Once again, Reach the Beach kicked ass. The Rosie Ruiz Fan Club came thiiiiiiiis close to not running the race this year, but at the last minute several adventurous runners stepped up and filled slots on our team in the place of teammates who had to drop out. It really was touch-and-go up until a week before the race. I had started to make peace with the idea that we would not run this year, but I was not very happy about it.
We tried something new this year and it really worked out well for us. We joined a newly-created category of team called Freestyle. The 12 members of a freestyle team are able to choose which of the 36 legs they run without having to stick to a predetermined order. We get to choose how we cover the 205 miles from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach. We came to this category out of necessity this year. Several of our runners were recovering from injuries and were not sure of how many legs they could run. Being a freestyle team allowed us to fill in for those runners if it turned out we needed to.
Happily, both of the recovering runners were able to handle all of their legs. Nobody got stuck taking more than three turns on the course. As a team, we were all over the place in terms of pace. Some legs were long and hard and run through a pounding rain. Others happened in the middle of the night on no sleep. Some were short and flat and fast. Our pace ranged from 10:00 per mile to 5:50 per mile. Altogether, we ran the race in 26 hours and 47 minutes, for a pace of 7:49 per mile. We had no idea about how many other teams were in the Freestyle category until we got home and looked at the results on the Reach the Beach website. Turned out we came in third out of 156 teams. Holy Shit.
Personally, this year’s RTB was great. I met some new friends, got to reconnect and spend an intense amount of time with some old friends, and I got to make friends with some trees.
If you are a runner you know that most of the endeavor is mental. If you have trained, then getting through the tough stretches is all about playing mental games and tricks on yourself. My legs this year included two long and hilly stretches in the dark. I knew going in that I was not going to be fast, but I also knew I could get through the hills without dying. Nobody likes running on hills, but I have recently moved to Ithaca, New York and I have to run on hills no matter which direction I go from my front door. So I figured I might as well do some of the hilly RTB legs.
My first foray out of the van around 10:00 pm had me going up three big hills in a span of 5.11 miles. Two of the three hills were well over 200 feet high. It was dark and it was difficult, but I did it. My next leg, (Leg 19), at around 3:30 am, had me again going up three big hills, this time over a span of 8.3 miles. There was a 350-footer, a 150-footer, and a 400-footer to close it all out. The first two hills were hard. The last was near-impossible. It was still dark and it was still difficult and my mind was having a hard time getting my body to the end.
The final mile-and-a-half was straight uphill and I didn’t have much left in the tank. I tried my usual trick of giving myself a goal that was visible and then making that the focus of my run. I told myself, “Just get to that telephone pole on the right—that is your goal. You can surely make it that far.” And then once I reached that telephone pole I would choose the next goal and go from there. Normally, this trick gets me through to the finish of any hard run. Not on that second leg of Reach the Beach.
I found myself picking closer and closer goals, and yet I was still tempted to shut down and just walk the last half mile. I had to come up with a new trick quick or my body was going to take control and start walking. At this point in the course, I was on a road in the woods. There were no houses, just trees as far as I could see—which was not very far given the low-powered head lamp I was wearing. I am not sure where it came from, but inspiration hit just before I shifted from run down to walk. I looked ahead, identified a particular tree on the roadside, and mentally reached out to it. I introduced myself and asked for its help. I asked it to loan me some of its energy and help pull me up the hill.
Generally, I am not a spiritual person. I don’t believe in God or a soul. I don’t credit stories of spirits and life energies. I am a firm believer in science. And yet, I found myself asking the trees for help. Crazy, I know. Yet there it is.
I chose wide, tall trees, figuring they were strongest and most likely to be able to help me fight gravity and despair. And they did not let me down. I could feel the boost they gave me. I started to feel stronger and picked up the pace just a bit. I started to feel a bit selfish—making it all about me me me. So as I neared the top and the end of my leg, I told the trees I would repay them by doing what I could to help them whenever I could. I told them I would print two-sided. I would recycle everything I could. I would become a better steward of the land.
I made it to the top of the hill and collapsed into the van. I did not tell anyone about talking with the trees.
In the cold light of day the next morning I knew that my mind made it all up. It was effective and it got me through my second leg without walking, but I know I was not really communicating with the trees and they were not really lending me a hand. Right? In any case, do me a favor. If you are tempted to share this post with anyone, do so digitally. DON”T print it out on paper.