Ok…I cried so what?..26.2 check!

      Saturday, Sept 9th, 2012 @ Mile 26.0:  One more hill, just one more as I finally emerged from the dark woods and onto the campground site at Hells Creek Ranch. The sun was shining bright and the finish line was only 0.2 miles away.  Runners enter the campground from the woods through what was called the rowdy corner.  This is where people would stand and cheer as you finally escaped the 13.0 miles of trails. The finish line was now a reality and from here on in it was an all out sprint to glory.  It was such a nice sight to see and hear all the cheering and ringing of cow bells as you make your way to the finish line.  It was an incredible experience and having my wife standing at the finish line was just a bonus.  I threw out my heart symbol, high over my head, and let out a big “yes…I did it!” 4:58:53 and I beat my personal goal, which at one point just seemed impossible. The emotional experience was tremendous.  And so what, I did cry for a minute, I’m not ashamed to admit it…Wait that seemed too easy.  How did it really happen?
      Friday afternoon my wife and I arrived at Hell’s Creek Ranch, the site for Run Woodstock, to set up camp for the next 2 nights.   This is a feat in itself for someone like me who’s not so keen on camping.  To my amazement, the host venue was incredible and huge.  There were so many people, it was really awesome to see and the feeling of energy was all around.  We met a lot of great people that weekend from Cleveland to Chicago and everywhere in between. 
      I ran the 5k race on Friday night at 7:30pm just to get a little warm up prior to the big race.  Just a slow run and I didn’t worry about my time. I was here for one thing and one thing only.  So nothing to prove in that race, just relax and have fun. Then the rain came.  As if a trail marathon wasn’t going to be hard enough tomorrow morning, Mother Nature decided to help. It started raining around 9:00 pm and it didn’t stop raining till the next day at around 4:30 am. 
      I knew that with Friday nights restless sleep Saturday was going be tough.  I was a little nervous, anxious, excited and did I mention that I love camping and sleeping on the ground, NOT!  It was 5:00am when the alarm went off.  My wife had volunteered to work at the aid station in the morning since she couldn’t run because of her broken ankle.  After she left around 5:30am, I managed to get in about 30 minutes of sleep.  But it was difficult to shut off my mind and the challenge that was in front of me.
      As I emerged from the tent, the rain had finally given way to the sun peaking in and out.  The temperature was cool; perfect for running, except that it just rained for 8 hours and this is a trail run. We’re not talking a gravel road.  We’re talking about running through the woods on hilly, dirt horse trails. Natural obstacles, along with the mud and standing water were all going to be a factor today.
      7:30am, race time.  The energy in camp was powerful and uplifting. Lemon James played live, the Jimmy Hendricks version of the National Anthem. I was getting really excited to run…It’s what I came here for.
      I’m not going to bore you with all the details mile by mile as they were all pretty hard, to say the least. The course was a 13.1 loop that I would run twice for the Full Marathon and I’ll just say that the miles from 8-12 on the route were insanity and it felt more like mountain climbing instead of running.  Oh yeah, and my running plan that I totally stressed over was thrown out the window once the race started. I figured that I would go at a good solid pace for the first 13.1 and then figure out a new race plan for the final 13.1. At the split I was ahead of my planned time by 30 minutes.  I was still feeling good and confident, just a little soreness, but overall not bad considering my feet were a little wet and muddy. 
      Mile 16: The runners really started to spread out now. I was no longer running in a group, other runners were few and far between.  I was still feeling pretty good, but my pace was starting to fall off.  I did some math in my head and figured out a new plan. I began walking up the big hills and running everything else.  I would see how long I could keep that up without totally taking a walking break.  I also was doing well about staying hydrated by drinking a little water or Gatorade at the aid stations.  It was also a chance to walk a little. I was also eating a packet of GU about every hour during the race to take in some nourishment.  I did my best to keep running as much as possible, even though my pace was continuing to decline, knowing that the real difficult miles of the second loop where coming up.  I really needed any extra time my body would give me in case I had to resort to longer walks.  But the battle was beginning.
      Mile 18: My pace was continuing to slow, my body was still going, but my mind started to wander and the clock was now haunting me and testing my desire to push myself.  It was never a question if I would finish; I trained way too hard for that, but would I make my goal in a race that I never ran before? Were my expectations set too high?  I tried to do some math and forecast the pace that I needed to run the last 6 miles.  But thinking clearly at this point was a bit of a challenge. I told myself, “I have nothing to prove to anybody but everything to myself”, but the realization of failure was that long, slow emotional dance that I was about to face head on. 
     Mile 20:  My runs had turned to intervals; run 30 minutes and walk for 3 minutes; run for 20 minutes and walk for 2 minutes; run for 10 minutes and walk for 1 minute…Simply just take whatever my body would give me, but the clock doesn’t take breaks and now I really started to lose my thoughts. Things were not so clear, plan? I can’t do math now…I’m not going to make it, I’m not going to meet my goal so just walk the final damn miles and be happy you finished.  Yup, minor meltdown, it was really emotional and I did cry for a minute.
      Mile 23:  After collecting what was left of my thoughts I was able to figure that I was off my mile pace by 2 minutes and the time I had banked in the first half of the race was depleting quickly with each mile. My final finish time would be about 10 minutes past my goal if it continued to slow.  I was alone, I had no mark to chase, I had no one chasing me, I had nothing but my will, and my will clearly wasn’t thinking straight.
      Mile 24: I hadn’t seen a soul in sight in 30 minutes.  Then it happened; I got passed as I was walking on an interval break and this person happened to say “ah so close but yet so far.” What? Did you really just say that?  I’m sure that it wasn’t personal, but I just made it personal. I didn’t come this far to grabble in self-pity. I didn’t come this far not to finish as strong as I can. I just started running again. No watch, no plan, no math.  I told myself, “just run, just do your best and catch that person and pass, ‘gulp’, her up”.  She just fired me up. “It’s two miles to go for God’s sake, so dig in down deep and rip it out from your heart & soul and finish, finish strong”…Yup, I finally passed her as I sprinted to the finish.  And she didn’t like it – I guess she shouldn’t have said that.  Nothing to prove to anybody but everything to prove to myself…Except today! LOL…Love and Peace, Man….

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