When it is so obvious in front of us, we are often blinded by it.
Sure, my dad has always loved watching my races and hearing about them when we were too far apart for him to attend.
But it wasn't until after he died on June 1, 2013, that it became abundantly clear just how much he loved watching me do what I love.... and still does.
Find a list of the previous 12 miracles involving race angel dad by clicking here. It all began with the very first race I ran after he passed.
Keep reading to discover how he surprised me, mid-race this time, and kept the fire burning right when I needed it.
A torrential downpour with whipping winds hit the race headquarters at Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center, where my husband, Eric, and our two boys, Avie, four, and Grey, 14 months, were camping amongst the other racers in a large, exposed field.
The photo above is the storm rolling in! Eric, Avie, Grey and I hunkered down in our tent to hold it into place. Thunder, lightning and wind beat the sides of the tent as Avie jumped and tumbled on piles of pillows and blankets and Grey nursed himself to sleep, slightly stunned by the thunderous booms. The dry, smooth course was quickly becoming a mess!
The boys slept well - yippee! And our tent only leaked slightly. We stayed dry, but as I emerged, the soaking earth around me was just a hint of what the forest would bring.
The course consisted of two loops, a 7.5 mile loop and a 19.5 mile loop. The start and finish, as well as the transition from the first to second loop, began at Blueberry Hill.
Miles 1 to 7.5: This first loop wound around Hogback Mountain and up to Mount Romance with a total elevation gain of about 1,500 feet.
It is common knowledge that the final six miles of a marathon can be the toughest. It is the time when runners hit the dreaded "wall." For me, however, in this particular race, it was the first six miles that proved most challenging. Oh, it took so long to find my groove!
Perhaps it was all those colossal mud pits that expanded beyond the edges of the trail and ran up to 20 yards long. The first one that I approached stopped me in my tracks. I stared. How deep was it? How do I pass through it? While I am accustomed to muddy, wet trails, I had never encountered such mud as this. This was dark, foreboding and thick, making it difficult to judge depth, unlike the splashy, watery, mostly clear and liquid puddles that made up the trails back home.
"I'll skirt around the edges," I thought, and as I employed this tactic, I slid sideways into the pit and sank.
Quite quickly, I had a second chance, as another mud pit appeared. Tentatively, I hopped through what appeared to be the shallowest spots possible, yet it was deceptive. Thick, sticky and resembling clay in texture, it was difficult to really see how deep the mud was or what lie beneath.
Then another pit appeared. And another. And more. Soon, it felt as if the entire course was one wide, long sticky suction cup threatening to rip off my shoes or eat me alive like quick sand. Yet, I made the decision to let go of hesitancy. The mud pits were toying with my mental game - after all, they were new to me, and the erratic trudging interrupted the beloved flow I love about running... I needed a new strategy....
Hey diddle diddle, right down the middle became my motto! I plowed through those brown beasts with glee! They provided for uneven footing with rocks and debris buried beneath... at this, my knees cried as I sank, slipped and tripped through this treacherous terrain. But at least I found some sort of rhythm.
Positive affirmations flooded my brain as mud flooded my socks and shoes. Finally, finally, something clicked, and by the time loop one came to a close, I felt ready to really run.
Whew, the tough part, the warm-up, was over, I thought. Like all pain, I knew it would soon pass and that my body and mind would find a flow. It did.
My favorite part of this section were the Falls of Lana and the climb up to Moosalamoo, because I love long climbs and bubbling white water creeks!
Soon I came upon another woman and a man running together. I was feeling supercharged but questioned whether, now at mile 18, it was too soon to push forward with even more gusto. Going back and forth about whether to pass the two runners ahead of me, I thought, why not? I feel amazing, I really don't like to overthink and overanalyze things, I prefer to act from the heart, and my heart is saying yes.... yet, that pesky mind was throwing speculations in my face... thus the battle of the mind and heart ensued.
Finally, I couldn't take the war exploding between my head and chest. It was the fear of pushing too hard too soon and hitting a wall versus the fear of holding back and regretting not going with my gut, which was telling me that I most certainly could pick up the pace and keep it up until the end.
I thought back to a conversation I had with Trail Run Tribe runner and dear friend, Rachel J. She had asked me my goal for the marathon, and, not one who loves calculations, goal-setting, specifics, numbers, rigidity, I told her, "To run with wild abandon. To run without regret." Now that is the type of goal with which I can relate - one riding on feeling.
