Sunday, March 19, 2017

Running into 60

Makena, Abby, Hannah, Kendal, and Me
The thundering stampede began at 7:00 a.m. sharp, the dawn still working on breaking. 400 runners with their collective 800 feet pounded across the grass, turned onto the hardtop, and shortly thereafter began the assault up the mountain on gravel road leading to the rocky trail. Some were working hard, too hard: the freight-train breathing gave it away. Others laughed as they took those necessary steps toward the goal of reaching the miles-away finish. Me? I ran quietly, amusing myself with deciphering who was a half-marathoner, who was in it for the 50K long haul, who was a newbie, and who had many miles under their belt.

My poison was the 50K version. This race up, down, over and around Terrapin Mountain has become somewhat of a classic, now in its 10th year. I know the course like the back of my hand, often using portions of it for multiple training runs. So when the race director announced right before striking the starting gong that the first aid station was not yet at Camping Gap due to ice, it wasn't hard to believe. Miraculously, everything was set up when I arrived, but the carnage of cars stuck on the icy road below told the story. It was treacherous. Difficult to stand, it was impossible to run. I navigated a slim strip of slippery leaves on the road's edge, choosing the risk of falling off the mountain over the higher risk of a hard fall on the ice.

Abby
The frozen stuff disappeared as we lost altitude. Down, down, down. Then back up, up, up. I was glad that heavy-feeling legs early on had loosened up. Occasionally, I chatted with those around me, wondering all the while where three of my college-aged "Shindigglers" were on the course. I figured they were up ahead somewhere.

Sixteen miles in, we passed by those same cars still parked erratically on the ice. Much had melted as the sun rose higher in the sky, but I presumed their owners were busy tending to runners rather than cars.

I felt pretty good; physically and mentally. My training approach had changed. I no longer desired pounding out a ton of miles, choosing rather to work smarter. Transitioning into my 60's, I was liking this approach. Goals to be a front runner no longer existed. In fact, those days were long gone. But what I desired were steady, happy efforts, and enjoyment in traversing these courses.

Over the next miles, conversations with various runners were light-hearted and refreshing. I was surprised to catch a few friends who I thought were miles ahead. The race turned from pleasant into pure enjoyment, except for a stumble up the steep and rocky backside of Terrapin that brought on a major, painful calf cramp.

What was not fun, however, was the miles-long descent off the mountain. This technical, thin, and rock-strewn trail is normally negotiable and speedy for the adept trail runner. But even the most mountain goat-like athlete would have problems today. The now-melted ice and the overnight rains had turned the trampled trail into a slick slide. It was almost worse than the icy road, impossible to stand at times as indicated by my muddy butt. At one point, a group of us made a bypass off trail and through the woods to give way to the rescuers struggling to stretcher-carry a broken-leg runner down the mountain.

Kendal, Abby, Me
The last aid station provided the final calories and drink I needed to finish the race. The half mile down to the station and then back up to rejoin the trail also provided an opportunity to see runners who were close behind. It was then I saw two of the Shindigglers. They were behind me. "What?!?" I admit it. I smiled at the thought of being in front of kids 42 years my junior.

Still, I didn't rush into kamikaze mode to keep the lead. I simply remained steady, happily sharing miles with Rick, a long-time friend. The bold-stream crossing was refreshing on multiple fronts, as it marked the final two miles of our prescribed journey. When we hit the gravel road and made the turn to hard-surface road, I spotted Martha. Over the years, she and I often battled for the Grand Masters title (50's age group). But now that I had moved into the next age group, I found no real compulsion to chase her down. Still, I noticed she was taking walk breaks. Hum. Soon, I was within fifty yards of her when she turned around and saw me. She apparently felt no compulsion to race either. That was really appreciated! Martha, Rick and I ran the final 200 yards, crossing under the finish banner holding hands.
Makena, Me, Hannah, Kendal

A few minutes later, I greeted two of the Shindigglers, Hannah and Makena, at the line. Shortly thereafter, Kendal joined our happy group. It had been a good day and an even better introduction to 60-something running. Lord willing, there are many races to come.

My new goal? I just hope I can experience ultrarunning at 70.