It’s all about perspective. 26.2 miles. That’s far, right?
Well, depends. If you are flying in a plane, then 26.2 miles is a blink of an eye. If you are driving, 26.2 miles is a short commute. If you are riding a bike, well, then that is a good mid-distance ride. If you are an ultrathoner, meaning you run 50 and 100 mile races, then 26.2 is just a warm up. For me, 26.2 is a far distance. It has been decided. I should know, I just ran it on Saturday, September 8th, 2012. Which just happened to be my 31st trip around the sun – aka my birthday.
I signed up for the marathon back in March. I am not quite sure what compelled me to even search one out, but I did, and when I saw the Mid-Mountain Marathon (a single track trail marathon on the mid-mountain trail in Park City, UT) being hosted on Saturday September 8th I figured that it was a sign. I must do it. Right then and there, sitting in my ski boots, gear and all and sitting on the sunny deck in front of Goldminer’s Daughter at Alta, I registered for that marathon. By-golly I was going to set it in stone and make it happen. That was March. And I was doing this…
…running wasn’t even in my zip code of thoughts. But eventually, as it does every year, the earth rotates around the sun and the tilt of the axis brings us out of winter and spring and into summer.
I started the running season by doing a few trail runs with my friends Wynn and Lesli Shooter who were training for the Zion 50 miler, which I blogged about here. I very quickly, and probably too quickly, started running long distances with them – 10 to 15 mile distances. This is not to say I wasn’t in shape. I skied all winter and Cross-fitted all winter too. But running is different. It uses different muscles and puts demands on different parts of your body. I think all in all I would have been fine with this speedy start and quick jump in mileage if it weren’t for a run on the Pipeline one chilly morning with Wynn, Lesli and Matt Schrier in which I rolled my left ankle – HARD! And not just once, but twice. Then I continued to run on it for, oh, I don’t know, another 9 miles. Probably not the smartest move…
I ended up dealing with the effects of that injury (which had translated into a bad case of the IT Band ouchie’s) and having to seek out a few weeks of PT with my friend Collin just before the marathon. Throughout the summer I thought my IT band was fine, then it would flare up again, and then go away, and then come back. I had a couple of trips at the end of July and beginning of August that I used as a chance to not run and let my IT band rest. That didn’t help. So I sought out the assistance of Collin and his elbow. He does a style of massage as part of the PT, called Rolfing. Google it. Let’s just say, this isn’t your “feel good” rub down. This is re-organizing the small tissues and cells with deep, deliberate and painful pressure. Let’s also just say that the IT band is one of the most painful parts to have worked on in the Rolfing world. In our 30 minute sessions I would just lay on my side, take deep breaths and try and find a quiet happy place. Sometimes I had to scream out and say, “NO MORE!” If it weren’t for the fact that I gained such relief when I ran from these painful session, I never would have gone back for a second one!
So where was I??
Oh, yeah, August. All of these session with Collin, coupled with some longer runs on sections of the Mid-Mountain trail on my Saturdays meant that this marathon thing was actually going to happen. It was going to go down.
Side note: I have always hated running.
So why in the hell was I doing this to myself? Well, I never liked running for time or for conditioning for any of my sports. I was never that great at it and felt that it was a chance for coaches to see a weakness in me, when I am otherwise a very talented athlete – just not at endurance running. But since I have moved West and found trails to run on, and pretty vistas, and friends who like to just be out running in nature, I have realized running isn’t so bad, I just don’t care about my time. Sure I have goals, but they are realistic for me. I don’t run 7 minute miles. I run 10 minute miles and I am okay with that. So there.
The days to the marathon kept getting closer. And my IT band kept feeling good. Shit – I actually had to do this. Just kidding. I really wanted to make it happen, otherwise I wouldn’t have paid for all those PT sessions out of pocket.
There were a number of folks running the Mid-Mountain that I knew and I was psyched to have some familiar faces for race day.
Race day morning arrived. The world didn’t end or stop spinning or anything wacky. The sun came up just like every other day. But not before my 5 am alarm went off, reminding me that I needed to get up, eat, drink coffee, poop and walk out the door. In that order.
Stephen would be driving me up and dropping me off at the start and then would meet me at the end.
I guess instead of boring you with all the details of the time between when I pooped (this is important stuff people) and when we walked out the door, till when the race started, I will just jump right into the RACE START.
Standing with a few of my friends at the Start, high fives and good lucks exchanged (and I got a few Birthday wishes), the race begin. We were afoot. A very small section of it went on the road around the Silver Lake Lodge at Deer Valley Resort, before it picked up the Mid-Mountain trail. I set off on a pace I was happy with and stuck with it to the finish. THE END.
Hahaha, just kidding. I am trying hard to figure out what to write about the race. I want to try and capture it so I can read about it in the future and remember what exactly went down on my 31st Birthday.
