Boo. I haven't posted for a while. Turns out this has been the Best Summer Ever, so I kind of haven't had time. The Northwest is an amazing, amazing place in summertime. I am one happy lady these days.
Today, I am also one sore and sleepy lady. On Friday and Saturday I ran in a 24-hour relay race from Blaine (on the border w/ Canada) to Langley (on Whidbey Island, the San Juan Island you don't have to take a ferry to). Teams of 12 runners cover about 185 miles altogether, running from Friday morning through the night into Saturday afternoon. Each runner takes 3 legs, and gets about 8 hrs off between each run, during which time you try to find a place to stretch, change out of your nasty running clothes, and maybe sleep for an hour or so. My friend D asked me to participate a few months ago; at that time I briefly checked out the site for the race and agreed, without really thinking about it. I managed to get what I thought would be one of the easier legs of the race, stepped up my running a bit to prepare, and kind of didn't think about it.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I checked out my running assignments and realized something was different. I thought my toughest leg was going to be my first one - a 6.3 mile run that the organizers classified as "hard". But the race organizers had made some changes. My toughest leg was now going to be my final leg - 6.9 "very hard" miles. A mothereffer of a slow uphill, followed by a fast, steep downhill, which is even harder and more painful to run. I'd likely be making this run around noon, in really hot sunny weather. I'd be lucky if I got any sleep at all beforehand - my second leg began around 2:30 am and was an easy, flat, quiet 2.7 miles through residential Anacortes. I got through legs 1 & 2 just fine, and even ran a faster pace than I'd expected to. But damn - I was freaked out about that final leg. I only had a couple weeks to try to get ready for a considerably harder final run. I did a few longish runs, topping out at an 8.5 mile trail run. Then I took this past week off to rest up. My first two legs went great - I passed some folks at the end of my first leg, which is exactly when you should pass people. My friend C came out and biked alongside me and the other night runners on our team. I passed out in my sleeping bag for nearly 3 hours after my night leg. Saturday morning dawned sunny and got hot almost immediately.
And it turns out I was right to be freaked out about that last leg. IT. SUCKED. It was totally beautiful - I ran near the water, there were mountains in the distance and I was running down a long, windy forest road. It was hot as hell and we were on pavement the whole time. I moved slowly enough that I probably got passed by a half-dozen other runners. (Screw you guys, btw.) And I kept passing dead animals on the road. A bird. A snake. And then, finally, a baby deer, off on the side of the road in the dry grass. He lay on his side and he looked like he could be asleep except that his legs were stiff and straight and his eyes were wide open. This is embarrassing now but I remember thinking all those dead animals were some kind of bad omen for me. And that's when I realized I didn't have to finish if I didn't want to.
Right then, my teammates showed up on the side of the road. They dumped water on me and gave me some to drink. One of them handed me a cold slice of cantaloupe. That gave me a little burst of energy, so I kept going. A few minutes later, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a doe bouncing through the forest maybe 6 feet away from me. She stayed with me for a minute and disappeared into the woods. I finished my final leg maybe a half hour later, after forcing myself to walk most of the crazy downhill near the end of the race. I am certain the two guys who barrelled past me on that downhill are in a ton of pain today. You just can't do stuff like that to your knees. My team was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, cheering. I passed off the baton to D, and stopped fucking running. My teammates handed me a homemade peanut butter bar and an ice-cold beer. Later, they told me they all felt terrible for me after driving my final leg to meet me at the end. My teammate K very succinctly said, "Whoever changed that last leg just straight up fucked you."
I kind of can't believe I did this race. If I'd thought about it more when D first asked me, I probably would've said no. But holy crap, overall I had so so much fun. The course was beautiful and everyone on my team (mainly folks I'd never met) were great and hilarious and sarcastic. And for the first time in my whole entire life I feel like an athlete. I feel like most of my adult life has been about undoing the ridiculous amount of embarrassment and shame and anger I felt about my body in adolescence. And today I have this amazing feeling of respect for my body and what it can do. At 35, I am finally feeling proud of my physical self. I've never felt like this before. I did not realize finishing this race would be such a big deal for me. But it was. It is. And I would totally do it again next year.