This year’s Haliburton 50-miler shouldn’t have gone well. The previous two weeks had been insane, what with the launch of my new radio show, and the impending publication of my novel. I got 8 hours of sleep in the three days before the race. Also, I was being force-fed a bunch of life’s predictable crap sandwiches.
You know how it is: hidden icebergs of grief, bullet-holes in the drywall, gale-force winds.
Long story short: my head wasn’t in the game. Which is why, in the rush to catch my train, I forgot to pack my watch, salt pills and favourite shoes.
Doomed, I thought. I’m totally doomed.
Oh well. Might as well run the dang thing anyway.
Happily, Saturday morning, the conditions were perfect. Firm trails, and air so brisk you could see your breath. I went out waaaay too fast, but for some reason my body never crashed. Maybe because I ate a TON of food. Potatoes, bananas, gels, and uhhh Clif bars.
Now, I have a love-hate relationship with Clif bars. I hate it when I eat them, and I love puking them up.
Seriously – Clif bars are tougher to gag down than soggy woolen mittens. Sure, they have calories, but it’s like swallowing a Christmas sweater.
Luckily, at aid station 5, after trying to coax a third oatmeal-mohair bar down my throat, a fellow runner gifted me a packet of tangerine Gu chomps. Have you tried these chomps? OMG. It was like the Book of Genesis unfolding on my tongue.
The sugar flooded into my bloodstream and I started sproinging up the hills. Sproing! Sproing! Sproing! Sproing!
I bounded up hills I’d only walked before. I was a gazelle, a dik-dik, a Kangaroo Rat. The only hills I didn’t run were the diabolical three ‘sisters’ between Ben’s Trail and The Pass, and that 300-foot monster at the start of the King and James trail.
I had no right to be running this well. But sometimes runners get lucky, and wind up in Opposite Land. If you’ve been running for any length of time, you’ve probably been to Opposite Land. You train and plan meticulously for months, and yet, when race day comes, everything falls apart. Other times, even if you’ve been eating nothing but Pocky and crying your eyes out every night, you can still – for some inexplicable reason – exceed expectations.
Opposite land. That’s where I was. So I kept running hard. No part of my body complained.
I ran into old friends at aid stations and stopped for hugs. Those friends gave me more energy than a dozen boiled, salted potatoes.
“I miss you like whoa!”
“I miss you like whoa too!”
“I’d love to stay and chat, but-”
“Keep going! It’s a race!”
Shawna asked me what I thought about during this run. I told her I didn’t think about anything at all. Maybe my mind was too blasted from the radio show or the book or the drive-by shootings in my mind. Yes, it felt like the whole world was crashing down, but out here on this trail, I was in complete control. For nine hours, my whole existence was a dusty brown ribbon, two feet wide. It was that simple. Just keep running. Everything else will unfold as it should.
As usual, the trails were storybook pretty. Tree trunks as thick as elephant legs, and leaves that rattled in the breeze like twenty dollar bills. When I got to aid station 4, ten miles from the finish, I asked a volunteer for the time. I was delighted by her answer. I had a shot at breaking 9 hours. I ran on, and started to fantasize about the finish line. What would I do when I got there? Turn my usual pirouette? Do a couple of cartwheels? Or should I moonwalk? Hmmm.
In the end, I just leaned forward, and ran it in. My time was 9:02.
I know – pretty boring.
My parents were there, cheering wildly. And the moment I crossed the line, I realized my mistake.
Instead of racing straight across the fline, here’s what I should have done:
- Abruptly stopped running – ten metres shy of the finish.
- Walked over to the side of the road and hugged my parents.
- Grabbed them by the hand.
- Pulled them across the finish line beside me; all six of our hands raised high.
That’s what I should’ve done. Because all of my victories – deserved or not – are entirely thanks to them.
That’s what I learned from Opposite Land. Calories only push you so far. Heart pushes you further.