My goal became a mantra.
Run with wild abandon.
Run without regret.
My heart reigned, and I politely asked the runners ahead of me to pass, wished them good luck, told them they looked great, smiled and moved forward. An enormous burden lifted. My feet felt instantly dance-like. I felt lighter, especially as the man and woman met my eyes with genuine smiles and praise. The exchange filled me up.
Then it happened.
My father was staring me in the face.
As soon as I pulled away from the pair of runners, I saw him.
No, no, I didn't see his ghost! But it was damn near close.
Right before me was a gentleman wearing his bib number on his back, something I had never seen before. Bibs are typically worn on the abdomen, hip or leg, not the upper back.
If you have followed the story of my race angel dad, you know that it began with my bib numbers - his birth digits, 2-15-52 (February 15, 1952), would appear in my bibs, a random yet certainly not coincidental occurrence. Before this race, his digits appeared 12 different times in different race.
Again, click hear to read about the beginning of our story.
So, on this day, in this race, he came to me, for the 13th time in a race since his death. I neared the gentleman in front of me with wide eyes on bib 215.
215. I became transfixed.
215, my dad's birthday, February 15. Could it really be? In the middle of the marathon, in the middle of Vermont, in the middle of the emotional/mental roller coaster I was just having, did he really find me?
Oh, dad, thank you.
Seeing my dad, my 215, my race angel, ensured me that I made the right decision to trust my energy and absolutely go for it.
I had no idea what place I held, what my pace was, how long I had been running, what time it was (I don't like to look at my watch when I run), or whether I was vying for a top three spot, but passing two women in the final nine miles gave me hope that perhaps I was contending for a podium spot.
How I wanted to scream! I wanted to jump on the gentlemen's back and hoot and holler the way divine, awesome, miracles call us to do! I wanted to tell him the entire race angel story, but, oh, it's a long one, did I have time?! Would he want to hear it? One thing was for sure - he probably didn't want me giving him a full-on bear hug from behind, so I refrained, and I didn't scream, because that tends to scare people. Instead, as he heard my foot steps inch closer, he stepped off the trail, turned to me, and let me run by. I met his eyes. He met mine.
We parted ways. It was the last that I saw him. I cried. And I ran.
Dad, ever full of surprises, always there when I least expect it, in such clear, profound, steadfast ways.
Miles 21-26.5: Five miles to go and back on single track. Piece of cake! Here are my splits for the final section:
Mile 21: 13:22.7
Mile 22: 10:46.1
Mile 23: 12:54.3
Mile 24: 12:00.6
Mile 25: 11:18.9
Mile 26: 10:43.0
Mile 26.5: 4:25.20
As I rounded the bend to pass the pond indicating the finish was in view, I felt as if I were flying, by trail running standards. Eric, Avie and Grey were cheering. I finished strong, my favorite way to end a race. I dropped to the grass, and Avie ran into my arms.
Race Director Andy quickly came, grabbed my hand and shook it, announcing, "Second female! Second female!"
It was not my goal.
But I ran with wild abandon, without regret, from the heart, throwing caution to the wind and fear by the wayside. With a little help from race angel dad, I made it to the podium in a 26.2 (actually a 26.5-mile, but who's counting?) race.
Average pace: 12:12
Overall place, out of men and women: 10th
I love you, Vermud.
I love you, race crew, Eric, Avie and Grey.
Dad, you amaze me. I love you. Happy Father's Day!
I love you, Trail Run Tribe, and appreciate the many text messages of support I received before, during and after the race. Racing has always been fun, but since I've found all of you, it's taken on a sweeter meaning. I thought of each of you as I ran, which filled me with strength and purpose. It felt as if I weren't just running for me, but for all of us!
I loved calling my sister, Tara, and mom (after finally securing cell service a full 28 hours after the race lol) to recount the story of the 215 and hear how utterly shocked they were that I won second, as was I! Finally, screaming was acceptable, as all three of us shouted celebratory thoughts, amazed exasperations and probably some swear words all at the same time through the phone. We laughed and cried, and the conversation made me really want the two of them at my next race. Let's make that happen!
Thank you, Endurance Society, RD Andy and Blueberry Hill. I hope to see you in the future.