One of the things I have learned from running, which I believe applies to all of life, is that the more difficult the journey—the sweeter the victory. This past week reinforced my belief in this truism.
On Sunday of last week I woke up with a stiff lower back, having spent the previous week sitting in church pews and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed. My attempts at some stretching did much more harm than good. I ended up writhing in pain and had to have Jennifer drive me to church and lift me out of the car. I worried that I might not be able to stand long enough for the sermon (fortunately I did).
In the week between over-stretching my back and the marathon I got massaged, stretched, acupunctured, and even went through some “cupping and bleeding” (look it up, it is wild). While I felt better by Friday evening, I had trouble getting out of bed on Saturday morning and had no idea how the day would go. Arriving at the trail head, I did almost an hour of stretching in preparation for the “Run the Caldera” marathon.
When the race started, I did not know what would happen in the first mile. I used my well-tested Galloway training program discipline of alternating five minutes of running with two minutes of walking. This method helped me loosen up my back and got me going. Other than some extra walking on steep uphills and extra running on the downhills, I used this system flawlessly for the first 19 miles.
Uphills and downhills are the main feature of the “Run the Caldera”.
This marathon has no pavement and very few flat areas. The run is almost entirely climbing and descending mountains.
By mile 8, we climbed up the Redondito Peak to 10,000 feet in elevation. By mile 15, we were back down to 8,500 feet, running parallel to the plains of the Valle Grande. Over the next four miles we ran past remote log cabins and horse ranches.
Through the first 19 miles, things went incredibly well. I felt great, my legs were turning over, and the scenery was amazing. I was thinking that I couldn’t wait to come back next year and run this when I was 100 percent healthy. Then came a series of steep hills from miles 19 through 21—and the wheels started falling off.
These hills were too steep for me to run uphill or downhill. Tough climbs were countered with tough descendents. When I finally got to more manageable ground and tried to run again, my calf muscles seized up. They were not interested in going any further. I ended up walking with difficulty for four miles, adding significantly to my finishing time. As I walked with great disappointment, I reflected on my training and wondered how I ended up in this situation. I was well hydrated, ate plenty of bananas and electrolytes, and never had anything like this happen before. Then it dawned on me. For three consecutive weeks I had run up the Sandia mountains, climbing from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. However, on each occasion I rode the tram down. I did not do any significant downhill training. Although my training got me up the Redondito Peak without being winded, I did not prepare myself for running downhill.
By mile 23, my calf muscles became so weary of this journey that they relented enough to allow me to run/walk the last three miles. I crossed the finish line running strong, smiling, and waving a course marker as a flag over my head. My finishing time was horrible, yet I finished with three amazing people from Albuquerque. Considering the week that had preceded the run, finishing was my only goal. Admittedly, I did so well in the first 19 miles that I built up an expectation for a faster time. But, finishing is its own reward.
This marathon was special because it gave me the opportunity to raise awareness and money for the United Methodist Church’s “Imagine no Malaria” campaign. More than 40 people donated $3,284 to the campaign. I carried a list of the names of all who donated with me during the marathon and thought about them and prayed for them as I ran. This gave me strength in moments of weakness and made this marathon more than just a day in the Valles Caldera Nature Preserve—it made today a victory.