Monday, May 23, 2011

the day I ran up the mountain

aka: possibly the longest post to ever be posted. Does blogger have a word limit?

disclaimer: I love to read other runners race day stories.....because I run. If running is not your thing, and you do not care for all the details, here is the short version:
I ran up a mountain. It was hard. It was awesome. It was gorgeous. My legs burned. I finished. I want to do it again. soon.

I don't know where to begin with this one. I wish I could have filmed the entire thing--from nervous start to wonderful finish, with each slip in the mud, and sip of water in between. But you'll just have to take a peek at all of my mental notes.

Saturday I ran the Timpanogos Trail 1/2 Marathon
While not my first race, it was my first trail race.....and I was nervous. SO NERVOUS!! There were so many unknowns--and all those unknowns would be taking place  somewhere on top of a mountain, most likely by myself. What if I fell? How long would it take me--I had never run over 2 hours in my life. What if I didn't like it? What if everyone passed me, and left me to finish last? What if I just couldn't do it....then what?? Should I lie down on a rock and wait for vultures to take me away??
 I didn't know, and it scared me.

the elevation map.

I eagerly bounced out of bed early Saturday morning, in a quiet, sunlit house, ate my breakfast while I studied the elevation chart one last time, and headed down to the start.

Shoes laced, chapstick applied, a trip to the bathroom (because heaven forbid I have to use a bush!) and a few quick stretches and I was ready to go. I think.
water. check.
gatorade. check.
gu. check.
watch. check.
ipod--oh wait--I'm not racing with music. that was a first. a nervous first.

Exactly 100 other runners + myself, headed up to the start.
"Any questions??" the race director asked......and....

And they're off! I'm off!

Go slow. Slow. Slow. "Pace yourself"-- I repeated over and over in my head. I have a bad habit of starting much too quickly for my own good, and since I had no idea what was waiting for me over the next bend of the mountain (literally), I forced myself into a comfortable pace that would allow me to save some energy for know, so I wouldn't die, and stuff.

We ran right into the sun. I inhaled. Exhaled. I'M DOING IT!! This was it! I was so happy--I had been staring down this race and talking about it/worrying over it since February. It was finally happening!

We made our way up a fire road, and then took a steep turn to go up. Up up up and into a beautiful meadow that looked straight up at Mt. Timpanogos. A perfectly placed single lane trail right through the middle of the small valley--tall green grass brushing up against my legs and campers gathered around their morning fire, waving at the runners. I took as many notes as I could, wishing I had a little camera on me.

Our first short, steep climbs.
My first walk. 
Well.....I guess it can't really be called just plain old "walking". 
I have never walked in a race--I'm much to hard on myself, but I knew going in that this would be different than a road race.  I knew there would be some hiking involved. I thought my legs would get tired, and I would say, "ok legs, let's take a short walking break". 
What I didn't realize was that there were parts--steep parts--where my legs would 

Impossible to do so. Energy wasted on the up and down motion of running.

It was like instinct took over (are people born with natural trail running instinct? ha! who knows?!) 
I got down low in my [scrawny, very un-mountain-woman] legs and propelled myself up with exaggerated, but much needed, force.

And then back to running.

Another fire road.


Not mud like I was used to running was some kind of mutant cousin, surely mixed with paste. It had rained the entire week--rained and rained and rained, right up until a few hours before the race began. I ran along laughing--by myself--trying to place every step carefully so I didn't take a spill. It slopped and sprayed and reached up, threatening to steal my shoes off my feet. It licked and lapped up the back of my legs, my back, up into my birds-nest hair. The ground was sliding beneath me, and it took every muscle in my body to keep myself upright.

And this went on and on. and on. Around a big bend, some fast fun downhill, and finally! Back to single track. Some more crazy ups followed by sharp downs.

I'm doing it!! 
I kept cheering myself on. Mostly inside, but sometimes as I  would hit the top, and adjust my stride to the downhill pace a "Whooooooooo hooooooo!" escaped my lips. It felt good.

I thought I had a handle on things. I was doing it! Yes it was hard, but all very doable. I don't have a fancy schmancy watch to track my milage, so I had no idea what mile I was at--I was just trying to enjoy all of it.

And then.

dun dun DUUUUN!!!!

The Stairs. 

Yes, there were stairs in this race--let me just warn you, in case you decide to do it. I never thought a staircase would give me so much trouble. Giant railroad ties, packed into the dirt, rising a foot, sometimes more out of the steep, uphill ground. After only a few, my legs were dooooone.

