Monday, July 14, 2014

Mountain Growth

 Easy does not change us; tough is where growth happens. Yesterday I grew by leaps and bounds, literally. In retrospect, the Northface EnduranceChallenge half marathon at Blue Mountain, in Collingwood may have been ambitious for my first exposure to off road running. It was the kind of race that experienced trail runners called challenging. I called it just plain hard.

With the completion of hard things comes a sense of pride. The harder something is that you stick through; the feeling of pride is multiplied exponentially. I headed out for the hardest run of my life to endure all that the Collingwood mountain terrain could throw at me. What I didn't know was that the landscape would get thrown in front of me again and again and again. The triumph of any given climb was short lived as another was waiting around the corner or on the other side of the forest.

My first clue that I was in over my head came as Dean Karnazes gave the morning announcements which were heavily laden with warnings of danger spots made even more treacherous by that morning’s rain. The more warning he gave the more my face dropped. I quickly wondered if I could run out of the start area and transfer to the 5 or 10k race. My husband recounts that he saw a look of fear on my face that is not typical of me and he knew what I was thinking. Before I could bolt backwards, it was time to run forward. As the start was announced, I swallowed hard and as I have done many other times told myself, just put one foot in front of the other.

That View
Within 1km my heart and lungs were challenged like they have never been. The constant increase in elevation was relentless. I nearly died when I saw a ‘1 mile’ marker, feeling as though I must have put 5k under my feet by that point. I had never known suffering like that and began telling myself that I would bail at the first aid station. I was ready to concede and cut my losses so as to spare my life. In this dark moment I found myself clearing the trees and I was out on a flat gravel road. This gave me the chance to straighten my posture and pick up my speed a bit while I thought ‘this is more like it. I can do this’. I was recovering from the constant climb and feeling better as I turned the corner to be faced with another giant hill. I could not see the top of this hill beyond the horizon and when i finally reached the highest point, I could see it flattened out for 100m before it rose higher in elevation.

The aid station was at the top of the hill and for some reason I abandoned all thought of quitting and carried on to what was the nicest part of the course. There were only a few slight hills and after what I had just climbed really didn't count as hills anymore in my mind. The forest was quiet and the footing was decent. It was a welcome reprieve. I was able to recharge and gain back some confidence, but this was at fewer than 7k into the race. There was so much torture to come.

The slippery, muddied narrow trails, the giant up hills, the gruesome down hills just kept coming. I suffered and so did everyone else. It was not an easy course by any stretch. The final 1.5k before the finish was the slowest part of the entire race for me. It was what trail runners call ‘technical’. Straight down a steep
wooded trail on tree roots, rocks and steps forged into the ground that were as slick as ice from the mud and rain. That last distance must have taken me more than 30 minutes to navigate. When I came out of the clearing a man yelled ‘just through those trees and you are at the finish chute’. I could not believe that it was so close to being over.

With Andrew Chak after the finish
I finished with a big smile because it was over but more importantly because I did it. As I crossed the finish mat, I knew I was a different person. I saw myself differently. I have always thought of myself as someone who could endure a lot, but I had never physically done something like this before and it almost broke me but it didn't. Not only am I stronger today than I was yesterday, I am deeper too. This race was timed perfectly as I train for my third marathon. There will be hard training days and the race itself will be hard, but I have a new threshold for what hard means and my worst marathon training day will never be as hard as the 3 hours and 39 minutes I spent out on that mountain.