I woke up three times last night just to see if it was time to wake up yet. When it was time to go I hopped out of bed and was ready in a flash. I got to the race early and watched the sunrise and the other runners arrive. I was excited to start and now I am excited to be finished.
Though I wasn't able to train as well as I would have liked I did plenty of dietary prep over the past week and mental prep yesterday. I ate plenty of protein and good carbs for energy. I ate light foods (no red meats, not a lot of fiber) to avoid getting the runner's runs. I drank lots of water to pre-hydrate. I got myself a good playlist to keep me mentally in the zone and I spent lots of time visualizing the run and thinking about my past race experiences. I tried to think of what I did well before and what I could improve on and how I would improve it for this race. I prepared myself the best I could and I was ready to run!
I started off nice and slow. I got passed by what felt like everyone. I kept reminding myself, "I am running my own race". I also thought a lot about my cousin Noel who taught me that it is OK to alternate walking and running; that you can run longer distances when you do. My sister Dacia was also ringing in my ears. I knew she would be telling me to slow down and to make sure I fueled correctly.
I chatted with Dacia earlier this week about how to properly fuel my race. I had never practiced fueling on the run and didn't know what I should be eating and when. She said she eats two Chomps every 45 minutes and then drinks water at every station. So that is what I did with one change. Since my energy has been low lately I decided I needed to have a more constant source of energy. Instead of 2 every 45 I sucked on or chewed one Chomp every 25 minutes or so followed, of course, with water at every station. (Chomps are like fruit snacks but bigger and full of electrolytes and carbs.)
The first couple miles were tough as my body warmed up and I got in a groove and got used to the rough terrain. But it was just a normal everyday kind of tough, I am used to that and expected it. The first 4 miles or so was a loop that we did twice. It was over much of the same trail I ran last year for the 5K. There were some hills in there that really killed me last year and I am happy to report that I was able to run this whole section without having to stop for those hills. I was so proud of myself!
By the end of the second time around the loop I was mostly alone. All the fast people had passed me and all the slow people were behind me. I occasionally would pass someone who had started walking slowly (they needed a sister to tell them to pace themselves better) and every once in a while someone would charge from behind and pass me. The excitement of the race had kinda worn off by this point and monotony was setting in, but in a good way. I was hitting a good pace, I was feeling good and in the zone. I was able to look around and enjoy the scenery. At this point I was taking speed walking breaks every once in a while but they were planned and pretty much timed with my playlist.
And then the hills. There were some pretty steep climbs. I noticed one of the runners ahead of me throw his hands up at the top of one of the hills in the first section. A claim on the hill, I thought. I started to copy him. I tried my best to run up every hill, throw my hands in the air at the top of the hill to congratulate myself and then walk a bit to reward myself (and allow myself to recover). I wasn't able to run up every hill but I did claim each one when I got to the top and that made me feel great. A few of the hills were so steep I had to use the age old hiking trick of pushing my hands on my knees with each step. Yep!
The downhills were gnarly too. One was a paved hill that had grooves in it so the service vehicles wouldn't slip. It had long Hawaiian pine needles all over it and there were several people who took some bad tumbles on that hill. Running down it I felt like I was falling straight down. I was worried if I fell I wouldn't be able to stop rolling. It was scary. I carefully ran down it. I am convinced my knees hurt now primarily because of that hill.
Through the hills I was trading places often with a few runners. They would walk the hills and run the flats, just opposite of what I was doing. When I was having a hard time with a section it was always nice to see them a little ahead of me as a goal or to hear them come up from behind to encourage me to get going again. Though they were nearby I couldn't always hear or see them because we were traveling through the jungle and there were a lot of twists and turns separating us. Even when they were nearby we didn't ever really talk or look at each other so I really started to look forward to the workers on the trail. There were people pointing us in the right direction, water station workers, and photographers. They were always smiling and encouraging and it was really nice to have someone cheering along the way. My favorite station was manned by the Christensen family. They are our good friends and even though they just handed me water as I ran past I felt so encouraged after passing them.
At one point, between stations and hills and all alone in the woods I was starting to feel a little discouraged. I was really getting tired and hot. I had done some walking, I had eaten my Chomp, I had tucked my shirt sleeves and ends in to get it off my skin and I still was starting to slip mentally. That's when I remembered running in the Aloha run and getting random high-fives from people on the side of the street. That had been so energizing. So, I started to imagine that the trees and bushes and clumps of California grass were people and I started giving them high fives.Guess what, it helped! It was great! I'm sure anyone who spotted me doing this thought I was crazy but I don't care, it kept me going. And, at the very end I saw a runner in front of me throw a high-five towards a horse in a pasture 50 yards away. I'm not the only one.
About half way there was a point when the runners were doubling back on the same path. All the runners in front of me were now coming back towards me. This was over the course of a couple of miles so there were a lot of people. I started watching them. Some were super focused. Some looked miserable. Some looked determined. Some looked back at me. That surprised me. I started smiling at people. Some of them smiled back. It was fun to think about people smiling for a while instead of thinking about my own sore feet, knees and tired body. I hope it helped them too.
When that stretch ended and I was alone again in the woods--this time heading the other direction-- I was again getting really, really tired. All my tricks were wearing off to distract me. Suddenly one of the songs on my playlist came on and I had to sing to it. Yep, that was me, the crazy runner singing at thee top of her lungs pacing through the hills of Hawaii. At first I was shy about it and worried it would wear me out faster (which maybe it did) but then it made me feel good and, I noticed, it helped me to relax some of my abdominal and back muscles that were tightening up. I kept it up for a while and even added some arm movements and shoulders on a few pieces.
In the end I was very, very tired and I did a lot of walking. Every piece of my body hurt. I was thirsty and had passed every station already. I felt kinda like a rat in a maze, following the path marked with pink ribbons and not knowing where I would end up. Hoping it would be the end of the race. Hoping. And then there it was in front of me. Down a long hill, over a ridge I could see the finish line ahead. I coaxed myself back into running telling myself the faster I get there the sooner I get a drink. I pulled it out and shuffled and then jogged and finally the last stretch I was able to run. There were people watching I HAD to run. The small crowd still at the finish line all cheered me in. It was great.
Official times haven't been published on the website yet but my time is just under 3 hours. Slower than I had originally wanted but I am very proud of that time. I earned it. I did the very best I could and I FINISHED!!! I am a little dehydrated today and tired and sore but I think it was worth it because I learned a few things that can be applied to many areas of my life:
- I reaffirmed that I can do hard things.
- I learned that it is important to run my own race and choose my own pace. It's ok to run it alone sometimes or even opposite as in the case of the hills where I was switching positions with people constantly.
- I learned there will always be more hills to climb but that doesn't mean I should stop. Last year those first hills were really hard for me. This year they were easy.
- I learned to claim my victories (the hills) and to be proud of them--even the little ones. Without the little victories there would be no big victories.
- Smiling is service.
- I learned that I am more of a people person than I thought. I usually think of myself as a hermit, perfectly happy to work on projects by myself and never really feeling the need to be around people. BUT, today those encouraging onlookers and smiles of other runners and the cheering at the end of the race really drove me on. Even imagining myself surrounded by people (high-fiving the flora) helped me carry on.
- I learned that my body is amazing! I am so grateful for it.