Yesterday, I finished the inaugural Mountain Rats Heavy Half Marathon and was one hurting puppy! It was my first trail run race and the first race I’d entered in several years. The heavy half was about a 14.4 mile run out of Eagle, CO. It was a beautiful, cool (45 deg) morning. I had trained for the half marathon by running one day a week–that’s about all the time I’ve had these days. Three weeks ago I strained my right calf trying to keep up with a real runner, Tim Giesen, and hadn’t run in several weeks to let it heal.
Leading up to the race, I was increasingly nervous–would I be able to finish? Would I destroy my calf? What am I thinking?! Over the last few weeks I tended to my tender calf administering therapeutic dry needling to myself, wearing a dorsal night splint, and gentle stretching. From the very first step of the race, I felt my calf but I just did my best to not to overdo it, if that’s possible on a 14.4 mile trail run.
The course was absolutely stunning! In late September, the Aspens had turned brilliant yellow and patches of scrub displayed earthy oranges, yellows, greens, and browns. When not focussing on the gradually increasing pain in my thighs, I was awestruck by how lucky I was to be here.
Around mile 9 or 10, I noticed my left foot beginning to drag. Crap! I was hitting a wall. Shortly thereafter I wiped out after tripping on a rock running downhill and went for nice little slide. A few cuts and bruises, I dusted myself off and was on my way again. “Only 4.8 miles to go!” said the the amiable aid worker at the next station after I stuffed my face with gels, M&Ms, PB&J rolls and bananas–anything to get some energy back into my depleted body. This wasn’t going to be pretty.
In two more miles my thighs began cramping and seizing. I was walking more and more as I ran into a wall again and again. At one point, both thighs completely seized and I had difficulty bending my knees. I forced myself to stretch them as people passed me by whom I had passed earlier. “C’mon Rick! You will keep moving!” I chided myself, forcing me to go forward–after all it was the only way to finish the race.
At the last aid station one of the workers called out, “Looking Good!”
“No, I’m not looking good at all but thanks anyway” we all laughed.
“Just 1.7 miles to go and a little hill to climb!” she said cheerily.
“This is where I wish we didn’t have the ‘heavy’ portion of the half marathon” I joked. I stuffed my face with another gel and some M&Ms. Here we go…
Crossing the finish line with a time of 2:58 and some change had never felt so good! My buddy Tim had been waiting for me for a half hour already (2:28 finish time). I was so relieved for it to finally be over–I was beat. Our third amigo, Ben Cornish, came in a few minutes later looking fresh as a daisy. In fact everyone looked refreshed as they crossed the line. Clearly I was alone in my struggle for survival out there.
But I finished and was very proud of myself. It’s a rare event when I can push myself to the limit like that. It was every bit as hard as my full marathon road races. I have a new respect for trail runners. I was completely caught unawares that in trail races you are either climbing or descending–there’s nothing in between.
At the awards ceremony they began with the 50-59 year-old men. “In second place, Rick Olderman!”. What?!!! Me? 2nd place? That’s crazy! I went up and got my cow bell with “2nd Place” stamped on it. I was thrilled and dumbfounded and sat back down, stunned. “In first place with a time of 2:28, Tim Giesen!”. Tim went up and got his 1st Place cow bell. We were both speechless and happy.
I watched as the other age group winners accepted their cow bells. In those groups, they all began with 3rd place winners. Why would they only begin with 2nd place for my age group? Then it dawned on me–there were only two 50-59 year-old men entered in the race! I told Tim that now we just need to enter ourselves in all the inaugural races–we’ll podium every time.
It goes to show that sometimes it’s just about showing up. I did and earned 2nd place (or last place depending on how you look at it). That was the icing on the cake–to have that lesson from this wonderful little race on top of the blessing of pushing my body and mind to their limits. I’m deeply content.
In spite of the pain and my very sore quads coming downstairs this morning, I’m hooked! The beauty, the challenge, the sense of accomplishment, the pain makes me feel very much alive. I can’t wait to do it again! Thank you Mountain Rats!