The North Face Endurance Challenge 10K (6.2 miles), held this past Sunday, October 4, on the Ice Age Trail in Kettle Moraine State Park, Wisconsin, was my third race this year and also the third race in which I have competed since the birth of my son, Avie, now 27 months, and the death of my father, A.J., my biggest running fan.
For the race, I decided to make a playlist of carefully selected music totaling 52 minutes in honor of my father, whose birthday was February 15, 1952. Despite never racing with headphones before, I wanted to experiment with how music could potentially increase my speed, as studies indicate, and to keep the number close to my heart if this time my bib did not contain a 52.
To explain the bib/52 reference, in my first post-baby and post-death-of-my-dad race, the Mount Summit Challenge, held in June, both of which I won second overall female, my bib numbers coincidentally turned out to be 52 and 252, respectively.
However, when Avie's father/my fiance, Eric, and I drove the 40 minutes from his parent's house to pick up my race packet the day before the 10K, Eric was the first one to notice my bib number, 4296.
"Well, there's no significance there," he remarked.
Nonetheless, I was eager for the race. I had a big goal in mind, and as Eric and I cruised around in the 1986 El Camino from his high school days, I thought back to the moment this dream was born.
It occurred early this year. I bounded into the house at the completion of a six-mile run, pointed at my Garmin Forerunner 10 watch, and excitedly announced to Eric,
"I think I can run a sub-50 10K!!!" Doing so is as similarly coveted a feat as running a sub-four-hour marathon in the world of non-professional female racing, and the pace I had just maintained indicated that I could pull it off, especially with "race day magic" on my side.
"Race day magic" is the energy-inducing, undeniably positive, uplifting vibe perpetuating the atmosphere before and during a race. It boosts runners' confidence and enthusiasm and makes the impossible seem possible. It's what creates good competition. It's how records are broken and dreams fulfilled.
The North Face Endurance Challenge provided enough race day magic to make my dream seem more tangible than ever, in addition to a little encouragement from my family, beginning with my mom. This is the text she sent me on the morning of the race:
"Your Dad is ready to run with you. Show him what you have, baby girl. Enjoy!" Upon reading, I cried.
Moments later, as Eric and I pulled into Kettle Moraine State Park on race morning, the park registration booth attendant leaned forward and asked, "Are you racing today?" Eric replied, "No, she is," and as he gestured in my direction, Jewel's song "My Father's Daughter" came on the radio.
We quietly exchanged looks of awe. We parked. I closed my eyes. I cried. We waited for the song to finish. I opened the car door and stepped out with purpose, more than ready to run fast, as only my father's daughter would.
After receiving a complimentary pre-race massage, I did my favorite dynamic warm-up, shed my layers and stepped to the start line in the Wave 2 group, which began one minute after Wave 1. This would be the only thing I would change about this race - submitting a predicted average pace per mile was required upon race registration. At the time, I was experiencing IT band issues and told myself this would be a just-for-fun race, not a competition. Consequently, I chose the non-competitive time of 9:00/mile, an easy jogging pace, and a prediction that turned out to be far from my actual pace. I cannot help but wonder whether Wave 1 was reserved for those who predicted the fastest paces and if I had submitted a pace closer to my actual, would I have run even faster? Regardless, I was thrilled with the results that my actual pace, 7:54/mile, gave me.
The race course proved to be a flowing, wide, smooth trail with one small hill climb near the beginning and then again at the end of the lollipop formation (out, around a loop, and back the same way we started). Throughout the race, I held a steady gaze forward and listened so intently to my music, providing such power in my step that I was ecstatic to see I covered the first two miles in less than 16 minutes. I was on pace to not only secure my big goal of a sub-50 10K but to also nab another big race goal - to finish among the top five females.
With 1.8 miles to go, a race volunteer called out to me, "42:56!" Ecstatic, I realized I probably would not hear all 52 minutes of my 10K playlist. I heard my dad saying,
"Hell, Brynny, you can run this race in less than 52 minutes! Don't be so sentimental! F$@& music! You don't need music! It's in your heart! What the hell kind of music are you listening to anyway?" (My playlist is posted on Summer Running: Training Through Too Much Heat, with Music on My Mind, and I'm sure my outlaw-country-loving dad would be shaking his head at my song selection!)
To him I would say, "Have you ever run to Eminem's "Lose Yourself"? Trust me, it would even make you run faster!" John Butler Trio's "C'mon Now" was the last song I heard, because eventually the music began to fade as I began experiencing that aching stomach, nearly vomiting, close to fainting, almost collapsing feeling I felt when I broke the 400 meter dash record in high school.
Upon crossing the finish line, Eric rushed over to me with a huge smile and hug. He probably knew my time and place, but with a spinning, dizzy head and wobbly legs that still yearned to move, I dashed to the tent housing the computers where I could type in my bib number and find out whether I achieved my dreams.
I punched in 4-2-9-6 with a shaky pointer finger. Through blurred vision, my dreams lay before my eyes:
- Time: 00:49:06 - I ran a sub-50 10K!
- Female, 4th of 165 - I placed in the top five females, 4th out of 165 other ladies, to be exact!
- First Place Female for age group 30-34, out of 30 other women - score!
By this time, Eric's parents had arrived with Avie, who was going on day five of being fully weaned after 27 months of nursing night and day. Even more, he had actually slept that whole night (something he has only done maybe five times in his life). Needless to say, his sleeping allowed me a full seven, uninterrupted hours of deep, restorative sleep, something only parents of babies can appreciate. Being fully rested had to have at least a little bit to do with reaching my dreams, as did no longer nursing. That's worthy of a toast!
Looking forward, now seems the ideal time to begin training for a spring race. Avie is fully weaned, I love winter running and hope to cross train with a new set of cross country skis, and Eric and I are getting married in April, after which we plan to try for a second baby. Maybe I'll find another North Face Endurance Challenge race, because I enjoyed this one so much. Maybe I'll do that marathon I've had my sight set on, if I can get away from the desire to run fast. Whatever I decide to do, I'll be sure to keep music on my mind and my dad's spirit in my heart. Thank you, North Face, for a moving, memorable day.