Running for Stefani

I’m writing my longer version of the story of my Tillamook Burn Run 50K for a Run Oregon post coming out next week.  For the moment I want to share a piece that didn’t fit into that review, but was essential for my race yesterday.

Yesterday was my very first ultra marathon race.  For those of you who are not runners, or who have not been annoyed by me during my past four months of training (sorry friends), an ultra marathon is a race longer than the length of a marathon (26.2 miles).  Common lengths are 50K, 50 miles, 100K, and 100 miles.  Plus there are the occasional random lengths based on destination or 24-hour events where you see how far you can get in a time period.  I started thinking about an ultra two years ago, signed up last October, and started training in January.  I assumed that with 11 marathons, 45 half marathons, and a big ol’ bucket load of training miles, I’d be fine.

So much wrongness.

The race had a 9 hour cutoff time and I crossed the finish line at exactly 9 hours.  Again, longer story coming soon so check out Run Oregon for my previous and future posts. 🙂

Now we need to switch to a parallel track to all of that race preparation.  It comes from all powerful (too powerful?) Facebook.  The Timehop feature reminded me last week that  seven years ago I ran a practice 5K with a funny fourth-grade girl named Stefani.  We had a blast that afternoon, talking about movies, books, animals, television shows, and so much other randomness.  All of the runners were wearing matching green shirts, and Stefani and I kept singing “The Ants Go Marching One by One…” around and around the park.

Two months later, I ran again with Stefani for the Starlight 5K.  In the excitement of the event, Stefani sprinted out of the starting area for a few blocks.  I was terrified I was going to lose her among all of the people and then what would her mom say and what would the police say and maybe I should just run for Vancouver now and AACK.  Then after two blocks she slowed to a walk.  When I suggested we run a bit more, it was back to sprinting again.  We continued this pattern for the first mile before Stefani ran out of steam.  For the next two miles we walked, and for most of that time Stefani cried.  Her side hurt and she was tired and her feet hurt.  At one point the police car was less than a half-block behind us, trying to get the roads clear for the parade.  When we passed my friends, they cheered for us.  Stefani cried harder.  I tried everything I could to keep her moving.  I kept my hand on her back, gently pushing forward the entire time.  I asked about what she wanted to be when she grew up, and came up with dozens of options as she said no to each one.  Then I tried to guess her favorite animal, which also led to dozens of no’s.

Stefani asked to quit over and over, which was the question that kept me saying no.  I had two reasons.  The first was that the route was a big loop, so I had no idea how to get to her family other than the finish line.  Any attempted shortcut might have taken longer than the planned route.

The other was that I knew if she got to the finish line, that would be the memory of the night.  Not the side pain.  Not the tears.  Not the sore feet.  Just that finish line and her earned medal.

When were in sight of the school (the finish line was on the track), Stefani agreed to a slow jog.  And when the finish line was in sight, she was sprinting again, all the way to her mother’s arms.  After I got one last hug and shook hands with the family, I walked away hearing Stefani telling all about her race and all the people and how she wanted to join Girls on the Run again next year.

Sometimes I have a mantra during hard races.  Ones in the past have included “My race.  My pace.  My win,” “Just finish; don’t die,” and “Run smart.  Run strong.  Run kind.”  Yesterday, during the nine hours of walking and running through the woods, with lots of mud, water, and stones in the path, I kept thinking of Stefani.  I knew 100% that if I got to the finish line, everything would be worth it.

I did and it was.*

*Ok, I’m going to keep it 100 with you all.  There was one piece of this adventure that took away from the joyful ending.  I didn’t get a medal.  For this particular race, rather than medals, they gave finishers a pint glass with the race logo etched on it.  The glass is lovely and everything.  I just can’t wear it for the coming week as I limp around.  Guess I’ll have to use it for my water, Diet Coke, Gatorade, Starbucks, and anything else I use for rehydrating this week.

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