They were screaming at me. I pushed up on the step, as hard as I could--walked to the next, and did it over again. Trying not to look up at how many more there were.

"Why are we DOING this?!!" I heard the man in front of me yell.

I met hikers on their way dowwwwwn, offering encouraging words. 
Down seemed really nice right about now.


I knew I would eventually get to go down. But I had to make it up first.
I continually had to remind myself of my reward that would someday come.

FINAlLY!! The Stairs were over. But the mountain was not.

Oh no.

This is where The Mountain actually began. 
Pushing off my [chicken] legs, pulling myself up an imaginary rope with my arms.

If it leveled out at all--even for ten steps--I forced my legs to run. 
My legs didn't want to run. 
They were jello. 
But I had to shake out the "burn", and I would say this--"shake out the burn".

Keep in mind I had no music on --a race first for me, and no Charly to talk to, so I took up talking to myself.

oh well.

I was guessing I was somewhere around 8 miles-ish. I knew I still had quite a bit of uphill to conquer.

Up up up.

I was feeling things in my legs I have never felt. New muscles were being born at that very moment!

"At that root I will run to that rock"
"At that tree I will run to that tree"

And so it went.

And then I was at the top!!

Oh but I wasn't.

"Does it just go on forever??!" I heard a voice behind me.

It was a moment like this that I had been so afraid of before the race had even started. What if I couldn't do it? If there was ever a time to think that, it was probably now. My legs were burning. 
My buns......OH MY BUNS.

But I knew I could do it. 
I never once doubted. I continued the push and pull. I synchronized my breath with the crunch of the ground beneath me. 
I was so thankful not to have distracting music blaring in my ears.
 I loved taking everything in--with all of my senses.
The mountain was picture perfect. 
The air fresh and clean--not to hot or too cold. 
I could taste salt from my body, and hear myself working to get up. 
Feel every part of my body working--for me.

A bit of a jog to shake out my legs and then back to pushing. The trees started to clear.

Don't celebrate yet. 

Run. Jog. Ouch. Placing each step carefully.

Hike. Hike. Run. Hike.

I made it.
Over the edge, I could see the general (down!) direction where the finish line waited. 
A little over two miles to go. I've got this.

Down down down. My body begged to fly. I tried to slow myself--I had never run down a trail so rocky and steep, and after having come so far I didn't want to end up a pile of twisted limbs crying in the bushes. I made a mental note to myself "practice running downhill", so I'd be ready for next time.

Next time.

I was already planning it.

Down down down I went. Limbs flailing, body tired, but willing to keep going.

My feet hit the fire road--I was almost done.

Down down down. I felt a surge of energy and let it have its way and take me to the end.
Right before I made it to the finish--I saw my family--my kids were cheering! Anyone who's run a race knows that this is the BEST part of it--seeing your little ones cheer you on. I could have continued on for miles with their support.

The race volunteer scanned my number and for the first time I stopped. Legs steady. I juuuuust about tipped over. My legs were jelly, and felt unattached to the rest of my body. 
But they did it. 

I hurried over to celebrate with my family.
First race done.
Relieved. Exhausted. Excited. 
Ready for more. 
Who's with me next time??


Zizi said...

Congratulations! You did great! One day I would like to do something like this!

Lesley said...

you are so CUTE! 7th place, you go girl! i cannot believe you did that (well i can, but i can't imagine running a race like that) and i'm beyond impressed. i'm now inspired to walk a few laps...maybe.

Brandi LeAnn said...

High five!! Now I think I'm going to run to the mailbox..and I might even run back to the house. What an inspiration! Also, the sweet part you wrote about seeing your family at the end of the race, it made tears come out of my eyes. Very sweet moment. Loved it!

kate said...

Awesome!!! Thanks for sharing. I'm running my tri, a sprint tri this weekend and I'm all sorts of nervous. There's not much more I can do now though. You rocked it!!!

{natalie} said...

Wow you are awesome. I am really impressed, that race seems super hard.

Amanda Mae said...

wow! you're amazing! Good job!

ok - you've inspired me. I need to find a trail run around here... I'm ready! let's do this!

Ally said...

ummmm... your stick figure drawing... GENIUS! and WAY TO GO!!!

Tanya said...

I sent your blog link to Marc Sanderson, one of the race directors, and this is what he wants to tell you...

