Everything I ever understood about support and encouragement during a race weekend was put away on Saturday at the Beat the Blerch Half/Marathon weekend. Karen and I donned big “Blerch” Suits and spent the greater part of the day telling runners to slow down, maybe have a nap on the couch…oh, and we have Nutella Sandwiches and Birthday Cake if you want them. We saw runners drinking margaritas and running in inflatable suits…we found Waldo. This was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had at a race. People were literally lining up to take pictures with us. We were the Pac NW equivalent of a Disney Character Stop. It was weird! It was also tiring, because to keep that kind of energy up for the whole morning meant we needed some birthday cake ourselves. Luckily, we had nothing else to do for the rest of the day, so we turned in our fatsuits and went back home to nap.
Karen, however was fighting a cold. After spending all morning outside, she started to wonder if she should downgrade from the half to the 10k. Then after coughing all night, she begrudgingly made the “grownup” decision to not run (which ended up being a good call). Her husband, Kirk, would still run the half, though. I still had no idea if I would run for fun or for time.
As for race day, I was still on the fence as to my goals, but was leaning toward the “go for it” goal. I had programmed my Garmin for 10:30 to 10:45 on the first half, then increasing for the second half. A good night’s sleep, good rest, and a preview of the course made me think I could manage this race well. No nerves, no second thoughts, just a “what the hey” attitude. My warmup felt good, which is when I realized, “oh yeah…I’m at sea level!” With that advantage, I felt like I really could make this effort. Karen and Kirk both encouraged me to just see what I could do.
For the first mile, I kept things easy, allowing the crowd to just pass me as I chugged along. Then the course trended upward along an old rail bed, we had light rain to begin with and by mile 4, we were in the middle of a total deluge. Water was pouring off my hat, and my skin was red with the exertion mixed with the cool rain. What was funny was the mental game I started playing with myself. I thought, “Okay, my feet are wet now. What do I do about it? Freak out? Worry? No, let’s just say, ‘hey! My feet…and everything else…are soaked! I can’t get any more wet!! I have achieved total saturation!’” Mentally, that was a fun challenge, and I continued to feel strong going up the hill. There weren’t many aid stations, though, so I had to slow to refill my water bottle.
The one thing that was a mental challenge, though, was the trail surface. Most of the time is was hard packed gravel, but with bigger chunks…maybe quarter sized rocks. The trouble I had was just a small amount of concentration I dedicated to avoid the big puddles, slippery sections, the big rocks, and yes, the banana slugs (have you ever run on a trail with this suckers? They are huge, and look like leaves!) I am not used to running on this kind of surface, so there were a couple of times I took a step and felt a stone give under my feet, usually when I was trying to take in the moss-covered beauty of the Pacific Northwest forests.
While I felt strong on the way up, the turn-around was interesting. All of a sudden I’m descending again, and my legs didn’t quite know what to do. It was a slight adjustment, and took a mile or two to get my legs to switch gears. I also wasn’t sure how much harder I could push, and gravity wasn’t helping as much as I would have liked. My feet were starting to hurt quite a bit. Somewhere between mile 7 and 10, the groove I had on the way up started to disintegrate. The rain had let up a little, though, so at least that helped.
Mile 10 was a different story. This was when I was going to take my last Gu. It wasn’t there. I had unknowingly dropped it along the way, but luckily the aid station was just ahead. I grabbed one of their gels, and hoped I could push the rest of the way. By this point, I was running into 5k and 10k walkers, meaning I had to concentrate even more to keep my pace and run around them. By mile 11, the wheels were coming off the cart. Everything was hurting, particularly my feet. I looked at my elapsed time, and thought, okay, I might be able to beat my Ogden time if I sustain an 11 minute mile. Tried that…lasted about 3 minutes.
Then I walked. Walking hurt more than running. So I shuffled. I. was. done.
Frustrated that I had little more to give, and that I “allowed” myself to slow down — and what the heck happened to that mental strength from a week ago? I choked out a few sobs and grimaces. I walked a couple more times until I was within sight of the finish, then I mustered whatever I could to cross the finish line as strong as I could. I was exhausted. Every step to cross the finish line was painful.
Kirk was waiting there at the finish (Karen was taking video), and when I saw him, I could say nothing. I looked at him and literally sat down in the finish area, unable to speak, gasping for breath. My first thought was disappointment…but it took a while (and a burritoughnut) to unpack that feeling. Kirk and Karen assured me that given the conditions, I still clocked a great time.
The disappointment had nothing to do with my time, though. It wasn’t even about the majority of the race, because I felt incredible for most of it. It’s the trend I’m seeing over the last couple of years in my longer races: a breakdown physically and/or mentally in the latter phases of a race (and even some of my training runs) almost regardless of distance. The mental toughness seems to empty out first — that I’m done with the suffer-fest before my body really gives out, but the stamina at speed is also a factor. Mile 10 seems to be the trend, or maybe even the last 20% of a race or training run. There is work to be done here, but I don’t know what that work looks like, or even if I’ve fully identified the issue. So the disappointment is not necessarily with my training or my capability, because really, I did well. Maybe I’ve neglected something else along the way.
I’m happy with the race itself, and I’m glad I made the effort, in spite of the outcome. This was a fun race, with some tough elements built in. In the end, I have a solid effort from the week before, and I can rest on those results for a while. Beat the Blerch was a fun race to end the Fall race season on, and now I can relax into Wine and Dine and the winter months.
Very special thank you to Kirk and Karen Blankenship for hosting me, driving me around, and buying me lots of coffee!! Such a great time!