside and saw a sky full of stars. But while I had taken in so many colors during watching the star closest to my world, these seemed so black and white due to their distance. I couldn't help but absorb the thought that while those stars were in a different time or place they each had their own colors. That was the thoughts I went to bed with and slept about as well as possible...

So the next day was the expo where colorful thoughts couldn't be helped as people presented this new
recovery drink or that new sock or shoe. Between the sellers and buyers, I think every color known to man and then some invented were there in shirts, shorts, socks, shoes, eyes and personalities. I'd have meals with a few people and get to hear adventures of marathon maniac friends, a group of a dozen that regularly travel together. There was a guy who was trying to join the 50 states club Idaho was going to be number 49. Someone who was using Idaho as a way preparing for a marathon in Antartica, another one for a marathon in New York because you know Idaho is so similar to both of those. There were people who were planning on enjoying trying to take 6 and a half hours on the course, others who had been to Boston several times, others who it was their first marathon but I am not sure that there were any whose eyes didn't light up as they shared both past stories and the excitement about Saturday's race.

The Pocatello race always has various distances from the marathon down to a .2 mile race (for kids). I'd never run that distance race and while I asked if they would let me switch to it from the marathon, I couldn't talk the race director in no matter how much I argued that would be a new distance for me (I thought my most clever argument was that I was signing up for the hardest part of the marathon). When the pasta dinner finally came and I spoke, it was good to hear people laughing at some of the jokes that start it (because you know since every participant gets a sack of potatoes, if they decided to throw them that's a tough lynching) and I guess I finished just in time because they all stood up at the end but then realized I was no longer on the stage.

And so as I headed to bed before the race (and I never sleep well the night before races), I was trying to figure out how to get into the right mind frame before going to bed (when you're like me where you're missing a piece of your mind you look for the the right frame of heart). I literally asked out lout why am I doing this race, my 10th marathon? Far too often for me, there has been only one goal when lining up for a race, to get my fastest time. Each time whether I succeed or fail at the black and white goal, I finish the race exhausted. When I don't achieve it, I've often tried to find a middle gray ground comforting myself in having gotten to this many races or talking about the weather or the altitude. Sometimes you find comfort in receiving a very cool medal or making some friends along the way. But as I looked at my gear, I decided this time, rather than the black and white world, rather than the all or nothing, or trying to find some comfort in the gray, that from the start line till well after the finish, I was going to let this be a colorful experience where running, people, the scenes and the after party were going to be just as important to a good time as whatever the watch and timing chip would say at the end. The marathon is particularly tough for me it's the only distance I hadn't PR'ed in since brain surgery. Because I put off brain surgery to run a marathon once and qualified for Boston, because I'd twice won the cancer survivor division, because I'd placed in my age group and because I'd won one with the stroller, it was really tough to accept that 2.5 years it was the only distance I hadn't improved time on.

Still, the attitude of saying this isn't a black and white issue... we're going to let this marathon be colorful was quickly reaffirmed. The pacers were in the lobby when I woke up long before anyone should wearing bright pink shirts with the head pacer even having died his hair a bright pink to make themselves easier to see. Some had taken the challenge of trying to come up with colorful bottoms that stuck out... I imagine it was only the ones who wanted their bottoms looked at.

Riding the bus to the mountain top I just kept trying to stay in that color zone and decided I'd see how many colors I could take in in outfits, in flowers, in the sky cause we'd be watching the sunrise, in the different scenery. I was wearing a watch but I'd try to minimize looking at it to take in the other world outside of the run (I never once looked it except at mile markers and I didn't look at it all 26 of them). As is tradition the last colors I'd see before we'd launch off was the red, white and blue as the star spangled banner was sang.

