At a church parking lot in Solana Beach off Via de la Valle, I was quietly freaking out. SarahOUaL had taken off and was in the process of taking the Hammer and embedding it into the concrete. I think she was probably the only one who enjoyed her last run and thoroughly killed it.
Margot put on her ruffle-butt LuLu skirt and snazzy Mizuno Mushas, because if you’re going to be so unbelievably miserable running up El Camino Real and Torrey Pines hills back-to-back, you might as well do it in style. I ran the El Camino Real hill last year as runner 4 of a 12-man team and for whatever reason, the course exchanges shifted so that it became runner 5’s responsibility. Sweet deal for Sarah. Pretty shitty for Margot. Theme of the weekend. Pretty Shitty for Margot.
Off she went down Via de la Valle, to take a right on ECR and climb the first of two mountains. We headed over to the beach at the base of Torrey Pines to catch her passing through, and then we made our way up to the Glider Port in La Jolla. I work fairly close to the exchange and, quite frankly, I would rather have been at work writing Java code than waiting to run 15 miles in a state of nervous sleep deprivation. I hit the restroom one final time (I don’t even want to get into how many times I hit the portajohns to do a number greater than 1).
How Margot finished these legs standing, never mind running, is impressive. She came flying down the dusty lot for the handoff. Waiting runners around me commented on how fast she was running in. This time she tried to give me encouragement and told me to “go get it” but she was spent. I could tell, she was emotionally drained. Practically pooping my pants, off I went.
Again, I was in denial of the elevation profile. 532 feet of climbing. Seriously, not sure why I though this would be “not so bad”. Nevermind I had another 7.8 mile leg after this one.
When I went to the captain’s meeting in place of SarahOUaL, they mentioned this leg had no van support but that the runner would really enjoy it, see the dolphins in the ocean, etc, etc (Yay! Fun times!) My legs were really sore, but I was chugging along, Garmin-less, with the heart rate monitor. Heart rate was low-ish, low for a “race”. But my legs were impossibly fatigued. Two miles in I hit stairs? Cross a pedestrian bridge… then have to go down 3 flights of stairs? I literally stopped to make sure I was understanding the course. This leg started pissing me off immediately. I just wanted to run. Not go on a wild goose chase obstacle course. I get back on the road below and run for a mile or so and realize that I have not seen any runners for a while. Back track and see I have taken a wrong turn. Roughly half a mile right of extra mileage. I was just relieved I had realized it quickly.
I end up running for a bit with another super-nice runner from LA for about a mile. We saw some folks getting hitched at the shore. Then we hit a hill at 3.5 and the legs. would. not. go. I have to tell him to go ahead without me. I wanted so bad to ask him to slow down and run with me, but, it’s his race. Not mine. So I walk a bit. We then turn right into the La Jolla Cove area and I have to go down MORE STAIRS. Here is where I started feeling like I might cry. We run through this narrow little trail and I am dodging tourists/pedestrians. I exit the trail, and am hit with the smell of rotting fish and pelican crap.
Fighting my self-pity emotions, I see a kid in a wheelchair being pushed by an older man. Literally unable to keep his head up never mind walk. I could not believe that I was feeling sorry for myself running this relay I CHOSE to do and this kid can’t even walk. This was where I think my spirit got completely squashed. I could not for the life of me snap myself out of the feeling of complete despair. I was running so slow. I was adding so much extra time to my team’s overall total. I could run and this child appeared to not even be able to interact with people. I shuffled along, fighting tears, my chest feeling constricted (meanwhile, my heart rate never got above 160 – barely “long run” heart rate level).
I hit a 200 foot climb to the mid-point exchange. Everyone is trying to encourage each other “This is it! We’re done!” This did nothing but push me further into the doldrums. I was NOT done. I didn’t even know how many miles I had left at that point. Just A LOT. An insurmountable lot. I saw Pam and Sarah (SR) waiting to cheer me on and I had a complete nuclear meltdown. I had my iPod on still (the only leg I used it and I should have left it in the van) and the volume was relatively high so on top of crying hysterically, I was loud. I realized it after I had called attention to myself, ripped the earphones off , and lowered my voice. So now I was both desperate and embarrassed. Awesome.
Let me tell you, Pam and Sarah are the only reason I got back out there. Sarah kept talking to me, and finally she said “get back out there, just walk” (because clearly standing there crying isn’t going to help anything). “It’s only 8 more miles” and for whatever reason, I thought “8 miles. Ok, 8 miles.” It didn’t seem that insurmountable when she said it out loud. I was so out of my mind I really didn’t know how much I had left but when she said the number, I had just a smidge of hope that I could slog through it. I started leg 32 walking. But at least I was moving.
Elevation-wise, smell-wise, course-wise, this leg was much less sucky than the last one. No stairs, tourists, or smelly bird droppings to deal with. Thank God because I needed an easy leg. After a few minutes of walking, I decided to run. Mostly because there was a dude on the trail looked sketch and I wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible. I ran about a mile and ended up in an area that seemed wrong and totally devoid of runners. I could not understand how I could have screwed this up again but seeing as I was a complete mess earlier, it seemed plausible I somehow made a mistake. I stopped, pulled out my phone, and looked for the leg map. I wasted several minutes doing this. I finally saw another runner. She had the map with her and I tagged along. Each time we’d hit a hill my legs would protest, so I walked. It was miserable. But I had stopped crying. As much as my outburst was unfortunate and embarrassing, it released some of the pressure that had built for 7 miles in the previous leg.
I got stuck at a light in Pacific Beach for a full 3 minutes. Not ideal. I was finally on flat terrain but I was so exhausted. I started employing the run-fast-then-walk strategy. I would pick a spot ahead, and run fast – sub-8 pace. Then give myself a small walk break. The net effect of this was faster than an 11 minute pace shuffle. Somewhere along the cove path, I again find I am lost. I stop, run back a bit to look for runners, and finally see another runner come up who also did not see a sign. So we run through a basketball course to another walking path and then we see runners up a head. Not sure if this was the course, but clearly, there were signage issues. Not too long after the “1 mile to go” sign appears. Finally. I managed to run straight through the last quarter mile and hand off to Pam.
Without the meltdown, stop lights, and lost parts, I probably averaged 10-10:15 pace. I haven’t run a long run that slow in years. YEARS. But I was surprised I finished it even that fast, to be honest. When I finished, I didn’t have any cry or meltdown left in me. I was happy to be done but felt like I had failed the team.
Pam, who is both a strong runner and a strong person, pounded out 17 miles in the low 8:00’s. Yeah. 17 miles that fast. So impressive. I felt sad that I had put more pressure on her to run faster, but then again, Pam would want to run her best no matter what. That is Pam. We drove to exchange 33 to wait for her to come through and start leg 34, her last 5.8 miles of the race.
Pulling into the exchange, we saw Team Sparkle (who had just completed the handoff) and realized we were still in the game. It wasn’t over. We had caught up with them on the course.
(You’re going to hate me, but, I’m going to make this four parts. I just have too much to say and would rather not skimp out on the finish/end).