Monday, April 25, 2011

Bounding in the promise land

I saw her shortly after turning onto the final leg of my journey; a 2.3 mile steep descent on a gravel road. Her unmistakeable black and lime green jersey was the tasty carrot that drew me down that hill and toward the finish line. I was running well after thirty-some miles but I knew from experience that this downhill would hurt. Forcing myself to keep the pressure on, I felt my left calf begin to quiver. My mind screamed out to the offending muscle. "Relax. Relax." Twice I momentarily stopped to stretch it. It helped.

Donna Elder and me racing toward the finish
Still, with 400 yards to go, I caught Donna. My breathing was labored, to say the least. I'm sure she thought it was a freight train coming up behind her. "Oh, hey, Rebekah. Good job," she offered. I did not return the greeting. I couldn't. There was not enough air to both breath and run. My friend did not slow or let me pass. I had mixed feelings about that. It would have been easier had she relented. But it also would have diminished our finish. Her persistence kept me honest.

Onto the final blacktop road and through the mud at the top of the driveway. Now, with 75 yards to do, I wasn't sure if I could hold on. "So what if she gains a few yards on you? Who cares? Just cross the line with a smile. You did good enough," a tiny voice chided. The thought was so appealing. I was red-lined but still moving. But that is not the only voice I heard.

"You tell your runners to give it all they have. To turn it on and leave it all out on the course. You have to see if there is another gear." The dueling conversations lasted for 30 yards. Now with 45 to go, the decision was made. I reached down into the abyss of my will. My speed picked up, legs churning. I was startled by my body's response as I accelerated despite trail-weary legs. Donna and I hurled ourselves toward the cheering crowd, faster and faster. Crossing the line, I was spent. Breathing was difficult. But it was worth it. I would be able to tell my team that I gave it all I had. I had to lead by example even if they weren't there to see it.

I ran smart. I ran hard. I am pleased.

That's how the race ended. But that's not the whole story. With a light rain falling, many runners looked bundled up as we headed up the mountain in the early morning darkness. I pitied them knowing they were destined to carry their long sleeves and jackets for the race's duration. Within a mile, my own arm warmers came off and got stuffed into my pack. My sleeveless tank was all I needed.

Running with Sophie Spiedel
Up, up, up I went, determined to have a good day. My goal was to run smart and strong, not content to just "finish." Some passed me and I passed others on my way to the top. Now down the grassy road I ran, taking in the clouds hanging in the valleys below and a mist hanging in the morning air. Everything was lush and green, birds shouting out their spring pleasure in song. Sooner than expected, I reached the bottom and began to climb again, a common theme on the tough Promise Land course with a reported gain of about 9000 feet. Another couple miles brought me to Sunset Field aid station in the company of some very strong runners. That pleased me.

Down, down, down to the valley floor. Along the creek, into the woods, running strong. The cold stream crossings felt refreshing. Pick up your heels. Don't step forward. Stay calm and relaxed but don't back off. The mental reminders helped, carrying me through several more aid stations. I mostly ran alone though brief greetings were offered as I passed others. I liked it that way. I embraced the solitude, the gentle quiet of the awakening springtime forest. But it didn't stay that way--and that's okay.

Jennifer Nichols is a rising star. With a blazing fast past in high school and college, this once track and road runner is making quite the impression in the ultrarunning world. But battling a recent cold and cough and being a mom to young ones, she wasn't in her finest form. Bad for her. Good for me. Our paces matched on this day as we chatted about this and that, challenges and dreams, failures and goals. At times, we temporarily separated but joined forces again further down the trail. It was a comfortable and unspoken arrangement that carried us up the grueling Apple Orchard ascent.

Jennifer Nichols and I approach Sunset Fields
With just 4.5 miles to go, we left the mountain top aid station together. But soon, as the trail wound it's way downward through the rhododendrons and along a full and rushing stream, we parted company, each to finish the race on her own terms. Hence, I reached the final gravel road alone to finish well what I had started. The whole day had been a choice. It was a choice to run hard. A choice to hurt. A choice to dig deep. But it was also a choice to smile, to be content and happy. It was a choice to not look at my watch. Rather, it was a choice to simply ask and answer the question over and over again: "Am I doing the very best I can do right now?"

Yes. Praise God I can honestly answer "yes."


susanna said...

great report! I shall refer folks to this for a MUCH more concise version of my own story. ;)

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

haha. Yeah. Yours was a bit longer. :)

jenn said...

WELL run SMART race!! I so enjoyed running with you and it was just amazingly cool how comfortable it was running with you. talking was fun, but running in silence was comfortable, warm and fun as well! you are truly a kindred spirt!! :o) ((HUG)) I knew i'd lose you at the downhill, but SO happy for you to blaze that last 5 miles and LAY IT DOWN.. wonderful job on that finish!! you truly can tell your girls you tried your best ( haha that natural speed/sprinter came out to get in a quick 100m dash!!) awesome!

again, I'm so thankful for you helping me through my rough patches and giving me your tums and crackers! they helped so much!

can't wait to run with you again very soon! ((HUG))

Martha said...

Well done, Rebekah! I wish I had been able to hang with you (but I was paying the price for running Bull Run). It was an amazing day to be out there, and I really enjoyed the whole race. I was glad to end up as "first loser" behind you!

Rick Gray said...

Well Done Rebekah! What a glorious way to begin your Easter weekend.

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Martha- I kept looking for you even though I knew the legs might be tired from racing so much lately. You are one tough woman!

Same goes for you, Miss Jenny.

Sorry Rick, you are not one tough woman. But you are a tough man!

Rick Gray said...

I can handle being a tough man as long as I continue to be surrounded by tough women!

Sophie Speidel said...

I count you and Donna E. as two women whom I always look forward to seeing in a race...because you always bring out the best in me.

In 2006 Donna was catching me as we descended the last 3 miles of PL and I managed to hold her off by 8 seconds...she made me a better, stronger runner that day.

And you pushed and pushed me at Hellgate in 2007---so much so that I would have never run as hard as I did in those last miles despite feeling so bad---you made me a better, stronger, more courageous runner that day, too.

As I told Jen Nichols on her blog---"Mama Rebekah is such an inspiration and so supportive"...but you also keep us honest: a race is a race, and at the end of the day, we are racing to discover what we are made of, and we need our friends and fellow competitors to help us discover it.

It was a pleasure, as always, to share the PL trail with you :-)

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Ah, Sophie. I love what you say. Thank you for being so generous with your comments!

Follow the yellow lines

Jack in his younger days "Well, you know I can't live here by myself. I'm moving in with you." I guess he was serious....