Then we were off, the winner of the women's division of the Pocatello marathon for four years in a row had been asking people what pace they were doing before they started but we never met on time to talk before the race (she was wearing a nice turquoise shirt). Still, at about mile one because we were running practically side by side, I asked her what she was trying to do and her personal best was 3:00 at Boston and 3:02 on this course. She had just come off an injury and was worried she'd be unable to defend her title for the first time and was worried about pacing. My PR was 3:07 and I asked her if we could run it together and help pace each other for as long as possible. And somehow for the first 7 or 8 miles we were just chatting while doing a 6:45 pace, talking about her 4 kids, her husband's job and my daughter and family, about different races. Not long after we started running, she asked how old I was and I answered 34 and she volunteered that she was 32 and trying to get her to smile I said she looked young enough to be 22. She smiled and said yeah let's run more of this together. And we did it and would be together till mile 15. The conversation ceased after a while and the music finally came on and she would smile when I'd burst into various songs which seemed to pop up at some great times. The guy ahead of me would shout every time I'd sing out loud... that's good preaching brother.

At mile 15 she thought she was hurting and would slow down... I kept holding pace but it was getting harder. The first half had been downhill (1400 feet net drop over 14 miles), in cooler weather, in the shade from the mountains on each side of us. Around then there was no clouds and while I was looking for colors, I can't say the sun's light were particularly appealing at that point. Still, with the shortest time I'd ever trained for a run, I kept trying to find distractions from the black, white and gray road.. I counted how many colors people had on that were visible for a while, how many flower colors, what different shades the sunflowers had. I tried to count how many shades of green and blue were in the sky and in the mountains and how there were places you couldn't quite tell how one blended into another.

Somewhere with only a few miles to go... (it's amazing how fast those first few go and how the mile is such an incredibly inadequate distance later in the game because they keep getting longer), the IT band injury and legs started hurting and while I thought I was moving the same speed, neither the watch nor the pain
indicated that perception to be corrected. I had passed a few people since the halfway point and while not all of them would pass me, a few did including the women's winner who encouraged me to do well even as she did so. I kept trying to find at least 4th gear with the right songs but it was getting tough. Finally, at the 25 mile marker, the race director was there wearing a bright shirt in my favorite color... And somehow to my simple brain, that's the inspiration it took and while even if I'd held that dwindling pace it would likely have been a PR but I ran the last 1.2 miles at a 6:35 pace which gave me a finish of 3:04.31, 15 minutes faster than my last two marathon, my fastest marathon by a little over 3 minutes and qualifying for Boston for the second time, and for the first time at the standards they'd lowered since I had originally qualified. Let's just say that the volunteers found my shouting and singing and cheering as I cross the finish line appropriate but colorful in it's own way.

My stomach had been queasy as it often is with drugs that get in the way of enduring athletic performance. However, the vomiting didn't come till a few seconds after the finish line (while we'll leave out the details like what color it was, it came a few times). People asked if I was okay and I'm like "YEAH! I didn't throw up until after I was done, what's there to complain about?"

I would also take 3rd in my age group with certainly one of the coolest and most practical prizes I've ever received. I'd sit and talk to the women's winner while we waited for the awards. She had defended her title for 5 years straight coming in at 3:02 and we thanked each other, her saying she wouldn't have been able to hold without the company or my back to chase for a while and me thanking her for helping me to a PR, knowing she'd been incredibly helpful. She promised to invite me to her 23rd birthday party. 

I'd finished my speech the previous night saying, some of you will exceed or be disappointed by your results because of expectations but I hope that you're smiling at the finish because you kept the frame of heart that got you to run the gap. When I was done, it felt perfect that one of the coolest medals I ever got had a ribbon that said smile makers. The gray matter in my brain may have a gap but it can still perceive colors beyond black and white. The road was pretty gray but there wasn't a direction you couldn't look to take in some colors of nature and of people for a welcome and beautiful distraction. So, I'd say that today's running through that marathon and brain gap was a lively, bright experience.

1 comment:

  1. Gonna have to come back and read this a bit later ... really wish I could hear one of your speeches! :-) :-)