The Challenge Revisited

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“I could never do that,” non-running friends say when I tell them I’m running an endurance race. “Well, of course not,” I tell them. “I couldn’t do it either if I hadn’t trained all summer. That’s the magic of long distance running. If you just keep increasing gradually, taking one step at a time, your body will adapt. After all, I ran my first marathon at 48.

I doubted my wisdom this year. I suffered in most of my long runs. Am I getting too old for this? Maybe I’m just not interested in this anymore. Why is this not starting to feel better? I asked all of these questions as my knees, ankles, and calves chastised me. I wanted to throw in the towel weekly after those long, sweat-soaked slogs through mile after mile after mile. And I had so looked forward to this Mount Baldhead Challenge – my favorite race course of all time.

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This was my 5th time running the full challenge. It was always a 15K. This year, the revised course is over 12 miles. I first ran this race in 2000 when I was just getting back into running shape after about 20 years. I placed dead last. The police car with flashing lights followed me picking up cones. I drove up from Memphis in 2010 to run this race, and I ran it in the pouring down rain. My last long distance run was in an Austin half marathon in 2014. Getting back in the saddle was goal enough. But man did it hurt.

There was grass…..

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I went to bed Friday night dreading the slog. Luckily, the temps would be in the 50s at the start of the race, so I hoped the cooler weather would at least help my mood. And one of my best buds, Alayne, had come in from Texas and was running the 6-miler. At least I had a partner in crime and someone to celebrate with afterwards. IF…. I wasn’t dying. I had rehearsed what I thought was the course a few weeks ago, and I didn’t enjoy it.

And trails…..

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Thankfully, Saturday morning I woke up with some excitement. The chill in the air felt good, and I felt rested. My spirits were high. We arrived in Saugatuck about an hour before race start, and Alayne had to take the school bus across the river to the 6-mile start. I walked around, took advantage of the restroom, snapped some pics and talked to a few other participants. There were about 400 of us signed up between both races, so it was a small field. The shirts were really soft and cute, I was feeling excited about running the multi-terrain course.

And sand ….

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The first 6-miles was on pavement. We ran through neighborhoods until we reached the Douglas beachfront area populated with bed and breakfasts and quaint little inns. Spectators were sparse, but it was so beautiful it didn’t matter. And the people cheering us on were really encouraging. I made it a point to thank all of the volunteers for their time, and I enjoyed seeing them smile. “Am I in the lead?” I’d ask. They all lied and said yes.

And, of course, stairs….

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We got to the trails at about the 6-mile mark. The trails wound up, down and around the dunes. The hills were quite steep and I thought about Texas flatlander Alayne and wondered how she did with these. I thanked myself for practicing on the dunes the last few months. By the time I got out of the trail section, my legs were shot. I was 8.17 miles into this race when I stood at the foot of the massive staircase heading up Mount Baldhead. I texted Jessica the pic. “You are ready for this!” she replied.

And beautiful views….

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I took a few flights at a time, stopped to rest often and ask myself what the hell did I think I was doing. “Whose idea was this anyway?” I asked one of my fellow runners. I thought of the 9-month pregnant woman I saw running up the stairs with a couple of friends at my race rehearsal. I thought of the 5 other times I’d climbed these babies – one of them in the pouring down rain. One step at a time, honey. You trained for this.

I finally got up to the top, and I was surprised at how good I felt. This was the mountain. It was all downhill from here in effort. I still had to run through the sand to the bottom of the dune and through a few more trails, but the views were magnificent from the top of the dunes. It took my breath away. I felt strong and happy and capable of conquering the world. THIS is why I run. For whatever reason, the runner girl was back, and I was happy to see her.

And more beautiful views….

 

The last two miles on pavement featured lovely views of the river, a few friendly spectators and the beautiful little town of Saugatuck. Alayne ran out to hug me when I finished, and we found a place to change so we could grab some breakfast. They had misplaced a box of finisher’s medals, so I gave my name to a volunteer after the race. She called me and brought the medal to me at the restroom. I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was at this race. It was a pleasant day all around.f

Alayne and I had Walleye at The Butler for lunch, and then we shopped around a bit. I was surprised at how good I felt. At 4:15 I looked at my phone, and I was stunned that I had walked around that long and was still going strong. My training worked. I was ready. I definitely think the cooler weather was a factor in my feeling so good, and I’ve made a mental note to schedule races in the cooler season. But the fact remains that my favorite race – the Mount Baldhead Challenge – is in September. It’s now a 12-plus miler that requires pavement pounding in the summer. I guess I need to follow my own wisdom. I can do this if I train for it. 

Won’t you join me next year? You have all year to train!

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