Those two little words will come to define so much for a long time to come. It is in the warmth and love of snuggles with the kids that give you the armor of love; the time and laughter with your sister and brother (I have decided to stop calling them “in-law”) that will forever give you unconditional support; and it is the reality of genuine body armor that will leave me with motivation to last a lifetime.
This weekend, Paul and I headed to Washingtonstate to visit Nicole and Ryan and their kids (and Meghann). The timing was picked to spend some quality time with Ryan before he deploys to Afghanistan, which will be his 4th deployment to the Middle East. Nicole had sent us links to local races and said, “pick one.” After looking at the different sites we picked the HARDEST one…SquakMountain 50k. It also had a ½ marathon, and Ryan and Nicole were game to join in the fun. The elevation gain of the races speaks to the beginning of the challenge: 3600ft climb for the ½ marathon and 8300ft. climb for the 50k.
We arrived late on Thursday night, and had agreed to go with Nicole to her Master’s Swim practice Friday morning (5:30). The Terranova’s certainly know how to chill on vacation J It was definitely worth the wake-up, as the workout was great and I was left with some moments that would keep us laughing all weekend.
Paul and I hit Trader Joe’s and Harvest Bread Co, and grabbed groceries for my pre-race dinner and for Sunday BBQ with long-time college/Army friends who also live in the Seattle area. We had an early dinner and got the kids ready for bed. As we headed upstairs, Ryan was showing Paul all of his packing preparation of his gear. They were talking about how many things had been upgraded in just the 11 years since Paul was in the Army, and likewise how some things have NOT changed. It was during this observation that I spotted the Body Armor. Even without being stuffed to the gills with a basic load of ammo, it is 45 lbs. The weight comes from the plates that are located to protect your vital organs when you are in combat. Yep, welcome to reality. In addition to the body armor is the helmet. I innocently suggested I put it on. There are few words to describe what it feels like to wrap your body in this weight. I crouched down to the ground, but then couldn’t even lift myself up. We all definitely had a good laugh, but the reality still clouds the room. Then the helmet went on. It was as though the weight of the world landed on my head. It was crazy. I then attempted a push-up. I kind of got one in. We took it off, but the impression of it will not soon leave.
Onto the races… We drove up to Issaquah on Saturday morning. I don’t know what weather report I was reading because as we pulled into the park it was 32 degrees. Umm, yeah, I was concerned that 40s and 50s would be cold. Oh well, it was not raining, so there was really nothing to complain about. Paul and I opted to go with the early start group (7:30 vs. 8:30), so that we could finish earlier and go spend time with everyone. Right before the start the RD gave a brief description: climb, do a pretzel loop, climb more, get to aid station at the top of the mountain (about 4.5 mi), do the green loop (about 4.5 mi), make sure to follow arrows, go “back to start,” climb back up to the green loop, do the green loop twice, and then back to finish. And, this was my favorite: “If you have had enough after the first loop, you can opt to do the marathon and only do the green loop one time on the second loop.” (had enough after the first loop?? I knew this would be hard but to put a “mercy” clause made me laugh a little).
At 7:30 we were off!! It was a very weird feeling as we started to climb and enter the pretzel loop; I was right behind Paul. Ummm, am I running too hard? I didn’t think I was so I let him float into the distance and I just plugged along. I am by no means a climber, so I just kept a steady trotting pace on the service road, and enjoyed the super soft terrain on the single track. It was spectacular, so lush and green. I got to the aid station, and headed on the green loop. Out of the aid station it was a steep decent for about a half mile, so steep I was scared to speed down for thoughts of sliding down; right turn, and then what Ryan and Paul best described as where Luke Skywalker would run if he ran a trail race. Ewoks clearly live amongst these trails. Over huge logs, under logs, rocks, moss, ledges that didn’t seem like they should be run on (except for the fact that there was a ribbon right in front of you), then the gift, again, of smooth single track, gradual climbing, volunteers at two major intersections to point the way, and finally a right turn to lead you back up to the aid station. This climb was a bugger and we would have to do it two more times.
