A beautiful, crisp morning met us on the morning of April 16th. It was chilly, but we all knew we’d warm up very quickly on the first climb up Mill Mountain. I ran around downtown, warming up, and was beaming as I saw face after familiar face of some of the wonderful runners that make up this community. This was my third year participating in the Blue Ridge Marathon races (the full marathon in 2014, and the Anthem Star 10k in both 2015 and 2016), and it just keeps getting better: the time of year, the pre- and post-race area, the courses, the after party, the city itself. A runner can find a race nearly every weekend in our mountain town, but more and more this race highlights so many wonderful things about our running community. It’s a professionally run event, with all of the bells and whistles. It invites local runners to test themselves on mountains we see everyday, and welcomes runners from all over the country and world to catch a glimpse of why so many of us choose to call Roanoke, VA home. While it continues to grow, it maintains that southern charm and hospitality for which Roanoke is well known. There is also a sense of humbleness that exudes from the races, which isn’t something that is always present at road races with this sort of turnout. Even seasoned, well-tuned runners emanate a palpable sense of nervousness or something similar. The sheer difficulty of the courses encourages runners of all abilities to tread lightly and are a wonderful reminder of the ways in which the running journey is a process riddled with ups and downs and backs and forths.
I went into 2016 with a fierce training plan and just a handful of “goal” races. I’ve run in quite a few races this year so far (mostly trail), but the Anthem Star 10k was going to be my first goal race. Some big plans I had for this race came crashing down around March, when I went through a series of injuries related to overtraining. I began to claw my way out of that rut, and maintained that I would still race Anthem Star 10k. I knew it would be a gamble, but I didn’t want to miss the experience of BRM because of all the reasons I listed above. I took stock of where I was, tried to fully understand the limitations I would face given the circumstances, and adjusted my perspective accordingly.
I’d love to be able to say I surprised myself and really knocked the socks off the race. I didn’t, but I still had a great time. My first and second miles were good, and I was pacing very well. In the third mile a nagging injury in my left leg hamstring re-emerged and I literally felt like I couldn’t push off my foot to lift my leg. My leg just felt like it seized up. I
stopped, and did some stretching and rubbing on the guard rail. I knew with this course and what I’d been going through that this was a possibility, so I tried to take it in stride. After what seemed like a couple minutes, I took off up the mountain again. At this point I was still the first female in the 10k, but when we headed up the final climb to the Roanoke Star, I had to stop briefly again. The second place female passed me and asked if I was alright. I said yes, and encouraged her to go on. A small part of me thought I could catch her on the downhill, but she’s a tough runner and I was mentally holding on by a shoe string! When I started the descent, I looked down and noticed my right shoe was untied (I literally couldn’t make this stuff up) and I let out a string of expletives. I thought briefly about just going with it, but then imagined myself flying down the mountain, face-planting and taking out an aid station or something like that. So I stopped and tied my damn shoe. I regrouped, and really focused on my downhill form over the next mile and a half.
I hit a great pace and passed a bunch of people on the descent. The last mile of this race is particularly difficult. It’s not a mountain climb, but it’s hilly and your legs are just spent after running up and down quite a bit of elevation. I dug deep and pulled out a 6:50 minute mile. I felt spent, but not really out of breath, which is a strange feeling after a race. I knew my legs just weren’t up for that course on that day, but I was also pretty ecstatic that I was able to pull off a sub-50 minute effort despite that, earning 2nd place female overall. It was a far cry from my winning time last year, and even farther than the goal I had set for myself at the beginning of the year. However, this year the husband and littles were there to see me cross the finish line, and it made all the difference in the world. I smiled even though I felt like crying, and I hugged them all tight, then we went off together to enjoy the post-race festivities.
Going through one of my first running injuries has been a wonderfully challenging, frustrating, and also usefully reflective experience, and this race was a part of that journey. I feel very lucky that in nearly 20 years of running, this is my first real experience with injury. I also feel like I’m learning my body in a whole new way, and respecting and honoring it differently because of that knowledge. I still have some work to do, and sometimes it’s just so hard to get down to the PT work I’ve assigned to myself at nearly 10 o’clock some nights, after we get home from work and school, have dinner, play, give the kids baths, read just one more story for bedtime, clean up and prepare for the next day. But I keep thinking about the long game, and how I want this body to take me on many more ups and downs and backs and forths, and all sorts of running and non-running adventures. So I tend to it, and I plant the seeds that will allow me to continue to set more goals and work toward them.
A week after BRM, we left for a family vacation to Hawaii. We had a lot of amazing experiences, including some pretty epic runs. Most vacations partially turn into run-cations for me; there is just no better way to see and learn a place. I ended up running around 36 miles during that week, which helped prime me for some heavy training leading up to my first 50k, the Eastern Divide. That’s the next goal race, and it’s coming up on June 18th. I don’t have any stated time goals for this one (just some internal ones I’m entertaining ;)), because I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never run a 50k, and certainly have never been on my feet for that long running in the mountains (hiking, yes, many times over, but that’s a different ball game). But I am excited to tackle this with the husband, and to add it to our running adventures. Sometimes a new goal and challenge are just what we need to ease ourselves out of a rut. Happy Running!