If you’ve run with me, you’ll know that I don’t like starting lines. I’ve learned to handle tapers, gear packing, and pre-race nutrition, but starting lines still give me apprehension. If it’s a 100-mile race, that apprehension starts the night before. I become introverted, pensive…okay, I’m a train wreck.
I’d like to say that once the race starts, that all is good, and off I go. Again, my friends know to give me my space at the start. I’ve learned not to implement my race plan until mile 4. That’s when I come back to “me”, and finally get myself in my groove.
I’ve noticed a certain pre-race energy. There is almost always 20-30 minutes before a race, which you are standing around, just waiting to do your thing. All racers are different, but many approach the start in similar manners. Some size-up competitors, subtly (or not so) asking about previous race times. Some recite their race resumes, like it will bolster their performance. Some make excuses to any one who will listen about how unprepared they are for this race. Some gear junkies will either ask you a zillion questions about something you are wearing, or talk incessantly about something they just bought. Some visit their drop bags like they have visitation rights. Some seem calm, like this is no big deal. Some lean on family and friends. Some cry.
Then the gun, or guy yelling, “go”, happens. We all take off en mass. Sometimes elbows are thrown. Sometimes people muscle for position. Often slower runners start at the front and have to drop back. But, the first 30 seconds of a race have an amazing energy. It produces a unique “thud thud” heartbeat-like cadence, caused by group footfalls, that only happens when a group of runners all start at the same moment. I’ve heard it on pavement, gravel, sand and grass. I’ve heard in it the rain and on snow. I’ve heard it with large marathon-sized crowds and in small 5k’s. I adore that sound.
Saturday, I was privileged enough to run the Hashahawa 50k. It’s a challenge to find a trail ultra in February, and as such, there is a lottery to get into this race. I ran it once before and was knee deep in mud. Last year was cancelled due to a snowstorm. This year’s race was a trudge in un-groomed, crunchy snow. It was a struggle and only 54 of the 120 registered runners found the finish line. I loved it!
I often tell my daughter, “negative self-talk is not allowed…find a way to say it without beating yourself up”. I was reciting that at the start. I didn’t know a soul, and was finding it hard not to give myself a good mental beating. My spirit was comforted, when I looked at my phone and saw that familiar red circle indicating that I had text messages. Roger, always knowing what to say, wrote, “It’s ok to wipe out in snow! So, run hard!” Jim and Russell, out on their own training runs, sent me banter that made me giggle. Mark simply sent me a “go get it”. Texts like these, and other’s that I have received prior to races, help me center. Help me get out of my head. Help me remember that this too shall pass. They go a long way in un-wrecking my train.
The race was all I could hope a February trail run could be. Snow…hills….spectacular views…blue skies, and small hints that spring might actually happen. I had to work hard during this race. Much effort was needed to stay upright, and I had to remind myself of Rog’s advice several times. Yup, I wiped out. I was on my butt so many times, that once, I took advantage and made a snow angel. I used my butt to slide down inclines, to haul me up a hill affectionately referred to as BFH, and to kick myself into gear on some of the long stretches where I could actually find my stride. Butts, I’ve learned, are not to be underestimated.
I did muddle my way to the finish line, and was able to collect a very cool hand-made mug. I didn’t get the time I had hoped for, but that’s okay. I know there will be another starting line.