we earned this bling

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Perhaps there is something in the Humboldt air that makes you completely trip out, even if you are nowhere near a bong or magic pills or flashing lights.

Because the only way I can describe my Avenue of the Giants race experience is this: Mind Game.

And I wasn't alone with my brain teaser. Todd felt the same way.

The night before the race we reviewed the course elevation map very carefully. We confirmed what we had trained for: We'd be doing what looked like a fairly steady uphill climb with only a few breaks for the first 6.5 miles before the turnaround point, and then the race would be pretty much be downhill with a some small hills to the finish.

So we braced ourselves for hills. But when the race started, it just didn't seem hilly. In fact, we felt like we were running downhill. Naturally, we started to freak out.

"I think we read the map backwards," Todd said.

"Crap," I said.

For the entire first half of the race, we were pretty much filled with dread. My legs felt ridiculously heavy -- we had gone for a short hike at Patrick's Point the day before, and all I could think about was how tired my quads were and how I shouldn't have gone hiking. Also, I had a sideache.

Meanwhile, Todd was worried because he had never run farther than nine miles without experiencing a lot of pain -- foot problems, IT band issues, you name it. He had to take almost two weeks off of training because of this, and as a result, was slightly undertrained. The thought of having to run farther than he had ever run before and doing this uphill on tired legs was not pleasant.

Our mood got progressively bleaker after we passed the Five Mile mark and were no longer under the cover of the trees. We were hot and tired, and all we could think about was how we were going to have to run back to the finish. In fact, it got so bad that I started saying things like "It's all uphill from here!" to other runners. They looked at me like I was crazy.

Anyway, after what seemed like years of running downhill, we finally got to the turnaround point. And then suddenly the course got easier. And we realized we had read the map correctly after all, and the rest of the course was, indeed, downhill with a few small climbs. I don't know how on earth we got so confused at first and thought uphill was downhill -- maybe it was the angle of the trees or the slant of the road (which was very uneven and full of potholes) or just being in a completely new environment -- but I'm glad we eventually figured it out!

My mood improved dramatically, and I started to pick up speed. Todd's legs began to hurt at Mile Eight, but he gutted it out and kept going. I tried to distract him by pointing out how beautiful the trees were (a fact that we totally failed to notice on the way out because we had been so miserable). Really, this was a gorgeous course -- tall, stately redwoods and lush green ferns. And I was surprised by how clean everything was. In all the other races I've run (and this was my fifth half, if you can believe that), there was always trash strewn on the ground -- abandoned GU packets, empty water cups, etc. But for this race, nothing. Everything was absolutely pristine. People used the trashcans, and the volunteers were on top of any stray litter.

But I digress.

When we reached Mile 12, I looked at my watch and realized I had a chance to PR. This hadn't been my goal at all originally (all I wanted to do was run Todd to the finish line for his first half), but the thought of a PR was too tempting. I began to really push, and Todd and I started passing people. It was a late surge, yes, but it was still a surge.

We sprinted to the finish line (I was kind of an asshole and outran him instead of crossing together -- I still feel really bad about this, but the possibility of a PR was just too much for me). My final time was 2:09:04 -- just 20 seconds short of PR! Argh! Todd finished in 2:09:05 -- so awesome for his first half!

We grabbed some water and ice for Todd's knee and then lay down on the grass near the Eel River and stretched. (Again, amazing. Where else can you just lie down in a meadow next to a river after a long run?) After a few minutes, we went back to the finish line. We saw my friend Derrick finish the marathon and got to cheer him down the chute. (He PR'd!) We also saw Marcos and Julie finish. (And I felt guilty because they stuck together and crossed the line side-by-side. Ugh -- I'm such an asshole!)

All of us exchanged race stories, and then Todd, Marcos, Julie and I waded into the river for a natural ice bath. Despite the mind games, we had so much fun over race weekend that we are thinking about the next half we can run together.

Funny how racing is addicting that way. Maybe it is a drug after all.

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