So I had been enjoying life without running for about seven months before L
casually mentioned two weeks ago that I could pace him in this year's QuickSilver
100K Endurance Run. The 63-year-old just recovered from the same abdominal tendon
pain that I got and he wanted to challenge one of the toughest 100K races again!
He could go crazy all he wanted. I was good.
I did my best to convince him (and actually myself) that I was not ready--lunges
and squats still hurt my groin and the back of the right knee, the left hip hurt
from a recent break-fall in jiu-jitsu, my right ankle was still tighter than the
left, and most importantly, I hadn't trained at all since March.
But L's whole family had been kind to me. I felt I should at least be there to
show support. "I'll come to see you suffer." I told him. So after jiu-jitsu on
Sat morning, I drove down to New Almaden in shorts and a new pair of Xeros. Just
in case I wanted to run a couple of miles with him, I thought.
L came in good shape after 44.5 miles at the Mockingbird station around 2:40 pm
and we headed toward Bull Run, the next aid station in 3.9 miles. "Let's just
see how things go." I said. In no time, we were there and it turned out fine. I
didn't even eat or refill.
We ran a couple of miles with Chuck, a tall gentleman with a ruddy face and his
wavy white hair bundled into a pony-tail. A strong runner, Chuck was one year
older than L and would finish first in their age group. The two joked around and
I had a hard time following. Also bothering me was the thought that I was the
youngest in this pack of runners and oldest in the morning class of grapplers
and my performance was at the bottom in each group!
Early in the 5.7-mile descending to McAbee, my runner's high was over, and the
scenes from three years ago when I first paced L and S on this very course started
to replay. The details changed, however. This time, my left knee hurt at the
outside shortening the steps and I felt hunger pangs. L, however, sped up with his
typical downhill abandon. At one point, I feared that L was going to lose me. That
would be a bit embarrassing, I thought. On the positive side, the new sandals and
years of barefoot living helped and my feet fared better.
At McAbee, I refilled my bottle and ate two jam sandwiches, two raisin cookies,
two handful of potato chips, and one oat-meal bar. I hadn't had a cookie for a
long time and those tasted the best. "Have cookies only in a race." sounded
like a good discipline to keep.
On our way back to Bull Run, it was getting dark, black clouds were gathering,
and the wind started to blow. It was a long climb up, however, and I was sure at
least I wouldn't lag behind. L's burst was over and we mostly walked the length.
He shared another energy bar and a spare headlamp. He was the runner muling for
his pacer. This was also the first time I ran on a trail with headlamp on.
It was about 6:15pm and completely dark when we reached Bull Run. I had to salute
the volunteers, already in winter jackets, flashing lights, cheering and serving
runners. In the middle of nowhere, they had to endure in the wind till 9:00pm.
The last three miles were pure descending and my legs held on much better than
three years ago. The end was near and jogging felt relaxing. Through trees
lining the trail the warm amber lights from the neighborhoods below and beyond
looked delightful and reassuring. A runner in a red jacket and leggings of bright
colored stripes told me he would never race in sandals as he noticed mine. "They
hold me back when I need to be aggressive." he said. (After my abodominal
tendinopathy, I thought it was a good thing that the Xeroes hold me back. Well.
We all have to learn our own way and mine was not necessarily the truth for
someone else. So I didn't say anything.) We picked up a couple of runners and was
passed by a few. "Great Job!", "Almost there!", "Really close now!" we shouted
out to each other. The collective mood was high.
L broke his own course record by 30 minutes and placed 3rd in his age group. He
might have won a medal, but with a friend constantly lifting me up and inspiring
me to be my best, I felt the luckier one!
[PS. Just as we dog-legged onto the last stretch, I saw two shiny dots moving in
the woods. Another deer, I thought. I had seen no less than six deers so far in
the race. Then the dots jumped up and stayed high in the dark and I realized it
must be a cat and the only wild cat that big would be a mountain lion! With the
deers came their predators. It all made sense. Under the lights from my headlamp,
the eyes glittered close to the side of the trail. I felt no panic. I could see
the finish line at the trail head now and we trotted toward the gate as if
nothing had happened.]