Sunday, June 13, 2010

The blind leading the blind

Bright and early on Sunday morning, I had the privilege of running a new (to me) long run route with three fellow FASTies.

I set my alarm for "before the crack of dawn", so I could get up, eat my standard oatmeal and banana pre-run brekkie, and digest it in plenty of time before our run. I was supposed to meet my friends at 6am so we could run the Steamboat Classic 15k course together. For those not in the know, this course is known as "Illinois' Toughest 15k" by virtue of its many, steep hills. And not just any steep hills: this course includes the infamous Hill Of Death... TWICE. Now doesn't that sound like a party!?

I had never run the course in its entirety before. I've run bits and pieces of it during training runs (such as the Hill Of Death, and upper Glen Oak Park), and I knew it consisted of two loops through Glen Oak Park, but I wasn't really familiar with the entire route. Since my fellow FASTies had run this route many times and knew the way, I would be okay as long as I stayed with them.

Or so I thought.

I should have started to worry when Louisa almost made a wrong turn less than 1/2 mile into the run. But I didn't worry because Cathy and Marge quickly diverted her and reminded her that the turn was the next intersection. No problem. Cathy definitely knew the way, so I was going to be a-okay.

That was until Louisa and I started running ahead of Cathy and Marge. Before long, we were about a minute ahead of them. Then we arrived at the Glen Oak Zoo, which is part of the 15k course, but is kept gated when it's not open... such as on Sunday mornings. There were two sidewalks going off to the left in front of the gate. Apparently one of them would take us around the zoo and back to the regular 15k course. Louisa hemmed and hawed over which sidewalk to take.

"I know it's one of these!" she said, confidently. I did not feel as confident as she sounded.

Soon, Cathy and Marge caught up with us and pointed us in the right direction. Whew! Crisis averted.

For a while.

Louisa and I soon broke ahead of Marge and Cathy again, and she almost made two more wrong turns on the first loop. I didn't know any better - I just went along with her until I heard Cathy shouting at us from behind to turn back. At one point, Louisa said she was just following the arrows on the ground, but I swear I didn't see any arrows on the ground pointing in the directions Louisa was trying to run. I think if we had taken all the turns Louisa had tried to take, our 15k would've turned into a 10k. Perhaps she was trying to "accidentally" shorten our run. Very sneaky, Louisa!

But maybe Louisa and I were so caught up in conversation that she lost track of where we were. There's definitely something to be said for doing long runs with other people - it makes the time pass so much faster. Even when there's not conversation, just knowing that someone else is suffering through the same hills and heat that you are makes things seem a little bit better.

But Louisa, who recently entered the 60+ age division in races, has so many great stories to share. She told me about the transsexual (a woman who used to be a man) who also competes locally in her age division, and who (not surprisingly) always beats her. Louisa has won a lot of age group awards - and that's no shock when you consider that she doesn't look, act or run like a typical 60-year-old. She's petite, spunky and good-natured. She doesn't let the transsexual get her down. (And yes, I realize that is a really bizarre statement.)

She also told me about the time she was forced out of a race because the race officials thought she was too injured to finish. Then she told me about the doctors who were practically high-fiving her for trying to stick it out and telling her "You'll have such great stories to tell about this race!" (As an aside - every runner should have a doctor like this: a doctor who is also a runner and understands the mental instability... er... I mean, fortitude that comes with being a runner).

Before we knew it, we finished the first loop through Glen Oak Park and it was time to start the second loop. We charged up the Hill Of Death, knowing it would be the last time we'd have to run it. Now that I had run the loop once, I felt comfortable with the route. The conversation continued, interspersed with periods of silent focus. As we approached the last steep hill, Louisa looked at me and yelled "Let's do this!" and we charged up, powerful and energetic, knowing that it was quite literally all downhill from there.

Running through Glen Oak Park, despite being hilly and difficult, was actually nice because of all the shade offered by the many huge trees. As soon as we finished with the Glen Oak segment of the run, and headed back to the city streets toward the finish line, the shade of the trees disappeared and it felt 20 degrees hotter. No matter, though, because we were almost done. Louisa and I picked up our pace a bit and cruised into the finish area. A few minutes later, Cathy and Marge followed suit.

Success! Illinois' Toughest 15k course was no match for us. It could have been a difficult run for any one of us, had we been running individually. But there is strength in numbers. The run graph shows it. I ran at a pace not much slower than my best half-marathon pace, and yet it was an easy run. Yes, the hills were hard, but overall, my effort was low, my heart rate was low, and I felt strong the entire run.

So even though I was led slightly astray a few times, I still had a good run with some great people. They even had a sort of post-run potluck, where they were passing around recovery beverages and food. If I had known about the potluck, I would have made a lasagna or something! Well, hopefully I will get to do more long runs with these wonderful gals and have a chance to contribute to the post-run feast, whether it be with lasagna, or Gatorade... or both!

And to my running buddies on Sunday... thanks for inviting me along. :)

Peace. Love. Train.

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