To be more specific, my goal for each of them was to place top three overall females. I did not want merely an age group award. I wanted to place first, second or third. Happily, I did just that.
The first of these races, held in late April, was the Mount Summit Challenge, a 3.5-mile, point-to-point ascent climbing up a four-lane highway with 1,200 feet in elevation gain. I placed second overall female and seventh overall runner out of 671 participants with a time of 30:31 and pace of 8:43/mile.
It was a fun race, I felt as if I were floating up the mountain, and I was ecstatic as I crossed the finish line, because I knew I had accomplished my goal. My twin sister, Tara, her husband, Chuck, my mom, my son Avie and his dad/my fiance, Eric, were cheering and taking photos as I crossed. The weather was a perfect 70 degrees and sunny. I had a massage that afternoon and recovered quickly in the following days.
The second race was part of the Pyle Run and Ride Festival and took place in Ohiopyle State Park on June 13. I raced in the 15.5-mile trail run, a loop course on rough, rocky, steep terrain with an approximate total of 2,300 feet in elevation gain. The course began with a four-mile climb up Sugarloaf Trail, connected to the Presley Ridge Trails and marked its final miles with a descent down Baughman Trail to the finish line.
Despite only sleeping four hours the night before; having to ditch my waist hydration pack at mile four because of chafing and subsequently carrying two 16-oz bottles, one in each hand, for the rest of the race; tweaking my right adductor around mile five; getting briefly lost and tacking on a half mile and extra five minutes to my total race time at mile six; and dealing with an IT-band related stabbing ache in my left knee that caused me to run some excruciatingly slow miles in the middle of the race - mile seven at 13:56, eight at 11:43 and 10 at 12:20 – I still placed second overall female and 14th overall runner out of 64 competitors with a time of 2:41:17 and pace of 10:24/mile.
When my knee was giving me thoughts of throwing in the towel and walking, I instead shortened my stride, increased my cadence, focused on rhythmic breathing and engaged my core. This lessened the pain and even helped me run the last half of the race faster than the first - a negative split! Here is a breakdown of my final mileage: miles 11, 13 and 15 were all run at 9:32 (funny, right?), mile 12 at 9:59 and 14 at 8:54, my fastest overall mile. As I crossed the finish line, I tossed those 16-ounce bottles from my grip, smiled when I saw Avie draped sleepily in Eric's arms and felt a huge sense of gratefulness and elation! The first thing I said to Eric was, "Look at my bib number!" and showed him the 252 pinned to my shorts. He was equally in awe, and I'll tell you why in the next two paragraphs.
When I picked up my race packet for the Mount Summit Challenge, my heart leaped when I saw that, by complete and random chance, my bib number was 52. Similarly, when I picked up my race packet on the morning of the Pyle Run & Ride, my heart did a double leap when I saw that my bib number was 252. My dad’s birthday was February 15, 1952… 2-15-52. Yes, indeed, he really was with me, from start to finish.
To continue, despite the success of these races, I must be honest – it takes a lot for me to tap into my competitive drive. The goal-making, number crunching, scheduling, planning and intense focus required of race training overwhelms me and creates anxiety. Yet, over the past two years, life presented me with three life-altering situations - injury, childbirth and death - that challenged me to tap into my competitive spirit by giving me a deep sense of purpose charged with emotional, mental, spiritual and physical grit.
Now I am racing because I had suffered an injury that once stripped me of my ability to run, and that made me crazy distraught. I want my running back, and I want it back with a vengeance.
Now I am racing because I underwent a beautifully blissful and horribly painful, agonizing 20-hour natural home birth. It instilled in me an enormous belief in the body’s physical capabilities and the mind’s enduring power, which is why when my knee began plaguing me in the trail race, I found it in myself to keep going.
Now I am racing because I want to model for my son the value of indulging in an activity that elicits passion and pleasure.
Now I am racing because it spiritually connects me to my dad.
Yes, I am a different person today after the past two years, and my running has been transformed. I am stronger, carrying within myself more faith, endurance, resiliency, belief, hope, courage and an increased capacity for and understanding of pain.
Further, running - let me rephrase - racing takes spunk and spirit, focus and determination, and an unwavering confidence and demand that one dig deep into the most profound crevices of his or her existence to pull off the best possible effort. When those factors align, combined with a feeling of pure joy, a grand sense of fulfillment occurs. It's a marvelous thing.
To sum up, when I set out this spring to not only run, but to race, to compete, with the intention of winning, it was a wildly emotional and personal decision that will drive the future of my life as a runner.