…And there was Dad, slowly plodding up the trail to greet me.
I was close to the halfway mark of the Rocky Raccoon 50K and the sun was really shining now. My arm warmers and skull cap were soggy messes when I ripped them off and handed them to him. I slowed to a walk so I could talk to him for a second.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“I feel great!”
I did feel great. It was my first ultra distance race and all of the anxiety that normally comes with a big event (will I get that PR? will my stomach act up? will I have to stop and pee fifty times?) were nonexistent. I was just out there having a good time. That was my one and only goal going into it.
“Everyone’s so nice and friendly, Dad.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what people who run these types of races are like. They’re nice.”
When the race started it was cold and pitch black. I had a headlamp and a handheld flashlight to light my way, but this would also mark the first time I had really done any significant running in the dark.
The Rocky Raccoon course isn’t much in the way of elevation gain, but it is one rooty minefield, so I had no choice but to go gingerly slow until dawn broke. What I wasn’t prepared for was how running in the dark would alter my sense of time. When I finally glanced at my watch, I expected to see something like 10 or 11 minutes gone by, instead, I saw that I’d been running for 30 minutes!
And that would set the tone for the rest of the day. Big lush green forest with rolling trail, charming wooden bridges and the occasional calming lake or pond greeted me all throughout, muting any allegiance to time. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was just so… happy. I was so happy to be there in Texas, close to my dad, experiencing the 50K distance for the first time in such a welcoming environment.
So when Dad was there waiting for me close to the halfway mark to check how I was doing and switch me out some dry clothes, I knew the rest of the day was just going to be icing on top of icing.
Yeah, my glutes seized up on me a few times, but all I had to do was stop and stretch for a couple seconds and I was back at it. And yes, I did have a brief stomach scare around 3 and a half hours, but it wasn’t anything a Ginger Chew couldn’t cure.
Nothing could keep me down. Running that race and meeting the people I met and watching the landscape change from pitch black cold to warm, bright and inviting was an honor and a pleasure.
The hug I got from my dad once I sprinted through the finish line…
Running saved my life.
At a time when I really didn’t know how to be happy with myself, I looked to exercise to help me manage my stress, to temper my depression. My dad had always been a runner, so I thought I would give it a shot.
It was my very last hope.
I started out slow. But determined. And it didn’t take long for the depression to disappear, for the stress to never be an issue, for me to know joy and peace for the very first times. Before you could spit, running became synonymous with me.
I am running.
Running is me.