So. My big race is tomorrow…Mountain Mist 50K. Not the longest I’ve ever run…time or distance…but the hardest race I’ll have ever run. This is the only race I’ve done that I’ve had to qualify for…the only race that has challenging time limits…the only race that I have several places along the course where I can recount tales of people having been injured. I witnessed front-of-the-pack, skilled runners quit last year at mile 17. Granted, they weren’t locals, but one said, “I thought Alabama was flat.”
The funny thing is, to us locals? Those of us who run the trails regularly? We say that the course starts to get fun at miles 17.
BECAUSE IT DOES.
But I don’t want to talk about the race, exactly.
Instead, I want to talk about my running friends.
I run around the mountains here in Huntsville, with the most fantastic group of people. Not all of them are even racing tomorrow. That’s kinda the awesome part. Trail runs can be pieced together in such a way that people training for 12Ks can run with people training for 100-milers. Seriously. One of our groups recently had someone training for a 12K, and someone training for a 100-miler.
And I owe the fact that I’m even toeing the start line tomorrow to EVERY SINGLE ONE of those people. Everyone who met me for a trail run in the last 3 months will be with me in my heart tomorrow. Some of them will even be with me on the course, but all of them will be in my heart. I get so overcome with gratitude when I run with these people that I sometimes want to hug them for no real reason.
But I don’t. Because that would be weird.
Before my Dad died, I was the epitome of a home body. My social anxieties kept me from really desiring to mingle with any new group in any way. Joining a boot camp helped break me of the STRANGER DANGER! part of my social anxieties, but running made me kinda like meeting new people.
I mean – I still run the risk of making a total ass out myself. And often still perform my trademark trick of talking about stupidly personal things when I’m uncomfortable…Hi! Nice to meet you! Can we talk about my boob sweat?
But here’s the thing about trail running, and maybe running in general, but especially trail running. You can’t hide behind any pretenses out there, running through the woods. There’s no makeup or nice clothes. No one knows your job or how much money you make. No one knows if you have kids or even if you’re married. You just show up and start running through the trees. Everyone, even the most graceful and athletic, is going to fall sometimes. Most everyone has to walk through some parts. No one has the luxury of a clean bathroom if they have to relieve themselves. Everyone ends up covered in mud.
All of these things are equalizers. And because they’re there, you would be amazed at the variety of people you become friends with on a trail run. And these people now know more about me than some of my family. They especially know more about my digestive system, since we all like to talk about our poop issues while we’re running. When I was getting a menstrual cycle, they knew about that too, but my ablation took away that fun topic. (I’m sure my friends miss me talking about THAT every week.)
I just feel so much love for my trail running friends, that I sometimes wonder where I’d be without them. Those runs through the woods every weekend give me so much energy for my week. They bring me so much joy. Seeing those faces early in the morning, preparing to run through streams or mud or climb over rocks, those excited faces have picked me up when I’ve fallen time and time again – literally and figuratively – and I’ll be eternally grateful for all of them.
But especially for my Grand Slammers. The Grand Slam is the Dizzy 50s 50K, the Rocket City Marathon, and the Recover From The Holidays 50K…THEN Mountain Mist tomorrow. The last race is the hardest. WHEN we all finish (Not IF…) we’ll get special Grand Slam jackets that none of us will take off. Ever.
But these Grand Slammers? We have done it together. We have this closed Facebook group where we’ve been able to talk all season, and if it weren’t for that page I’m not sure I would have made it this far. Just people to commiserate with throughout this journey has been AMAZING. These are my friends from the battlefield. We’ve suffered through muscle cramps and tightened IT bands, twisted ankles and sore backs, hip pain and knee pain…we’ve made it through 10 weeks as we cram in 3 50Ks and 1 marathon together. When I see those faces at packet pickup or on training runs or even just on race day itself, it gives me strength. We’ve suffered through it TOGETHER. Each face reminds me that we can do it. We’ve put the miles in, we know the courses, the hay is in the barn now. Now…we just do it.
(By the way, I do not stand by the “hay is in the barn” metaphor. People use it all the time but if the hay is in the barn, YOU ARE DONE! And while my training is done, I still have 31 miles to run tomorrow. I still have to move a bunch more hay, people!)
(Sorry about that tangent. Where was I?)
Anyway! I love my friends! I developed my social anxieties around 1999 and for the next 10 years I kinda avoided any situation where I could make new friends. And now here we are, I can’t even begin to list all of the people I call friends now. I can’t even begin to list the ones who will be there tomorrow…whether on the course or cheering or volunteering…I will be surrounded by people who I owe debts of gratitude that I’ll never be able to repay.
So…I dedicate every mile I run tomorrow to them. My trail-running friends. Whether you’ve run 4 miles with me, or 400, you are in my heart at the start line tomorrow. And you’ll play a key part in getting me to the finish.