As I took my first few steps of the Fall 50, I found myself running with a different level of self-awareness than I ever had before. It was like I was running, but yet it didn’t feel like running, it was different. It was as if I was running without breathing. Do you ever catch yourself holding your breath with anticipation and you didn’t even realize you’ve been holding your breath until you finally breathe in again? It was a bit like that. My body was reacting in anticipation – it was a bit of a fight or flight situation. I was on autopilot and was determined to just put one foot in front of the other and just keep going until I couldn’t. I was hyper aware of my surroundings, yet I was in my own little world and nothing was registering. The world was moving in slow motion but yet things were happening too fast for me to even comprehend what was going on.
The first quarter-mile was very surreal. I was in a “holy shit, it started, what am I going to do now?” mental state, but physically my body knew what to do. It needed to run. And so I ran.
I was trying to run as normal as possible yet I was very aware of what the other solo runners were doing. It didn’t take long for them – with a faster pace- to separate themselves from me. There were one or two other back-of-packers with me, but it didn’t take long for even those folks to pass me too. But I couldn’t think about this, I had to run my race and that meant running my pace and sticking to my plan. I had a walk to run ratio that I needed to stick to as well as my plan to walk all hills. This plan was going to keep my legs as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
It had rained all morning and despite it raining pretty hard at times, I ditched my jacket the first time I saw Brian. I knew the rain was going to have a negative impact on most runners that day, but it didn’t faze me. I actually like running in the rain. I don’t enjoy running in the cold rain, but so far I wasn’t cold and was actually starting to overheat, so I ditched my jacket to make sure I didn’t warm up and kill my day early on because I overheated.
I was coming up to mile 1 and to my great delight and amazement, I did not need to make a pit stop after my first mile. And this NEVER happens. I must always do a mile warm up (even before marathons or even if I’m only running 3 miles total) to “take care of business”. It’s just what my body demands and it’s been that way for years and years of running. I must always have a bathroom at the end of my first mile – always. Except today. Also to my incredible astonishment, my shin splints did not kick in yet. I was confused about why neither of these physical hardships had reared their ugly heads yet. But I knew they would. They always do. So I asked my crew to move down the road a half a mile to wait for me. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t need the bathroom after mile 1, but I knew it would not be long before I did need it and I didn’t want them too far away when my GI issues finally kicked in.
So I came to mile 1.5 and I still didn’t need to use the bathroom. And my shin splints still didn’t kick in.
What was going on? I should have been happy with the current, non-issue-running that I was doing, but it just didn’t seem possible, so I couldn’t even enjoy it. I was just so confused, especially as it pertains to the GI distress. Where was it? It happens as predictably as the sun setting every night and rising again the next morning.
I was 1.5 miles in and I didn’t have shin splints and didn’t need to use the bathroom – I guess I’ll just send me crew a half a mile down the road to wait for me at the 2.0 mile marker. I know I’ll need the bathroom for sure by mile 2.0.
As I came running up to my crew at mile 2, much to my surprise as well as my crew’s surprise, I did not need to make a pit stop. And my shin splints had not yet acted up. Hhhmmm… what’s going on? I now was thankful for the 2 mile reprieve but was waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop. I was just hoping that because it was taking so long to kick in, that it wouldn’t be that much worse, when it did finally cause me issues.
Once again, I sent my crew up ahead to wait for me. Since I didn’t have any real rumblings and I didn’t feel any distress coming on, I somewhat apprehensively told the crew to go to mile 3. I wasn’t believing what was happening, but I was going to roll with it.
Mile 3 came and went and I did not need to stop.
And just as my GI issues had not surfaced up to this point, neither had my shin splints. I couldn’t wrap my head around these first few miles, it was not at all what was anticipated. And I did not know if I should be thankful or fearful for what was yet to come.
Before I continue with my mile-by-mile, play-by-play I need to take you back to a short conversation I had with Jolene the day before. As we were driving the Fall 50 course, I mentioned to Jolene that on the route, there is an old-fashioned gas-service station. Every single time I ran past that service station during my training runs there would be a small group of elderly gentlemen sitting inside. I’d see them sitting on their old and uncomfortable chairs having coffee in the early morning- every Saturday. I mentioned it to Jolene because I found it both odd and yet endearing. They were obviously locals because tourists would not have coffee at a service station compared to the many quaint coffee shops down the street. And it was every Saturday. Every Saturday as I ran past I’d look oddly in the window at them and wonder what they were doing and they peered back out at me wondering the same thing. This conversation with Jolene was completely innocent and random and meant nothing to me. That is until I ran past this service station during the Fall 50.
Somewhere around mile 4 I ran past the service station, just as I had many times before. And as I looked in the big bay window, I again saw the gentlemen inside having coffee. But this time, I decided to wave and to my delight all of them waved back.
We’ve all heard stories from runners and athletes, about how an inspirational poster or some random words of encouragement from a stranger got them over the hump. Why these random acts of encouragement work for the athletes at that time, can’t be explained. There was some connection between the stranger and the runner that only the athlete understood at that time and 99.9% of the time the stranger has no idea the effect they had on this person.
The random, simple and pureness of the wave from these grandfather-type men flipped a switch in me that day. I got a smile on my face and a peacefulness came over me that I can’t explain. I finally felt myself exhale and breathe for the first time that day.
Instantly my entire attitude changed and in turn my entire race strategy had changed. I was no longer going to worry and freak out about what may come. I was going to have fun. And there’s no better time to start than now.
As I ran up to my crew around mile 5, despite the pouring rain, I requested a runner/crew selfie.
And just like that, with an innocent wave to a few strangers in a service station and a wet and soggy selfie with my crew – my Fall 50 race took a turn. Who knew what possibilities lay ahead for the rest of race, but I was now excited to find out.
Until next time,
Stay tuned for part 4.