For me, usually, it is NOT a good racing day when I’m limping a mile from the finish line in a half marathon - and I’m passed by a grandma who is the spitting image of Sophia Petrillo from “The Golden Girls.”
But this week, at the Spanish Peaks Half Marathon in La Veta, I didn’t care. I didn’t have to set any new land-speed records. It was a beautiful day. The aspens were a glorious riot of yellow and orange. The fall temperature was spot-on. And I was in a real live race. With real. Live. PEOPLE!
If you have followed my tales of running adventures throughout the years, you know - I’ve had some spectacular victories. And some humbling defeats. But I’ve always raced. I don’t know; there’s just something in me that feels more ALIVE when I’m testing myself. Against myself. And against others. Maybe it’s something buried deep down in my animal brain - the desire to feel strong, and powerful, and able to outrun any dangers that may come my direction.
But this year, it’s been TOUGH. I ran my last marathon in February in Pueblo - with no clue that it would be my last. I had a full race schedule planned for the season. But then COVID-19 happened. Plans were cancelled. And I found myself woefully...lost. I had lost not only my metaphorical ability to outrun the dangers life threw at me - but also literally. For you see, the more my worries piled up, the slower I’d become.
Some of it is the ‘COVID-20’ pounds I gained stress eating my way through the pandemic. Some of it is the inflammation in my ankles due to my fluctuating thyroid. And some of it, I’m sure, has been psychological - why run fast if I have no where I want to run TO? It’s hard to want to sprint when all you’re doing, daily, is treading water, hoping another shoe isn’t about to fall.
Whelp, one can only live in THAT funk for so long.
So, when I heard that one race out of the 2020 RaBa Cinco Running Series had been salvaged, I HAD to sign up. And so running buddy Jeff and I travelled west to La Veta for the Spanish Peaks Half Marathon on October 3. We both knew - we would be slow. We might be the very last runners to finish.
But you know what the first place runner and the last place runner have in common? They both finished the exact same race. So race we would.
The race course was tough. We started at the Grandote Golf Course in La Veta. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the race start was staggered, with one runner starting every thirty seconds. So — Jeff got to start 30 seconds ahead of me. Which meant that for us to run together, I’d have to catch up to him.
And so, as if I hadn’t already known that this race would be tough, I found myself immediately challenged by having to catch Jeff, a.k.a. “The First Mile Speed Demon” (because he ALWAYS starts off waaaaaaay too fast) while sprinting up a HUGE hill.
Having a huge uphill in the first mile? That’s just mean.
Kinda like 2020.
But I just put my head down, leaned into the climb, and caught the Speed Demon.
It felt good!
The next six miles of the race course weren’t any easier. La Veta sits at a lofty elevation of roughly 7,000 feet. This is markedly higher than my treadmill’s elevation at home, and as well as the south shore of Trinidad Lake — the only two places I have run in many, many moons. From La Veta, the race course shot us south on Highway 12 — a b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l. place to run in October. But with a 700-foot elevation gain, it was also H.A.R.D. My legs felt every inch of gravity pulling them towards the earth, and my lungs struggled to pull in enough oxygen.
But Jeff and I continued to push forward. We talked about our jobs. Family. Friends. We told jokes. We reminisced about races past. And made plans for runs future.
And the miles magically started to melt away.
Around mile 5.5, the runners ahead of us who had already reached the turn-around point started to pass us in the other direction. We cheered for each and every one of them.
And the beautiful part was — all those speedy Running Gods cheered for us mere mortals at the back of the pack, too.
At mile seven, we too got to turn around and head back from whence we came, turning our sails towards the distant finish line. It felt SO GOOD to get a chance to run downhill, finally. Isn’t that kinda like life? After we struggle for a long time, eventually things get easier? I like to think so.
Together, Jeff and I made our way back towards La Veta. We both had some moments when we tanked — like when my left achilles started to scream at me at mile 10. Or when his gas tank hit ‘Empty’ a half mile from the finish. But we kept going. We even managed to sprint the final twenty feet of the race — on an uphill.
So I may not have outraced Grandma Petrillo. But I cheered her on as she passed me. And she cheered for me when I finished. It was a good day.