Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grandfather Mt Marathon, or Why am I here?

Some people can live their whole lives and never discover their life's purpose. I feel very lucky that I was able to figure out why I am here several years ago. It wasn't obvious at first but a series of events starting when I tore my ACL playing soccer in 1998 and up until this past weekend make it clear. I was born to accompany wonderful, intelligent, strong but gentle hearted and yes, lovely women in long distance running events. Yes, I am quite a lucky man.

Some times it is planned in advance but other times it just seems fate has arranged it, but in either case, the best times and memories of the 75 of so ultra's and marathons I've run the past 6 years are those when I ran beside one of the many Angels and Princesses of the sport. I can only marvel at the strong will, tenacity and , perseverance these athletic ladies exhibit on the roads and trails.

Saturday morning as I arrived at Kidd Brewer Stadium on the Campus of Appalachian State University, my only hope was to finish the race without suffering or doing further damage to my banged up body. I was an early arrival and few runners had arrived but that would soon change. The first I saw was Annette Bednosky from nearby Jefferson NC who would win the title for the weekends best combined time in the Bear, the Grizzly and the Marathon. I would spend the next hour meeting and greeting many friends and acquaintances, some veterans of the race and others here to challenge themselves for the first time. Two of the latter would include Lori Schneider and Camilla Nielsen from the NCRC. More on them later.

Soon it was time to line up on the track for the start of the race. I had been planning to at least start with Laura but she was no where in sight. Had she decided at the last minute not to run because of the virus she'd had the past two weeks? No, with 5 minutes to go she made her appearance on the track and so we lined up together in the middle of the pack. The gun sounded and off we went around the track. Within 100yds Laura lost her patience with the crowd and the slow pace so she took off. I lost sight of her in the crowd and thought to myself that she must be feeling a lot better than she let on, so I settled into what felt like an easy pace, knowing that soon the easy downhill into town would turn into a series of long hard climbs.

The first easy mile was about 9 mp and comfortable and then the course turned onto Winkler's Creek Road where the climbing would began. I made a brief pitstop to release the morning's coffee and as I stepped out of the bushes, I spotted Lori and Camilla approaching so I pulled out the camera and them joined in the race with them. Camilla had told me earlier that they ran around 10mp on their long runs so I thought that seemed a reasonable pace for me to be running for now. We had much to talk about and they had questions about the course and my impending Ironman so we were enjoying the beautiful morning and the conversation. Only problem for me was we were climbing a lot of hills and their pace was faster than I expected. I keep expecting them to take a walk break on some of the steeper portions but they didn't slow down and we were running 9:30 pace. Normally that would not be a problem but with my lack of running and especially hill training, I was beginning to struggle to stay with them. Finally on one steep section just before the 5 mile mark I had to give in and walk. They continued but soon they were walking too.

I saw Tony Rouse coming out of the woods from a pit stop so we walked and talked together for a few minutes but then there was a steep downhill. I took advantage of it to make some time and caught back up with the ladies just before the bottom and we resumed our stroll on the mountain together. These ladies were well prepared and feeling better than me and as we started the next climb I was working hard to stay with them. About that time I was surprised to see Laura ahead walking slowly and she didn't look too good. I stopped to check on her and she was ok, but having a hard time breathing and the early fast pace was too much. I decided since the pace with Lori and Camilla was too fast for me if I wanted to finish in good shape, I would stay back with Laura.

Laura and I had a great time discussing many things that friends talk about. She was still running strong on the rare downhill sections but as soon as we would start climbing she would have a hard time breathing deeply enough and would have to walk. I was fine with that because time today meant nothing to me and I was very content to spend the time running with her. We have very few opportunities to run together and she usually is too fast for me anyway. She was a bit frustrated but still in good spirits. Almost everyone that passed us or the rare person we passed, she would introduce herself to them and start a conversation. Funny but that's exactly how I met the young lady at the Carrboro 50K back in 2003.