So i decided to break it down by groups of miles:
Miles 1-10: These miles went as expected. Not too difficult and on a section of the trail I had run a few times during training. People were so stacked up on the single track that it was difficult to get around people moving slow in front of you. But there were opportunities and I did pass a few folks. During this first 10 miles I ran everything – every little hill or incline and every descent. There’s a section that opens out to some switch backs criss-crossing some of the ski runs on Park City Mountain Resort, and here was one of the 3 places I tripped and fell. This was common. The trails are rocky and uneven and littered with roots in places. Luckily I only skidded into the grasses off to the right of the trail, and onto my right side. With any injury or wounds, I quickly got up, dusted off and started running again. I saw some of my friends below me on the switch-backs, making their way down and around. We waved and cheered each other on. Every 30 minutes I pulled out a Gel or Gu pack and ate and drank my water. I had to keep up with my eating and drinking to be able to finish this thing. You can’t get behind. At mile 10 the trail starts to make its way around Iron Mountain. I started to get passed by chains of runners. Groups who where men and women (most in the late 30’s and 40’s) and running as a group. They probably trained together too. Who knows? I let them pass. Kept my mental toughness and tried to keep up with their chain.
Miles 10-15: These miles were TOUGH. As the Mid-Mountain trail traverses around Iron Mountain it encounters very rugged terrain. Scree slopes and talus, and lots and lots of rocks and roots -so abundant that in some sections you couldn’t really run, you just had to quickly step your way through them and try and make it across with out rolling an ankle or catching your foot on a rock. Some weren’t so lucky. As I was following some of these chains of runners through these tough sections I had to slow down even more. My left leg (IT band) was starting to tighten and I just felt like I needed to take it easy, and get through this with out a major disaster. There was an aid station in here, right around mile 10. It was tucked into a tight spot in the woods. I didn’t stop. I just kept on moving, ate another Gel and drank my water, knowing I would fill up at the next aid station. So round and down we went. Getting on the back side of Iron Mountain put me at about 13.5 miles in. I was starting to have stomach problems. The Gels weren’t settling well in my stomach. I had a few moments where I thought I was going to vomit. But I held it down and kept moving. At this point too, I started to feel the first signs of cramping in my legs. They were getting lactic acid build up and I needed to keep drinking water. I took one of my salt tablets at this point and in another few miles I ate a Gu that had caffeine in it that really seemed to help. Don’t get me wrong. I was still in a mentally and physically compromised state, but those two things helped keep me moving. The mile 15 sign was posted at a junction between the trail and private road that winds through The Canyons Resort. I had gotten through Park City and now just had to traverse and descend The Canyons. No big deal right?
I should take a moment and tell you that the trail was really quite beautiful. The day and weather couldn’t have been more perfect. A high of 72 degrees, sunny and blue skies. The leaves are changing up in the higher elevations and when I took a moment here or there during the race to check out the view I realized it was a nice day, and here I was suffering. HA! I won’t lie. This race wasn’t exactly “fun”. I didn’t have a smile on my face and wasn’t jumping around like a little school girl. It was tough. And it took all of my concentration to stay mentally tough to finish. So, I didn’t really take in the view and enjoy it – despite the fact that it was otherwise a perfect fall day.
Miles 16-19: These next set of miles are a blur and hard for me to remember what was going on. My legs were really cramping at this point and the trail was crossing many road junctions and the aid stations were filled with very cheery people that wanted to offer you things and yet nothing sounded good. The other tough thing, and something I didn’t like about this race, was that the mileage for it wasn’t marked put in a couple places. The aid stations that were listed on the website were “approximate locations” and then come race day there were fewer stations than mentioned and they didn’t seem like they were all in the right places. This made it tough to know where I was in the race. At this point I had made a pseudo friend on the trail. There was this girl that I kept leap frogging in the previous section. We kept giving each other the thumbs up as we passed each other from time to time (there were times in the previous set of miles that I had to walk). After going through the aid station at mile 17, her and I started chatting. I said, “I am ready for this thing to be over”. And she agreed. She said her legs had been cramping since mile 6! So I gave her one of my salt tablets and told her it should help. She took it and then inquisitively asked me if it was my birthday today? I said, yes. And she admitted that she over heard me talking to some folks in the lodge, pre-race. She wished me a happy birthday and said she thought it was a pretty cool thing to do on your birthday. I said, “Cool, or crazy?” After that exchange I said, “Let’s keep moving”. We walked and hiked and ran and hiked the slow inclines and ran the flats, and just kept moving. The trail was slowing switch backing through sections of wooded lots and passing under chair lifts on the Canyons Resort. There was a moment when the trail, after so more climbing, flattened and a small footbridge crossed a little spring. On the other side of the bridge was a small bench. This is the only time I sat down during the race, but I sat on that bench and rest my legs and caught my breath for 30 secs to a minute before I could get up and start moving again. It actually helped a lot to stop for that brief moment. I had another surge over energy, ate another caffeine infused Gu and kept moving. After climbing up few another couple miles the trail dumps out at a mid-mountain lodge on the Canyons Resort. This was aid station mile 19, and it was going off! There was loud music playing and the volunteers were in costumes and there were a few friends and family members of runners that had ridden the lift up to see their loved ones go through this aid station. At this stage in the game, I had resorted to eating my Shot Blocks instead of the Gels because the Gels weren’t going down so easily. So at this aid station I actually stopped longer than to just fill up my water bottle. I ate a few gummy bears and a small slice of banana and then set off. As I walked away from this aid station, 2 small girls with colorfully decorated signs came running in my general direction. The older girl’s sign said, “We are so proud of you Daddy. We love you”. And I saw out of the corner of my eye a man who was making his way over to hug his daughters. At this moment, I broke down crying. I kept hiking up the short steep hill out of this aid station, but with tears streaming down my face. The emotion was overwhelming, and my mental toughness was wavering. I told myself that I needed to dry it up and keep moving. This wasn’t over yet. I wiped up my tears and trudged on. I knew Stephen was waiting at the finish line and I couldn’t wait to see him.
