I really wasn't sure I was ready for this. My training leading up to the July 10th Roundup had been even less regimented and more haphazard than usual. I'd found reaching a "recovered state" whatever that meant, was as elusive as reaching enlightenment or Nirvana. Even if I had reached this heralded state of recuperation, racing a 12k requires a tremendously different mindset than what I'd been accustomed to over the past months. It meant efforting up 3.6ish miles of climbing and about-facing for what was described as a "no holds-barred" return to the finish. Fast and frantic. Daily rainstorms, now as regular as sunrises, meant tacky trails and heavy, moist air which only piled onto the difficulty. Best case scenario would be a result comparable to my Garden race. Worst case- well it would still be a great morning to run with my east coast family (dad and cousin running, mom photographing) surrounded by nearly 700 other runners.
In my typical line-up spot, just behind the first couple of rows, I spotted several big names-Peter Maksimow, Tommy Manning, Dan Vega, Gerald Romero, among others. As the gun went off, the rabbits sped down the brief paved descent towards the gravel road. It was go time. I consider myself a better climber than descender but worried about going out too fast, blowing up before the turn-around on High Drive, and facing a demoralizing downhill struggle to the finish as I watched my overall position climb, being passed left and right. During the Tuesday/Thursday Sunrise Strider training runs, I've come to be known as "THE SANDBAGGER". Whether its deserved is up for debate-I call it just plain good pacing. Nevertheless, if holding back just a bit early on, only to reveal a strong 2nd half has been my modus operandi in training, why not do the same for the race.
As we climbed, I focused on pushing but not taxing, at least until we got to high drive. With climbing as my strength, I was able to hunt and pick off runners little by little, never the passee, always the passer. Right before the turnaround though, a cluster of 3 materialized and I decided to take the lead. Not confident at all with my downhill skills, the White Stripes/Patti Page song "Conquest" tormented me: "The hunted became the huntress, the hunter became the prey." I was certain I'd be caught, especially since Gerald Romero, the king of downhills was on my tail. That jolt of adrenaline was fantastic and terrifying at the same time.
I focused on relaxing, maintaining a good cadence, and relinquishing any energy that went towards braking down High Drive. The segment immediately after the turnaround was a pretty awesome section of the race as, for the first time, I realized just how many runners were out there with me. I made efforts to pick out familiar faces along the dynamic "Where's Waldo" scene, shout out names, and high five the convenient hand or two. I thought I had distanced myself pretty well but right before the right hand turn off High Drive to cross the bridge to the single track, I was sure I heard footsteps. Fear, the quintessential motivator that it is, helped fuel my churning legs and once again I could relax. Except the easing of pace didn't last long. Just as with the uphill, I found myself spotting a runner ahead and then plotting on how I could catch them. While most would describe me as a pretty quiet, laid-back, and non-aggressive person, running somehow reveals some odd primal instincts. In fact, during that last mile or so, I wasn't running a trail race with 700 people for a medal and a t-shirt. That's absolutely ridiculous. No, instead I was chasing down herd of deer because I hadn't eaten for days and my survival depended on it.
As I crossed the line well under an hour, I finally breathed a sigh of relief and relinquished my paleolithic brain. The legs handled the beating and had remained strong and fast. At that point, the printed results pages were inconsequential. I knew that achieving the result I had, partnered with how alive and rejuvenated I felt at that moment on my journey to recovery, could mean only one thing. I'M BACK!