I hit morning mass, received communion, and splashed on a liberal amount of holy water to prepare myself to run my five miles hard today. I ran the same course I did a couple weeks ago, passed the VanHoosen Farm/Museum, and Royal Park Hotel, and library. It is really great, hardly any ice, except that I swear at least ninety percent of it is uphill! I think what happens is as soon as I step outside my house and start running, there must be a shift in the gravitational pull or something so as I run around and then back toward my house, it has actually been raised at least a few hundred feet, so I never plateau, I just keep running up the gosh darn hill!
I’m convinced the same kind of gravitational shenanigans goes on around the “Back to the Beach Half Marathon” course just north of here that I’ve run the last two years in May. I was thinking about that race as I climbed along today. You want to talk about thirteen miles specifically designed to kick your butt, that’s it all right. The route takes you through the wood trails of Stony Creek Metro park, back out again, and back in again, and it is a rollercoaster ride so get your hands up and yell, “wee” for the few times you are headed downhill- on the edge of total obliteration with the loose gravel and ruts everywhere.
Both times I ran it was unseasonably warm, and I have found the last few years that heat and running in it do not sit well with me, kind of like mixing red sangria, some stale cigars, and dried pizza crust together. You get them shaking around for a couple hours and it just makes you want to hurl.
But all was well with both those races when I came toward the finish line. (I find everything is always better once you see the finish line.) The first time I had my daddy there, he sat and waited the whole two hours at a picnic table along the side of the course and stood up as he saw me coming by. I gave him a high-five and smiled as he cheered for me; bringing me back to the blessed times he came to my high school track meets and did the same.
The second time Jim was there with Gracie to greet me at the finish. Gracie picked me my favorite flower off an obliging crab tree- a white crabapple blossom. I inhaled the sweet, soft fragrance as I lay like a hot, withered slug in the shade. I left it all out there each time.
I think the elevation at mile eight and running up the shifting-sandy hill to reach the summit is on par with one of the upper footholds in the Appalachians, even though one might believe that we don’t have hills that high in Michigan. I really, really do.
It’s all better though when you’re done. Getting to stop is the best. Just the best. Each time I run a race, the competitor in me kicks in and I work with everything I have until the end. I am not going to beat many in those bigger races and it’s not about that, but I can beat myself. I set that mark in my head and aim for it. I don’t always reach it, but the optimist in me usually finds something to be positive about, some kind of accomplishment that I can hang my hat on if even just being there in the sunshine or the rain and getting to live one more day. It’s worth it.
The hell I push myself through is worth it, when I get to stop. And each time, no matter if it’s a local, just for fun 5k or a marathon (although marathons are much more emotional!) when I cross that finish line I experience that joyful feeling of gratitude. There is a peace knowing I lived right to the edge, I pushed, and struggled, and fought through. I didn’t let the huge stack of reasons to stop, to never try- keep me from putting myself out there. It is real happiness that God has let me live it one more time. And on so many levels I am so grateful.