Miles 20-21: This short section consisted of the last bit of ascent before the descent. Sections of it were open and hot and dry. I knew there was a steep hill out of aid station 21 and I just wanted to get there, hike it and get it over with. Because on the back side of that is the descent. I am good at running down hill. I knew I would be able to run and run fast. So I was looking forward to getting to that point, because like I said, my mental toughness was wearing off and I needed to be able to start making up some time. I got to this 21 aid station, had another piece of banana, at a couple of Shot Blocks and started hiking and drinking water. I threw an electrolyte tablet (lime flavor) in my water and guzzled it. I had to…the cramping in my legs was about to become severe. And this helped. About 10 minutes later I could feel the electrolytes working. But back to the hill. I climbed that hill and when I got to the top I stopped. The single track cut off to the right and I could see the descent starting. I took a really deep breath and let the two ladies that were behind me go ahead. They set off and I followed. Now about 100 yards into this descent I had a problem. Don’t want to get too detailed here, but I had to pull off the trail and take care of some lady business. Yes, you guessed it, I was dealing with Aunt Flow for this Marathon and had to make a little sanitary change at this stage in the game. I almost lost it. Here I was, tired, hot, cramping, and on the side of a hill changing my tampon. I couldn’t believe it… “Stay strong Abbey”. I just kept saying that over and over again. I took care of business (don’t worry I packed it out in a zip-lock baggie I had) climbed up out of the steep, shrubby slope I was on, and hit the trail running. Time to get a move on!
Miles 22-26.2: The DESCENT! It was finally here. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately the trail not only descends, but it finds its way down through pine and aspen on the shady side of the ridge line. Hallelujah!! I started moving faster and just kept at it. I felt okay. I wasn’t hot. I was fairly well-hydrated by this point but still feeling a bit of cramps in my legs. I was maybe a little low on calories, but I had gravity on my side. There was one more full aid station tucked away in the woods at about mile 22.5. The guys were super positive and fed me and told me to just keep moving. So I did. The trail comes around the east side of the ridge, a bit open and exposed before tucking away again on the west side in the shade. Almost exactly at the junction of this cross over I saw a girl stopped on the side of the trail stretching. I took my eyes off the trail for a moment and totally rolled my left ankle! Agh! I couldn’t believe it… I knew if I kept moving it might be okay and to not slow down and hobble on it because that usually makes it worse. About a mile of the trail after this cruises straight down through Aspen trees on a fairly clear and fast single track. I was making some time up here! Then the trail bends back around the ridge line and finds its way back to the east slope and in the open, hot air. But it was as I came around this corner that I could see the Finish line. I could see and hear the end! It was about 1.5-2 mile descent from here and I just flew. I went as fast as I could, as safe as I could, but found myself tripping and falling into the hillside one last time before the race was over. Thankfully, again, I only got a bit dirty, no scrapes or major dings. Just a small scratch on my hand. I got up, dusted off, and took off running again. The trail switch backs some as it makes its way down to the final dirt road descent. The switch backs seemed to never end. I thought for sure that as I rounded that last bend it would be the last one until I was spit out on to the dirt road – well, I thought that few times before it came true. As we came out (with the other runners I had been with for the last 6 miles) onto the road, there was one last aid station (just water). I passed it up and the gal that was running behind me had some friends who were standing there and cheering her on. A steep hill before us gave me a bit of a fright, but I hiked it and she “ran” it and when we got to the top she had some more friends waiting for her. She stopped running and said her legs were cramping and she couldn’t run. I looked at her and said, “Come on, let’s finish this thing out”. We high fived and ran in that last .5 mile sort of together. She ended up finishing in front of me, but she finished running and that made me smile. As I crossed the finish line I saw a few of my friends who ran it and had already finished and were there cheering me on. The time read 5:03. I had planned on doing it in 5 hours, so I pretty much met my mark. As soon as I went past the Finish Line the tears started flowing. They put a medal around my neck and handed my a cold wet towel with ice in it. I looked up and saw Stephen and went to him and just kept crying. I was so happy to be done. I was so proud of myself for finishing and staying tough. I was so relieved to be at the end and I was so incredibly happy to see him, the love of my life, standing there at the finish line waiting for me!
Now I can get one of those stickers that says 26.2 and put it on my car. It was all worth it. Just for the sticker.
I can’t write any more.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
(Writing this blog post was exhausting. It was like running the marathon all over again).
P.S. I have decided I am more of a middle-distance runner. Or as Stephen called me, the Middle Distance Maven.