Have you ever been caught in an especially tough race, training run or competitive/endurance event? Were you able to dig deep and persevere to the finish line? Did you have enough grit to keep that proverbial white flag from flying?
Very recently (like last weekend), I found myself in such a situation as I made my way through a hilly and rather difficult 26.2 miles at the Cannonball Marathon (Greensboro, NC). Although I made it to the finish line (recap HERE), it was tough (physically and mentally) battling all the frustrations of the race. Ultimately, though, I came out victorious and crossed the finish line.
I have had races where everything fell into place... the weather was optimal, my energy was on-point, the race course wasn't especially hilly or difficult. And, there have been many other races that took more work than usual to stay on course (no pun intended). These were challenging races that forced me to tap into my "grit reserve." Here's some of them:
Route 66 Marathon (recap HERE)
Another especially tough marathon was Route 66, a marathon famous for non-stop rolling hills through numerous scenic neighborhoods in Tulsa, OK. I knew this course would be hilly, and I knew there would probably be some wind. What took me by surprise on race day, though, was a strange hip/groin pain that persisted from the 2-mile mark all the way to the finish line. I spent most of the first 13 miles considering stopping at the 13.1 finish line. When I chose to keep going, I spent another five miles debating about turning around and going back to that finish line. Thankfully, I was well-trained (possibly over-trained), so my endurance was spot-on. I was able to run at a decent pace, but had to keep taking walk breaks due to the persistent pain. It really was a fun and festive race course, so I'm glad I was able to push through all of the pain and frustration...and nearly cried at the finish line because I was so exhausted, yet proud, from the battle in getting there.
A favorite event I have done every year, since 2013, is the Fight for Air Climb (in Des Moines, IA). When I was offered the opportunity to do the Chicago Climb, I was all over it. So what if it involved the four Presidential Towers and encompassed a total of 180 flights of stairs (45 flights in each building)...I was up for the challenge! The Des Moines venue (at the time) only had 66 flights of stairs...so when I had finished the first Presidential Tower in Chicago, I really wondered if I'd be able to climb three more towers of equal height because my legs felt like over-cooked pasta and I was so out of breath. I'm a strong believer in "go big or go home," though, so quitting was not an option. Each tower seemed more difficult than the previous ones, but I just kept climbing. I took periodic breaks on some of the landings, and I drank plenty of water. I finished all four towers with a time of 35:44, and felt like a champion when they handed me my finisher medal.
In 2015, a group of Facebook/blogging friends (and myself) met up and ran the CIJ 6-Hour ultra (recap HERE) in Lisle, IL, and decided to reconvene a year later and take on the 12-hour race (again, go big or go home LOL). The race began at 11:00 p.m. and ended at 11:00 a.m. the following morning. Yes, we ran all night long and most of the next morning as well. The course was a 1-mile loop around a lake. Some of those loops were run with others from the group. Many were run on my own. There were intermittent loops of walking. There were lots of laughs and chit-chatting. There also was total silence. When the 12 hours had ended, I had 37 miles done, which is a 60K. Oddly, I never felt tired, but my mind did get a little loopy at times. That 1-mile route got repetitive, but was oddly comforting in that we knew there would be a spread of food and drink right before the timing mat (that would record our laps each time we crossed it). I was giddy with endorphins at the finish and didn't actually sleep until a good 12 hours later. Truth.
Always looking for a new adventure, I took on the challenge of a duathlon a few years ago. Why not? This took place in Washington, IA a few weeks after my 6-hour ultra (early August 2015). As if riding a borrowed bike wasn't scary enough, there also was the challenge of staying on said bike for 20 hilly miles (my longest ride ever)...through the humid Iowa air (on a hot day) with several pig farms along the route. The 5K before the ride was a piece of cake, but the 1.5-mile run afterwards was like a death march. My legs did not want to move and I could barely lift my feet off the pavement. Several racers were walking; the ones who were attempting to run looked like zombies with no muscle control (myself included). But, my goal was a 2-hour finish, and I crossed the finish line in 1:58:28. Mission accomplished.
What all of these events have in common is the joy and pride in finishing a tough race. Sure, there's a great deal of satisfaction in running a "fast and easy" race, but what is there to learn from it? Gritting it out in tough conditions, at least for me, is far more rewarding because nothing is taken for granted. Having to fight for the finish makes crossing that finish line even more sweet.
How about you? What's the toughest race you've ever run? Have you ever done a tough event and looked back on it as a great experience?