Thursday, November 14, 2013

Once a Masochist, always a masochist

I took a little jog in the woods about two weeks ago. It started before first light and ended within an hour of the sun's final shine. Yep. That's a long time. But why? Was something/someone chasing me? No. Was I getting paid to do this? Unfortunately not. Did I lose a bet? Hardly.

About twenty years ago, David Horton said to me, "Betcha can't run fifty miles." I proved him wrong after he goaded me with his snide remark. I ran that distance for the first time in 1994 and came in second place for the women. Since then, I placed first, claimed a bunch more seconds, a third, and then stopped counting positions when I ran out of wiggly little tootsies to help me count. One year I left town on race day so I wouldn't be tempted to run on still-recovering feet and ankles post surgery. Twice I ran the whole course but as a sweeper, picking up streamers marking the way, and keeping an eye on the folks at the end of the long train winding it's way through the forest. Two other times I began the race but did not finish it, done in by a strange anomaly of not being able to breath, hands and feet turning Smurf-like blue. That was disappointing.

In the "old days," I approached the start line of most my races, including this race, the Mountain Masochist Fifty Mile Run (MMTR), with miles of tough training tucked under my hydration belt. Confident  I could trust my training, I was able to push the envelope. Sometimes it resulted in a great race. Other times, the price of racing hard sent my quads quivering, shins shouting, and lungs lifting gasps and groans into the air. Still, the end result was usually pretty decent. I raced often, was recognized when I walked into a room, and bore the weight of performance expectations from myself as much as others. For many years, that combination of circumstances earned me the privilege to wear a sponsor's name or two across my chest and on my feet.

Oh, how things change.

When I arrived at the start line this year, it was after soundly sleeping through the night. Nary a thought of break-neck racing or anticipation of a personal best interrupted my deep sleep. That was novel. It's not that I had miles in the bank or was coming off a full racing schedule that had whipped me into a fine piece of trail-racing flesh. Nope. None of that. My miles were low, restricted to running workouts with my cross country team, save a rare long run now and again. And in the crowded room at the pre-race dinner the night before, only the  seasoned (read that, old) runners recognized me. I was invisible in a sea of young, eager faces. My time in the spotlight had come and gone. I had entered a different phase of life-a much slower one, at that- and it was okay. Actually, more than okay.

I went into the race with fifteen finishes. I told myself last year that fifteen was a perfectly good number. Stop while I was ahead. No other woman had that many finishes. (I liked that.) But the thought of going for twenty completions made me cough up the money and drop a check and registration info into the mail. If I ran five in a row, including this year, I would complete the task at age 61. Oh, boy. It sure doesn't get easier from year to year. On top of that, the course revisions and additions makes the course about thirty minutes longer for us mere mortals. But the die had been cast. It was sixteen or bust. I had to run this one on experience and smarts. I made a pact with my soul to be patient, take things as they come, and enjoy the journey.

So me and my non-sponsored self (unless you count the label on the inside of my shorts that says "Wash in cold water") started down the road. I listened to those chatting, to advice being given. Secretly, I laughed at some. I liked the way the darkness hid me despite the thundering herd that surrounded me.

I splashed across the creek, and chugged my way up the first mountain, finding pleasure in counting steps when the way got steep. Run fifty. Walk fifty. I felt calm.

And then I began to sing.

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name.
(10,000 reasons)

Up and up I climbed, singing, even if under muffled breath. The sky promised to break it's hold on the darkness within minutes. I sang the first verse, a most perfect verse.

 The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
 

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name.

Once on the single track trail, my steps felt light and free. The day had overcome the night and I was running free. Free to be me. Free to be who God intended me to be. A runner who felt God's pleasure, watching leaves float through the air and catching glimpses of distant peaks through the nearly-bare branches. Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Indeed, let me be singing when the evening comes.

You're rich in love, and You're slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

I did not float through the whole race. Onlookers may have called it more of a waddle, shuffle, or something kin to a slog. I had to deal with cramping in a calf and twinges in a hamstring. I had to remind myself to be patient. Just keep moving. But as the miles piled up, my goal remained: Keep signing. Be sure to sing when the evening comes. 

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

With six or seven miles to go, my legs felt new. I'm not sure why, but they responded to my request to run faster. There was little protest when passing landmarks that, in past years, made me wince and wish for the end. Down off the mountain I ran, closer and closer to the finish. Even the final road section could not stifle the song.

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name.

I was singing when the evening came.