On Saturday I raced for the first time in a long time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body as some of my chronic hip and hamstring pain returned about a month ago and I started an early taper, even taking a full week off completely from running. I was over trained. Depression set in a bit and I questioned whether or not I should even race. But, I’d paid for it and goodness knows I’d worked for it so I was going to do it.
I set my alarm clock for 5 AM. I woke at 4:40 in a little panic because it was already light outside. I laid back down and then… at 5:25 woke up and realized my alarm hadn’t gone off. I pried my breast away from Rein and slipped downstairs to make the coffee, oatmeal, and dress for the race. I was out the door by 6– plenty of time to drive up to Snoqaulmie pass, check in, and relax (aka, go to the toilet 1,001 times) before the marathon started.
As I drove along, I sang and got pumped up. About 10 miles out, I checked my email for parking directions. What came up was an email, from my spam folder, that declared the start time had been changed to 7 AM! WTF? It was 6:58 and I was still 10 minutes away. I cursed. I actually said out loud, “Well, I guess I’m not supposed to run today…” and thought about going back to North Bend to hike. With some encouragement from a friend, I decided to try. I whipped into the parking area at Hyak, jumped out of the car and peed in the parking lot, ripped off my sweats and fleece and asked the first person I saw where the start was… “Half mile down the road, jump in, I’ll take you!”
We jumped in his SUV and sped off. At the start, I ran up to the start line and asked if I could still run. The organizers were AMAZING! “What’s your name!” a guy shouted from a van. 30 seconds later I was handed my race bib. I pinned it on and took off.
The first 5 miles was an out and back along an alpine lake. I was literally alone for the first couple of miles. I was laughing and enjoying myself. I cranked out a couple 7 minute miles and then started seeing other runners on their way back from the 2.5 mile turn around. I hit the turn around and headed back, chasing down each runner one by one. As I went back through the starting area, one of the race organizers cheered me from her car! “I knew it! I knew it! You’re not alone!” she shouted. I laughed and ran on towards the tunnel.
As I approached the entrance of the tunnel, tiny little flashlight in hand, I passed a pacer and his lone passenger. The “passenger” felt is appropriate to call me “cutie”. Ew. As I entered the tunnel, I began to feel disoriented, even nauseated. I slowed way down to get my barring. I must have said something out loud because the creeper said from behind, “Come run with us big guys, we’ll protect you!” No thanks, I’ll take my chances in this long dark tunnel.
With each step, my eyes began to adjust to the darkness. All I could see was what was directly in front of me. Every once in a while, I’d shine my light at the sides of the tunnel. The further in I went, the more I began to feel the things. I felt the darkness. Not just the darkness from being one mile in to a 2.5 mile long tunnel…but the darkness from the traumas of the last 7 years. The sudden loss of my sweet nephew, the loss of trust, and the trauma from Rein’s birth. The song, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going…” played through my head. “Keep going,” I said to myself. I imagined the end, the light, and anticipated a feeling of “rebirth”…. I felt like I was flying and as I flew, I let the pain and hurt exit me and soak into the darkness. Then, I could see the light. I saw people moving –they looked so small. At first I thought they were crouched down, then I realized just how big the tunnel was and how little we were. Like a butterfly, busting out of its cocoon, I slid into the light. Onward.
I ran on. Continuing to pass people. Admiring the clouds as they floated through the trees and mountain peeks. A hummingbird buzzed over me. I smiled. Hummingbirds. Small, fast, graceful, wise. Sometimes I get visits from these tiny creatures when I need them the most. The hummingbird represents wisdom. I thought, “What kind of wisdom do I need right now?” Do I need to slow down? Am I going to be able to hold this pace for another 15 miles? Sometimes wisdom might be interpreted as caution. Sometimes it might mean to GO and go fast. So I went.
I spent a lot of time alone in the forest during the race. I talked to myself, out loud. I smiled a lot. I groaned. I questioned. I hurt. I ran. I remembered why I was running. I pulled my core in. I focused. At mile 17, I passed an aide station and a very handsome, athletic looking man complimented my cadence… I felt all the feels and ran.
I crossed gorgeous bridges spanning over misty rivers. My feet hurt. My hip was aching. I told my hip (like actually said out loud), “Today’s not your day…” and I ran.
Those last 6.2 miles. On man. If you’ve ran marathons before, you know. I reminded myself, “Its supposed to be uncomfortable…” and I ran. Mile 23, I knew I was going to do it. I knew I was going to go under 3:35 and finally qualify for Boston. I knew I could slow down if I wanted and still make it in plenty of time. I started to lose my focus and I felt my body stray and slow. Nope. I pulled my core in, shoulders back and I started laying shit down on the trail… “Payton, I really freaking miss you. Its bullshit you had to leave…” “Death, I really fucking hate you. Fuck you, death.” “Oh, and Trump, You’re a piece of shit. Fuck you and your misogyny. Fuck you and thinking that the female body is yours for the taking. Fuck you and your cronies making choices about my body, the bodies of millions… Fuck you for trying to destroy our mother…” I mean, I really said these things out loud alone in the woods. I said them with authority, people. I said them like they were the most true and powerful things that could ever be said… I even threw in some lions breathes.
Then, before I knew it, I hit mile 25. I looked at my watch and I realized I could walk if I wanted to and I’d still qualify and still PR. Not going to walk. I picked it up and went for it. Then I heard it. I heard the cowbells and the cheers and knew the finish line was near. I knew that a few more turns through the evergreens and I’d be digging it out across the finish line with a 20 minute PR and a Boston worthy marathon time. I heard myself shout, “GO!” and I went. I probably made some ugly faces as I went. As I came around the last turn, the announcer called out my number, “Number 79! She started 15 minutes late! She’s pulling in around 3:20!”
All smiles and arms up as I sprinted across that line. By this time, it was raining. I’d tossed my long sleeve shirt along the way and hadn’t checked any gear. I grabbed some bananas and ran straight to the shuttle bus to return to the car. And just like that, I was done. All those 5:30 AM wake up through the winter after all night nursing sessions were paid for. I left everything on the trail.
And to think I almost went hiking instead.