Joy. Nerves. Fanfare.
As I took stock of all the runners at the start line I noticed a few significant trends. There weren’t very many runners (I’d say 250 total), but pretty much everyone there looked like serious athletes. I also saw lots and lots of Boston gear. I only had to tune into a few conversations to confirm that the strategy of the day for a huge proportion of runners was to qualify for Boston. Apparently a downhill non-paved course is good for more than coming back from a back injury; it’s a good recipe for qualifying for Boston too! Almost without warning the crowd began surging forward (no countdown, no gun) and we were off!
Bucolic. Surreal. Crisp.
Race day often doesn’t feel real to me. I’ve been waiting and waiting for it to come and when it finally arrives it’s difficult to switch over to the “it’s here!” mindset. For the first five miles Jeanine and I chatted and tried to soak in what was happening. As I took in the breathtaking views of fog burning off of the mountain tops, farmland vistas, and the purposeful gait of hundreds of runners moving towards a common goal I felt exhilarated and blessed. This was all greatly enhanced by the soundtrack I chose to be the epic background to my experience...the incomparable 2 Chainz.
Panoramic. Breathtaking. Effortless.
I love when races have an out-and-back section that allows you to see the people at the very front of the pack. Peak to Creek offered a nice, long viewing of some of Western North Carolina’s best and fastest. This section also allowed Jeanine and I to witness a jolly Japanese man who was running Peak to Creek as his 675th (or some crazy number like that) marathon! As we passed by him on the out-and-back he held his camera up to us and said, “Say-ah cheese!” to which we happily obliged. Soon after, we turned off onto the road that would lead us on a solid downhill stretch for about eight miles. A logical race strategy would be to use the first eight miles of this race to warm up, run solidly but hold back just a tad on the downhill to save your quads, then tear it up for the last eleven miles of gently rolling hills. Race day excitement and adrenaline, however, overwhelm all logic and tell you to run like a zombie is chasing you!
Wonderland. Serpentine. Kaleidoscope.
Running downhill is waaaay fun! Especially if you are a slower runner like me. I never get to see splits like that on my GPS watch and I enjoyed every last tenth of a mile of it. My quads? Not so much. I tried to compensate by downing as much caffeine as I could handle. I always wear my hydration vest with a bladder full of water. I also usually carry an extra water bottle full of gatorade. This time I opted to fill my extra bottle with flat coke instead of gatorade and the strategy really paid off. I also opted for a Clif bar with caffeine in it as well as GUs with caffeine. Whenever my energy started to flagg the caffeine was like injecting a bit of NOS into my system.
Cascades. Fishermen. Rock walls.
After running downhill for so long, having to run uphill (we’re talking teeny tiny, brief, almost nothing uphills) made me very, very grouchy. The sun had come out, lighting up the fall leaves into brilliant fiery colors and making the creek water sparkle like diamonds, but it also made me hot and even more cantankerous. I started cursing at rocks, out loud, just for being there. I also griped at every car that drove by and kicked up dust on the road. But anger is an emotion that is easier to harness into something useful than defeat, so I put my unfounded irrational energy to good use and pushed on.
Tunnel vision. Eye of the Tiger. Car dust.
I love 80% of races. For 80 percent of the race, no matter the distance,I feel great and am happy and enjoy myself. Then, I turn a corner, my mood bottoms out, and I swear I’ll never sign up for a race ever again. Telling myself I would only have two 5Ks left once I got to mile 20 sounded reasonable and doable when I was at mile 13, but at mile 22 I was telling myself I was an idiot, I was going to jump into the back of the next truck that passed by, and make the driver take me to the finish line so I could give the race director the finger. Keep in mind, NOTHING WAS WRONG. The course was still gorgeous, I didn't actually feel all that tired physically, I was keeping up a spectacular pace, and everyone I passed (especially the wonderful volunteers at the aid stations) were hospitable, friendly, happy, and helpful. I guess I just don’t react well to being mentally tired. I swear I’m polite and/or upbeat 99 percent of the time, but everyone’s entitled to some kind of rage and mine is “long distance runner’s rage.” Put that on a t-shirt!
Final Stretch: Oh, the humanity!
Cantankerous. Elation. Gratitude
When I passed the sign that said “Mile 25” a man was driving by. He leaned towards me out of his truck window and said, “That’s a good looking sign right there, right? Way to go!” He was so nice! But of course I was imagining where I wanted to shove that sign. Then, as I approached the finish area at Brown Mountain Beach Resort I looked down to see that they were already doing the awards ceremony! Those bastards! I started running faster.