Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Midnight on South Mountain. (Part I: The journey begins)

Sorry, I've not been keeping this updated. But been very busy running...and praying. Here is my reflection on the Washington DC Ragnar 198 mile relay race from Cumberland, Maryland to the DC Harbor in South DC. This will be a three part reflection...tonight is the first part of Mid Night on South Mountain.

"The journey begins."

It is about 11:35 pm on the evening of the 23rd of September, I am quietly waiting for a runner to arrive at the relay passing zone. I am the 6th runner on our 12 person Ragnar Relay team running the 198 mile relay from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. I am also the oldest member of our team.

Earlier in the day during my first leg, I had a very tough downhill run. When I started that first leg, my goal was to run easy and save my legs for the run over South Mountain, which I knew was going to be the hardest leg of my three runs. But as we made the hand off of the slap bracelet the competition bug hit me. The team was running well and some of the other teams that started with us were still with us. As I started that first leg, one runner passed me, a young woman. That was okay…I’ve been passed by many runners before. Then no sooner than she passed another runner, then another. Three runners past by in just the first few feet of my run, and then the competitor came out. I was not going to be the “old, slow” runner for our team. I picked up the pace.

Even though this section was basically a downhill section, there were still several steep climbs that we had to face, and I took advantage of those climbs. On the first climb, I passed the one of the runners who slipped past me at the start of the leg. And then on the second, I passed the other two. I was in the zone…and I started to push when I heard that young lady come up on my shoulder on the next downhill. The race was on and I was not going to lose.

I slowed a bit to let her pass me, but she didn’t. She was going to sit on me until the end of the leg, and let me pace her. For the next several miles, I could hear her breathing. I was keeping my pace but realized that it was faster than I was expecting. My initial plan was to run this section in about 9:45 minutes per mile, but I knew, I was actually covering the distance at 9 minutes per mile. I also knew because of looking over the route profile that there was one last large climb just before the last mile. I decided to try to break away from this young runner on that climb, if I didn’t I knew that she would blow by me on the last downhill right before the relay zone and I would finish behind her.

So at the hill I made my move. After about ten steps up the hill at our pace, I increased my step rotation and before she could respond, I had opened a lead that kept growing as we went up the hill. I had surprise her and she wasn’t ready to make a move. As we crested the hill, I knew I had to keep the hard pace. And just about that moment, the rain which had been a drizzle decided to really start coming down hard. The road was slick and I was pushing downhill. There was a sharp bend about 100 yards down the hill at a very steep point. I felt my left knee stretched as I came around the bend, but my concentration was on not sliding on the wet pavement. I knew instantly that I had over extended the knee joint, and that I was going to pay for that mistake the next time I ran which was about 11 hours away on South Mountain.

The final mile marker came into view a few steps from the next small rise, and then it was a finally downhill push to the relay area. The rain that had been a drizzle in the morning, now was a serious downpour keeping rhythm to my steps. A quick staccato of foot strikes and patter of rain, the tree line road became a tunnel of wet blacktop and brown barked trees and green canopy. My heart raced in my chest as I saw the finally turn. The voice in my head repeated its command, “Stand tall, keep form, and push.” My body responded. Then in my ear, I heard the young lady coming. Her steps haunted down the hill into the final curve. “Don’t look back, focus on the finish,” the voice commanded. And I executed.

Driving my body forward for the finish of the last of the 6 mile section, I lifted the slap bracelet from my wrist and straighten it out. Now 50 yards remained, then 25 yards then the first flag and chute, the young runner I was passing off cheered me those last few feet, as I slapped the bracelet onto her wrist. She was off with a quick look back. I slowed to a walk, and then felt a hand on my back and the windy voice of the young lady behind me. “I thought I could catch you, but you took off on me…how did you do that?” I smiled back and shrugged my shoulders, “Just didn’t want to be caught by you.”

1 comment:

laurel2k said...

I remember cheering you on as you came into view at the exchange and as you slapped the "baton" onto Cynthia's wrist. I didn't have time to stick around and chat, we had get climb into Van #2 and catch up to Cynthia and cheer her on.

- Jorge