I have often thought that the hardest part of racing was making it to the start line. Last night, as we journeyed from Columbus to the suburbs of Cincinnati, this maxim proved true as highways were stopped by accidents, hotel reservations lost, and needed exit ramps closed. However, the true journey of making it to the start line comes in the training, overcoming injuries, and perseverance.
Throughout the summer I averaged 100+ miles per month and ran strong. A week ago, a couple of random missteps brought pain to my knee and foot. In the week leading up to the Market to Market Relay, my weekly mileage dropped from 25 to 6. I came to race day much less confident than I would’ve a week earlier.
On a cooler spring day many months ago, Erin West stood in my office and filled my head with the vision of a running challenge I had yet to try–a running relay. Specifically, the Market to Market stretched across valleys and next to rivers for 76 miles from Cincinnati to Dayton. Over the following weeks, six more people joined the dream and our team was formed.
The long journey to the start line brought us to the small downtown of Milford where the race started at 6:00 a.m. With well rested legs, I started out strong. However, after a night of storms, humidity hung heavy in the air. So much so, that mist filled the sky to the point it almost felt like it was raining. Despite the headlamp on my forehead, I could not see. My glasses fogged and I depended on the group of four runners I ran with to call out fallen limbs that littered the path. Starting the day, my ideal pace was to run 9:10 per mile (the pace I want to run in the Air Force half marathon in two weeks). However, I ran the first leg of 3.74 miles in 33:18 for a pace of 8:55.
Our team running began flawlessly. We alternated people as we drove through rural, picturesque areas. At the third transition point, our vehicle was one of the first to arrive.
Quickly falling in to rhythm, it was soon my turn to run again–a relatively flat four miles. My legs again turned fast, clicking off sub nine minute miles. The crowds I ran with earlier had dispersed. In four miles I only saw about half a dozen other runners.
Soon I found myself near the finish and confusion arrived. The runner in front of me went straight, while I was pointed right to a field of tall grasses. I tried to ask why from the guide, but I wasn’t understanding, so I followed the direction. While running through the grass I saw people coming back my way, but then I was pointed directly to the finish. Again I stopped to try and understand this, didn’t get it, and so out of frustration and time wasted trying to figure it out, I literally sprinted to the finish. Afterward, my foot felt a bit strained. This frustrated sprint through grass was not the wisest choice. However, I completed this portion with an 8:45 pace.
By the time I finished this leg, temperatures had reached to 90 degrees. The heat, rolling hills, and looming storms slowed our team and simple math showed we weren’t going to make the cutoff time. We concocted multiple plans to adjust our course and ended up all running the last 3.6 mile leg at the same time.
Just as the day started in darkness. It finished in sunset. Individually I ran more than 11 miles across the day with an average pace around 9:20. As a team we supported each other, were creative, and persevered for 14 hours. That is what running is all about.