The miles passed by and we were having a great time. We made it to the Parkway and the views opened up as we headed down the long hill down to Julian Price Park where her sister Michelle and niece were waiting. We made good time down the hill, running about 8 mp but as soon as the road began to turn uphill again she was struggling. The next two miles would be very slow but eventually we turned off the parkway and began the climb up to the 16 mile water stop and the beginning of the gravel road. The gravel road is fairly flat until the steep hill near the end and the turn onto Hwy 221 so I was expecting we would run most of it but after only a couple of 100yds she was walking and nearly gasping. I was starting to really get worried about her now. Part of the problem is she really has a problem running slow so I tried to convince her to run slower and try to keep her heart rate down so she wouldn't need as much air.

Laura simply calls the hill at the the end of the gravel road 17 because it comes at the 17 mile mark. She walks it every year even when running sub 4 and I did too in 2006 because it is just a nasty steep hill at a bad point in the race. We finally made the climb up and came into the water stop there at the intersection with Hwy 221. I took a gel and kept walking onto the highway expecting her to soon be right behind me . But when I finally looked back, she still wasn't coming. She was raised in Boone and knows some people that help out so I assumed she was talking to someone and then I noticed her crouching down. I obviously could have been running a lot faster, even with my problems but I didn't want to leave her behind struggling. I know how long these races can be when you're having a bad day so I started walking backwards up the road and waited until she finally got up and ran to catch up with me. The good thing is the backwards walking stretched my hamstrings and made them feel a little better.

At the halfway point of the race,we were still in good shape to make it onto the track and finish under 5 hours but now at 17 unless there was a miracle turnaround in the way she felt, we weren't going to make that cut-off. A little disappointing but no big deal. We would just kept plugging along enjoying the day and each others company and cheering on the other runners with smiles on our faces. Ever since I had been running with her I had been letting her set the pace and walked when she walked but now I decided to try and choose the pace. It is rare for her to struggle but shuffling and suffering are second nature to me so I would suggest when to start running and when to walk in order to maximize pace and minimize energy expenditure. That seemed to work and after a few miles she seemed to actually began to feel a little better.

Both of us were running with our cameras and were taking shots of the beautiful sites along the way and the miles gradually clicked away until we finally saw the sign that says Grandfather Mountain, 2 miles. I told her if we could run a couple of 6 minute miles we could still make it onto the track. Ha! It's been nearly 20 years since I ran one mile in 6 minutes. Earlier I could have easily pulled away but now I was having to work hard to keep up with Laura when she ran and my legs were getting so tight I had a hard time walking her pace too.

We both agreed that it was a good thing we couldn't run on the track because now we wouldn't have to run up that last stupid little steep hill up to the track . We could just stop at the aid station and call it a day. But although it was a couple of minutes after the 5 hour cut-off when we finally entered MacRae Meadows, they told us to keep going. So I struggled on up that last steep dusty, nasty, hateful little hill. Laura had found a burst of energy and pulled ahead and then as we were about to enter the track she actually had to wait for me to catch up. We ran onto the track but had not even gone around the first turn when the race officials came walking towards us telling us to stop. We were about 300 yds away from the real finish line but our race was done as they handed us finishers medals anyway.

We spent the next bit of time waiting around for the awards ceremony and visiting with friends. Camilla and Lori and Chris came and sat with us and then Camilla and Chris rode on the shuttle back down the mountain to Boone. It was nice to get to know Camilla a bit better and spend some time talking with her. She is a very sweet natured and lovely lady from Denmark.

I had a great time. Sometimes slower is better, especially when you spend the time with special people. I'm a bit disappointed that my hamstrings tightened up as much as they did and I still had some periformis pain but it is still an improvement on how things have been. I feel ok today
and don't appear to have done anymore damage which was my goal so I guess it's all good.

Here are the Photos

Here are Laura's photos


camillan262 said...

Thanks for the great company. Beautiful pictures!

Rene' Paul de la Varre said...

Thanks for the pix Joey!

I hope I'm running like you when I get older!

Next year we break 4 hours!