Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ten Miles

Ducking into some bushes down from the track, I dropped low to answer the call of my churning insides. "Ah, that feels better," I thought after a few awkward minutes of hoping no one was watching. Continuing the short walk to the growing crowd, my mind picked up on the churning action. The first of two times I made this walk was in 1996. I was 39 years old. The last time was 1997. The race was a big deal to locals and many from afar. Back then, I was running strong. Not so much anymore. But, the Virginia Ten-Miler, now in its 37th running, pulled in nearly 3,000 runners this year to run the hilly course. So, what in the world was I doing toeing the line?

I am not a road runner. I am an ultrarunner, much preferring the rocky ribbons of trail traversing mountainsides. But I am also a coach; a middle and high school cross country coach. Many of my kids had signed up for this race or the companion 4-Miler. And my assistant coach, Mr. Speedy Gonzales himself, was shooting for another sub-60, top ten finish. How could I not?

I used to have plenty of fast twitch muscles. I was a champion sprinter in high school back in the mid-70s. Undefeated even. But miles of trails teamed with multiple birthdays have turned the fast-twitch into hardly a twitch. I have become turtle-like; slow and mostly steady. The road race scares me but. . .

But it's those crazy kids; those kids who enthusiastically filled out the entry forms and sent them in. It's their willingness to submit themselves to the training. It's their glee to keep in front of me at practice. It's my competitive nature to not let that happen too often.

1996 Virginia 10-Miler Pictures
Hence, toe the line I did. In 1996, just two years into my ultrarunning career, I ran 70:05, placing 7th overall for the woman. But after a 7:15 first mile this year, I couldn't fathom how I ever did that. Still, I ran on, trying to hold my pace up those big hills. I told myself to stay relaxed, try to enjoy the bands and people along the way. I watched as my top cross country girl began pulling away at mile three. I noted a friend of mine running just ahead of me waving to the crowd as people called to her.  Everyone knew her. She looked like a princess going to the prom. I saw streams of runners ahead and behind. Occasionally, I heard my name but mostly ran in anonymity, alone in my thoughts though amidst so many in and along those city streets.

Someone told me to have fun. Fun? Well, I'm not sure that labored breathing is a barrel of monkeys but - I tried. I tried to embrace this rare experience of racing on roads. I counted down the miles as I crossed the markers painted onto the road's surface. I worked hard to stay in contact with Prom Princess. I passed a number of people down a long hill. A few passed me as we ascended another. I wondered why the water station at the bottom of Farm Basket hill was handing out pink latex gloves to runners. I supposed it was some cancer awareness thing but was too tired to surmise further. That hill was sucking the life out of me and my mind finally relented to allow ten walking steps, twice, to keep my heart from exploding inside my chest. As I did, a young girl, about 18, I guessed, came along side and quipped, "Come on. You can do it. You are almost to the top of the hill."  I wanted to smack her but that would have taken too much effort.

I passed the final mile marker. I knew I would be close to 80 minutes, a time I arbitrarily picked as a goal. It was less than a minute per mile slower than I ran fourteen years ago. With 400 yards remaining, the still-smiling Speedy Gonzales ran out to bring me in after completing his race in 57 minutes. "Come on, Coach T. Here's a little down hill. You love downhills. You have a pretty good pace going. Now pick it up." Sadly, I could not. I couldn't even pick up a smile.

I heard my name announced over the loud speaker. By my watch, I missed my mark by 20 seconds. Shoot. Had I used one less water stop. . .had I not taken those few steps. . .had I reached down deeper. I was glad to be finished but immediately felt disappointed by my failure. Still, I had faced my fear and found the finish.

Awaiting the ceremony to see Speedy rewarded for his efforts, I heard the announcer say, "And the Women's overall Grand Masters champion is Rebekah Trittipoe." Yippee.  I have to admit, I had thought about that possibility as I walked to the line and ran those ten stink'n miles. I didn't see anyone around me who looked old but they could have been out front. I could only hope. A heavy trophy was handed over to me, a photographer snapped my picture against the backdrop, and a certificate for a new pair of shoes was offered. Now I could smile broadly.

Yesterday I ordered my free pair, a minimalist racing shoe. Then, I began looking for my next race. . .on roads. Scary. I must have been taken over by aliens.

2 comments:

Rick Gray said...

Your devotion today is titled "Slow as a Turtle", but from looking at your results I certainly don't think you fit into that category. Afterall, how often does one come away as the Grand Masters Champion in a race that large. Not often. Yea, you are not as fast as you once were, but you still know how to put one foot in front of the other. I am glad that you broke under the peer pressure from your cross country kids and assistant. You needed to toe the line with them and you certainly showed them what you are made of. I can't wait to hear where your next road race will be. Interesting to hear that you ordered flats for your free shoes. I can't remember how many years it has been since I have been in a pair of flats and even longer for a pair of spikes. Congratulations on a finely executed race. You still have it!!!

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

I tried hard...And, I decided on the shoe because it will make track workouts a little more comfortable. I don't think I need a heavy tread for traction in those lanes. :)