The past couple of months had been kind of a whirlwind of running events. I’d gotten a new marathon PR at Tunnel Lite, been done Blerch’d, followed by a nice jaunt along Baker Lake. Legs were tired, but doing these had been a great way to step back from some work and life stuff that had been weighing on me.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? We do this for fun after all.
When I arrived at the start of the Point Defiance 50k this early October morning, I didn’t really have a race plan. I simply wanted to have some fun. I’d run out there just once before, on my way back from a memorial service, another time I’d used these trails to sooth my soul (we still miss you Pastor Ron).
Today I’d line up with some good friends, including two doing their first 50ks. That’s pretty great. At the start we took some fun group pictures, and talked through some nerves. Just after eight, we were off.
I hung with the faster kids from ESR for about two minutes, before taking it down a notch. It would be well over twenty miles before I saw them again. I lumbered up the steps, and then picked up the pace a bit heading up towards the point, where I caught up with a couple of friends and spent a few miles talking about life, and our teenage kids. I was running solo by the time we came round to White Rock and Ellis Alley, then took a few minutes to replenish at Fort Nisqually.
I hung out with my friend Robert for a while as we headed up Achilles Hill, and then back to the point. I got some good tips about a race I’m considering doing in Hawaii and then we swapped stories about concerts from our distant pasts.
I recalled that we’d met each other while running the Tacoma City Marathon about five and a half years ago. We’d met during the early miles when someone running with us observed that many of us had things that brought us out here, and motivated us. I shared my story, and Robert shared his. It’s amazing hearing about the twists and turns in someone else’s life, and then seeing what they do with it. That day Robert was running a mile with a pace group, then speeding up to catch the next faster one. That takes lots of focus and determine – fueled in part by things that had told him “you can’t”. Right.
So this was the theme of the day for me. I spent some miles with different friends, each with their own story that had brought them to the trail that morning. And each of us surprised ourselves, at least in some small way. Some of us did something we never thought we’d do.
Along the way, there was some pain, doubt, and some turned ankles. But we kept moving.
As I started my final loop, I ran with my friend Gunnar, who’d finished the 30k, and was heading back to his car. We know each other from work – and so talked about how easy it is to get caught up in things that steal time away from stuff that really matters. As I headed up the steps for that last time, we told each other we should get together to run at work sometime – I really hope we do.
I completed my three loops with a very surprising consistency – each had taken within a minute of all of the others. These were 10.375 mile loops – so it’s nearly unheard of – it means I’d varied less than 5 seconds per mile over the whole 31.25 miles on average.
I’d be lying if I said I planned it. I’d love to claim that I ran that smart a race, but all I did was to run according to how I felt. Towards the end, I pushed a bit trying to get close to a 5:45 finish, but that’s the only time I paid any real attention to my watch.
After that final trip down Nelly’s Gnarly Descent, Don and Amy cheered as I came in just a shade over 5:50. I visited with Rikki, who had come in a bit ahead of me. Shortly afterwards, Larissa came in for her first 50k finish, followed shortly afterwards by Bob. We rested, relaxed and then saw Carol come in for her first 50k finish, smiling ear to ear. One week off of a hard marathon, Sue had a tough last six miles, but she came across the line as well, with Kirk spending that last bit with her.
That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? You go out there to challenge yourself, but to have enough fun that you’ll do it again. And again.
This wasn’t my fastest race, nor my hardest. But I’ll remember this one for a long time.
pictures by me, Larissa and Don Uchiyama, Ken O’Neill, and the Defiance 50k team