Saturday, August 6, 2022

Downhill, Part II

Time is so strange. When you're attempting to run up 2500 feet of elevation gain faster than the people behind you, while gasping for air for your asthmatic lungs, at elevation, time seems to go really slowly. Similarly, when you're hanging upside down by your feet on a rope, seconds feel really long. Yet when you have one summer to spend with those you love, even when you savor the sweet sunsets and laugh a little longer than usual, you eventually find yourself at the end. 

Pre-race selfie!
Today I accomplished something I have been curious about for years. Something that I have been training for, more or less, since April. I conquered a challenge that had been at the back of my mind for months. It was probably the most challenging physical thing I have ever done. Nothing really prepared me for the continuous hills with every turn, the burning glutes and calves, having to stop and wheeze and spit and push on. And nothing, not even the entire blog post I dedicated to the delight of running downhill, prepared me for this descent. 

I hadn't run a 10k in 15 years. This was only the 3rd time in my life I have run over 6 miles. (I crossed the finish line at the capitol 10k in Austin at 55 minutes. The winner of this race did it in 56 minutes.) I stressed about what to eat the night before and the morning of and recognized that going backpacking for the previous 3 days with work probably wasn't the best race prep. Before the race, I received  messages from four sweet friends wishing me a good race, and found a few friends from the community to cheer on. My only real expectation was to finish, to not get hurt, and to do my best. With two different types of caffeine in my system, an empty stomach, and 260 racing friends, I lined up at the bottom of a mountain to begin this well anticipated race. 

There wasn't a gunshot or a "Go". Everyone just started running, so I took a few fast leaps to get ahead. I felt really good for the first 20 steps and then I joined everyone in a brisk uphill walk for the next hour. I constantly questioned my judgement for signing up for such punishment, but then I would turn around to walk backward and see a hundred people switchbacking below me, and determine to push on. 

Nearing the end, just this nice long hill and the one 
steep final stretch. 
After 2.5 intense miles, and not enough aid-stations, I saw one of the most glorious sights I had ever imagined. Finally, there was no more uphill, just extremely steep washed out roads of damp gravel and a 5km descent to the finish line. I chugged a sip of water and hopped into the downhill, free of doubt, glute pain, and my 80lb dog. It was the most glorious (and potentially the fastest) downhill I have ever experienced. At one point, coming around a corner to a slight breeze, I felt like I was flying. 
I flew all the way down, pumping my fists to my music, hopping from rock to rock pile until I finally passed the last 9km marker. Then a crippling side stich slowed me down, making me walk a step or two for every 10 steps I could run, until I at last saw the finish line and launched myself toward it. 

When I crossed the finish line, I didn't see my sweet dog happily greeting me, like I had imagined. There wasn't a friend to cheer me on. A little boy handed me a clay necklace with the race logo on it, and I hobbled to the grass nearby and cried. I didn't know why I was crying. Perhaps because I often associate asthma attacks with panic attacks and tears were the only missing factor? Maybe out of joy from accomplishing the task, or being done with it? Maybe disappointment that no one was there to hug as I hunched just past the finish line? It wasn't until I got home that I realized the true inspiration for the tears. This whole summer was an uphill battle, in one way or another, with brief, beautiful downhill sprints. Now that I have finished my final downhill, its time to look to my next challenge. 

I came to Taos this summer feeling pretty sour about it. But Taos worked its magic, as it does, making me appreciate the beauty of the mountains, the cool morning air, the community, the opportunities. I'm not the same person I was when I arrived here in May. I am sure I wasn't expecting to be... but when I look back at my ideas and expectations when I left Texas in March, I felt like I had much clearer goals than I do now.