Sheena - congrats on a great race! I must admit this is the first Blog that I have ever read in my entire life - Your perspective of our race is very interesting and accurate, a true leg burner! I am glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the support, if runners only knew how enjoyable the trails really are, even in the mud, they would all leave the asphalt in a minute! See you next year - Marc Sanderson (Co-Race Director)

Anonymous said...

what an incredible experience! i just completed my very first half marathon (rock n roll dallas) about two months ago also! but it wasn't as strenuous as this one sounded. it was a super flat route. but i did it!

i can't wait for the next one either! and this race sounds so challenging (where are you?) and i would so come out there and join ya next time!

Anonymous said...

PS and 2 hours and 18 minutes?!?! with all that mountainous and muddy feat?? wow!

Chloe said...

Congratulations! You are such an inspiration and I would love to do one of those races in the future. Fantastic job!

Lauren said...

You are awesome! What a great accomplishment.

Also, I love your blog. Your photos. Your food...

melissa said...

um. i hate to point this out to you (embarrassing) but you don't even look TIRED at the end. whatever, good job!

banananutmeg said...

that climb is freaking insane.

are you DYING to sign up for a FLAT 1/2 just to see how fast you could do it, now that you're all buff and trained for insanity?!! I mean, if you're doing mt timp in 2:18....I can't even imagine what kind of lightening speed you'd do a road race at! That's crazytown. Way to go!

Tanae said...

Oh my goodness Sheena, you did AMAZING!! 2 hrs 18 min- With over 2,000 feet in elevation gain- WOW. I hope you are super proud of yourself, way to go!!! Really- I think you are made to be a trail runner. For your first race you did incredible.

Tara said...

Great job, Sheena. In a weird, psychotic runner kind of way, I'm looking at that elevation chart and thinking, 'Man I should have done that. Then I'd be ready for Ragnar." haha I am so so nervous for the hill in Ragnar. And look at the MOUNTAIN you climbed! Literally! That is insane! I'm actually really looking forward to seeing you attack Ragnar hill, it's gonna seem like nothing now!

Mrs. JM said...

cool beans! way to go. i'd do it for sure next time if you want to join up with a perfect stranger (notice the choice adjective). you rocked it! so impressive. i'm a little surprised they organize a trail run in the mountains so early in the year! then again, it's usually a bit warmer by now.

Unknown said...

Congrats! That is such an amazing accomplishment and I love reading about running and runners in general (b/c I am one too) This race sounds awesome!

rungirlrun32 said...

Have you read Born to Run? I am reading it right now. Your experience fits right in with the theme of the book. I will be trail running very soon! Girl, you are awesome! I can't wait to join you out there!

Unknown said...

i dont know if its a good thing or a bad thing this gave me flash backs to my trail run. it is so awesome you were prepared, and did awesome overall!! congrats on the victory, you beat the mountain!!! seriously no better feeling.

Cali said...

I know it would be creepy if I said I wish we were best friends, so I won't.. but I wish I knew you in real life. I found your blog a while ago, and I love it. I love to run (lately without music, too!), love making a healthier life for my babies, and still love some sweets. Why do I not know you? I've ran 1 marathon and 4 half marathons, I should totally do a trail run next. Loved this post.

m- said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
m- said...

oh, great. you first motivated me to start running and now i want to take it on the trails. i have got to stop reading your blog. you are drastically changing my life. but i like it.

Kelly said...

You're like Oprah! Everyone wants to be your best friend, because you never gripe about the ugly, the hard times, the tedious small stuff of life - that can sometimes fill up our days. With humility you point out the joyful, the worthwhile, the beautiful (and the delicious!). You just get up and go and push yourself hard in everything you do.. and then... Just like Oprah.. you make us all want to do likewise!! Great Post!

Courtney said...

Wow Sheena! 2 hours and 18 minutes! You are amazing!!! and in Utah in that super high hard to breath elevation. Good job!
I loved your pictures too. Your kids are so sweet. I know they were so proud of you--that's cool that they got to see their mama do that!

tegyn said...

that is awesome. YOU are awesome!!!

Kasia said...

Firstly, you are amazing woman. Secondly, your photos are gorgeous.

I hope, in the future I'll have as beautiful life as you :)

Anna said...

Amazing! Posts like these make me want to become a runner. Congratulations on finishing the race.

Lula. said...

You have hot legs.