Out of the aid station, they pointed UP to go “to the finish.” Honestly, I almost questioned them because I thought I had maxed out the climbing for the loop and was going to be heading down for 4ish solid miles to the finish area, not so much. Short climb, then some great soft downhill, which actually was a spot where we got to pass other runners who were going up on the same section, and then past one of the volunteer intersections. Again, I thought we would be going downhill, but NOOO. There was a final climb that seemed steeper than the rest, and THEN you got the downhill. The downhill, finally, was awesome. There were roots, twists, turns, bridges, soft mud, and just endless treasures to keep you fully engaged. I had been waiting and waiting for it and was enjoying it. Since I knew there were still many miles to go I put the brakes on a little and managed myself. Heading down this the 2nd time would be another story J
Before long I was back at the start/finish, grabbed a new bottle and headed back up to where I had just been. Up the service road, onto the pretzel loop which had been a little cleared by all the other runners, and back onto the service road. On the right turn single track climb, before the final climb to the top of the mountain, I challenged myself to run every step up. I know I run faster than I powerhike so I knew this was the quicker option, but I also always have this fear of burning too much energy because I am not a strong climber. It was on this section I thought of the weight of the body armor I had on the night before. I thought of the freedom of taking it off, and how light I felt. It was in this moment I felt light as I climbed. I thought to myself, “if Ryan can wear that body armor everyday, I can certainly push through any pain or perceived weakness.” It is amazing when you can think outside of your own comfort zone, what you find your body can do.
Green Loop, again: when I got to the aid station I told the volunteers: “see you a couple of more times.” They were very helpful and kind. Down the hill to Ewok land I went. This loop was awesome because I got to see so many of the other racers now on the loop. They were so encouraging! It is incredible to see all of the fitness levels accomplishing such a tough race, wow! I climbed up to the aid station, and turned around to run the Green Loop for the 3rd time (once on loop one and twice on loop two). I headed down the steep slope and the guy who would be the eventual winner was heading up to the aid station about to start his 3rd loop, too. It was the perfect thing I needed… I told him to come catch me. He, of course, had no idea which race I was doing nor who I was, but I started running as hard as I could with the thought that I wanted to make as much time as I could before he caught me. It was a good game for me because I had been running by myself the entire race, so this motivated me to run hard when it would have been easy to get comfortable. (It also helps when you have been through the technical trail 2 previous times as you get very brave by the 3rd) He caught me about ¾ of the way through the loop about the same time I saw Paul heading down toward the finish (see above about the part of the course that overlapped). I gave Paul and quick kiss, and then chatted with leader guy for a moment. He asked if I had taken the early start, and if anyone else did. I told him that Paul was the only person in his time range, but that given the timing (we checked watches) he would definitely finish ahead of Paul (he did in 4:4ish), and off he went. I continued on thru the Green Loop aid station for the last time, and onto the finish.
I knew I had the short climb, the soft downhill, the brutal climb, and then home-free downhill. I took my last electrolyte and fuel on the short climb, pushed the downhill (told one lady that I was approaching that I had no breaks…yes, crazy arms were in full force), and didn’t let the last climb break me. Finally, when I crested I knew I needed to go downhill with all the speed I had to possibly break 6 hours. I went for it. I pushed. I repeated my mantra of “no fear, no fear” as I took the curves, roots, and switchbacks as hard as I could. And, it was a blast, and worth the push, as I came in at 5:54;54 (new CR). It was probably one of the most rewarding finishes because Paul, Nicole, and Ryan were there. It was on a course that is not my strength AT ALL, and because I didn’t let my running “body armor” bring me down. Instead I took the armor off, pushed through my weakness, and enjoyed my strengths!
Aside from the rest of the weekend, which was filled with incredible company (thank you Kate for hosting us post-race), Washington weather to dream for, and so many good times and laughs (still trying to remember rules 1-8), the trip ended on such the perfect note. Again, we know how to vaca…Ryan, Nicole, Paul, and I set out on a post-race run Monday morning at 5:30 in 40 degrees and rain. We all were moving quite a bit slower than we had on Saturday. Ryan had discovered a new found superman downhill running ability Saturday, and an even newer found soreness that went along with it. Nicole felt like she had just run a marathon, and Paul and I had high hopes that the shake out run would loosen all that was tight. But, in the rain we ran together enjoying the early morning puddles and company, and then somehow thought a session of P90X core would further the experience (probably only comedy experience for Nicole and Meghann). Nicole headed for work, next we will see her as she crews and paces Paul the last 7mi at Western States; the kids headed for school, next we will see them as they join Paul at the finish line of Vermont (while visiting the grandparents in July); and, finally, good-byes to Ryan. We will next see him in about 10 months. He left me with this, as the conversation of body armor had come up a number of times: “just think of me and my team in our body armor everyday for 8-10 hours inAfghanistan.” Yeah, I think my motivation is pretty much set.
(family pic to come 🙂 )