Life is a journey, they say. Well, The road to Cottonwood is also a journey. Big Cottonwood is a race like no other that I have trained for. I will start at 9600 ft of elevation and the course drops to 4400 ft of elevation! That’s quite a downhill race! So, training for this race is a whole other animal. Not only is their the marathon preparedness factor that I need to gear up for, but it’s the downhill racing that’s important. It’s not just finishing a race that I want out of it, it’s qualifying for Boston with greater than a 5 minute time!
What goes into downhill racing? Well, as it turns out, you need quads of steel! Yes, my legs are definitely my strongest asset, but they must be stronger. So strength traning is of the upmost importance. Needless to say, that includes deadlifting- which I have shared, is not my favorite. I have compromised to using the hex bar as dead-lifting rather than a straight bar. Honestly,, I can hex bar any day of the week and “enjoy it” where the straight bar just kills my hamstrings. So, twice a week I’m working on dead lifts. That, of course, is in addition to another 4-5 days a week of push-ups, planks, squats, bridges, etc that I am doing to build up my muscles. No, I’m not trying to get “jacked” for this race. Just building myself up to be the best version of me that I can possibly be. And the strongest version of course!
I have been training since Carmel, to rebuild my base, but in the last 2 weeks, more down-hill training has ensued, and the long runs have gotten longer. One of the reasons that this race was chosen, was because there is a large group of people from my running club, Hendersonville Running Club, who are running it: both the 1/2 and the full. There are 4 of us who are looking to BQ- qualify for Boston. So, needless to say, we are feeling a little bit more pressure.
My “team” includes Kim and Andrew- who are both much faster runners than I am. But, we have formed a pact that we are training all of our long runs together (in terms of route) to prepare for this race. Last week was our first go at it. I knew I would be behind them the whole way, but at least knowing that someone is out there makes the run more enjoyable, and safer of course. It was a 17 mile course- with the first portion hilly, the middle part shady, and the end part hilly with pure sunshine! In the middle of May, that means that the weather is hot and humid, just perfect for long runs! NOT!! We had put out water ahead of time so that we would not dehydrate during the run- only way to get through a long run.
I have to say that my friends are truly amazing. I may be the slowest of the 3 of us, but they never left me at any of the water stops! They waited however long it took me to get there and drink, before we were offf and running again. For the fastest, that could be as long as 5+ minutes. Let me just say that at first I felt really bad that the runs were going to take them so much longer, but they both told me that we were in this together when we committed to running the same race. TRUE FRIENDSHIP!!
The first 4-5 miles were tough- my legs were feeling tired and not ready to move, but then things evened out, especiallly after the 2nd water stop, because we were in a shaded area. That was definitely refreshing. Then we hit Big Station Camp— let’s just say that that is a very busy road with large trucks and it has several hills. It was tough having to constantly have to jump off the side of the road multiple times. The last stretch was a straight path- but the road was definitely not flat. And being another busy main road, there was plenty of traffic, even for 8AM. Besides the hills, the sun was just beating down on us. This sounds Negative, but it shouldn’t. All the things I’ve listed: the hills, the humidity, the heat…. all of these things make me stronger. Every last one of them make me dig deeper inside of me to finish, to complete the run. THAT is what you need in the marathon. If I just ran easy simple courses all of the time, then I wouldn’t be building this strength deep within me. It’s the courses that challenge you that make you a better runner.
Today was mostly a solo run- 18 miler. My running partners were BOTH out of town this weekend so we all had essentially solo runs to take on, in different states. The one thing linking us was that we ran at basically the same times, just far away from one another. I was able to share the first 2 miles with another running friend, and then then next 1.5 miles with another. Those second 1.5 miles (I was actually 6 miles into my run at that point), was on a hilly road. I told him, “This is just stupid- I have another 13 miles to go and I’m killing myself on hills. I’m turning around.” He agreed that that was the way to go, we high-fived, and off I ran, headed back the way we came. Yup, more hills!
The plan was, that I would reach my car at the 10 mile mark so I could hydrate back up with some Powerade and grab a gel. I planned it perfectly. What I didn’t realize, what that another group of runners would be done and chatting in the parking lot. When I got back to the car, we talked and they invited me to coffee. Boy did that sound inviting, but no way with 8 more miles to go. And the hard stuff was just beginning.
Miles 10-14 were all intervals- speed work- 1/2 mile at sub-8 and then 1/2 mile jogging. I knew that I had to run in the flattest area possible, so I ran the entire thing in the park. I would head out, run the 1/2 mile fast, run and little further, and then cover many tracks backwards, and just start again. BORING!!! But, still effective. It helped me gauge every time where my 1/2 mile mark would be, so I knew I just had to push a little further with each one. And 4 didn’t seem all that bad. I was soaked to the bone with the high humidity. Also, I was grateful I brought a bandana this run to wipe the sweat off my face/head. It was also completely soaked. “Four more miles for the cool down ” was what I thought.
The last 4 miles felt almost like a death march, because I was totally spent by that point. We went straight from winter to summer, and my body just hasn’t acclimated yet. But I knew it had to be done. In my head, I was trying to convince myself to just run 17 and it would all be OK. But I knew in my heart that that wasn’t the way to go, that I HAD TO finish the full 18. So, what I did was to run a course where I wouldn’t get back to my car til 18 miles, so I had no choice. When I finished, Powerade never tasted so good! I rewarded myself with coffee after. Digging deep, is finding the strength to carry on when your body tells you to stop. it’s finding the power within you to keep going when all signs point to STOP!! Let’s just say that I had to dig deep to finish today.
These solo runs, although they are boring because I’m running by myself, they are also a learning experience for me. I learn from every run that I do. There are different things to learn with each run- fueling, hydration, nutrition pre/post run, pacing, strength, and power. You never know what you are going to learn from the experience until it is over. But these are the runs where I feel like I build the most inner strength. Yes, that sounds great, but I LOVE my group runs. I especially love my TEAM runs. NOTHING can replace the feeling of camaraderie.