Never had a doubt in the beginning…never a doubt, trusted too true
Having missed the first annual Bandersnatch 5K in 2015 secondary to timing error, and making wrong turns trying to navigate the course solo later that same day, I committed to officially running the event in 2016. On November 19, I made my way to the start and was pleased to run consistently throughout the steep climbs and tricky switchbacks. Not a naturally talented trail runner, and under prepared by 20+ years of training in a land of minimal hills, I was happy to just stay upright for the entire 3.1 miles. On conclusion of the race, I had a vision of completing the full circuit of local races, with a few additional triathlons and adventure race I had not yet tried, along the way.
You made me promises promises, knowing I’d believe, promises promises you knew you’d never keep
This would mean a season concluding nearly one year later, on November 4, 2017, with the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon. 50+ weeks of training seemed reasonable, though the attempt would be a direct contradiction of the statement I had made at the conclusion of my prior 42km effort, basically announcing the end of my marathon career. Aided by the amnesia that four years can provide, I kept the goal in the back of my mind as I entered the 2016 off-season.
In the beginning I loved you right through
Misty mornings up to Toothpick, biking and running to Four Corners, escaping the controlled burns of the wet season on foot and exploring the twists and turns of the Ashland Trails System under the expertise of the trail maintenance team, it seemed I was off to a good start. I learned to accept that road and trail mile times had little in common and was pleased to discover my survival instincts intact as I sustained a most brutal tuck and roll on the frozen grounds of December at elevation, but managed the concluding five miles of a dozen-mile adventure unimpeded by a bleeding leg and torn gloves.
Second time around, I’m still believing words that you said
All went well as the next event approached, a generous four months later and I was grateful to enjoy a drier day than the prior year for the Tar n Trail 6 miler, ironically turning in a similar time but feeling much better about the entire experience. Along with biggest, making his return to multi-sport, I completed the Siskiyou Sprint Triathlon (my first ever pool-triathlon swim), and a few months later embraced the opportunity to participate in the Granite Man Triathlon thanks to the addition of a road bike option. In between was the Siskiyou Challenge, a kayak-bike-run-bike-run, which I raced with one other woman from my gym and had a fantastic time. Though my training had not quite gone to plan in this interval, the racing season was intact as I headed toward the event that welcomed my boys to Ashland back in 2015, when they visited to find a house for our family.
The Siskiyou Out Back is a festival of races set atop Mt. Ashland, roaming through trails for a reasonable 15K, challenging 50K and most impressive 50-miler. Ever fond of the 9.3-mile distance from my years at the Seaway Run in Muskegon, this seemed a great choice to cross the halfway point of the running season. Though I suffered the blunder of watch-glancing at mile one, and the ankle roll that quickly followed, I made it through in reasonable time and felt like the final two races, though the most arduous, were within reach.
You made me promises promises, you knew you’d never keep, promises promises, why do I believe
And then came the smoke…as a native, and apparently naïve, Midwesterner, I never knew the Pacific North West was subject to forest fire. Our first summer in Ashland was quite mild, luring us into a false sense of clear air throughout the summer season. As August arrived in 2017, the air grew hazy and I found myself constantly refreshing the DEQ website for air quality readings. In rare form, I had signed up for the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb, a race described as “13 miles long and one mile up,” well in advance and, as luck would have it, we returned to a green quality reading in time for this event, midway through the month. Putting CrossFit, and myself to the test, I headed out on the journey, climbing more than 5000 feet over the half marathon distance. It was one of the hardest events I have ever completed, particularly the final mile, up the ski slope, scrambling (and eventually crawling) to reach the top. A fleeting glimmer of hope for the final quarter of my racing year, this would be the last day of summer with truly quality air for outdoor exertion.
You can’t finish what you start
As the weeks passed without opportunity to run outside the walls of the gym, my resolve to follow through on the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon waned. I have been known to train non-specifically for races, not focused on a particular training plan, but rather on staying fit, running, biking, swimming, lifting – ready for a race at anytime, though my usual distance limitations are half marathon or Olympic triathlon…perhaps a half Ironman in the right conditions. After six weeks without accumulating a mile on my feet and another few struggling to run barely a handful, it looked unlikely that my agreement, formed nearly one year prior and only with myself, would be broken.
Arm in arm we laughed like kids at the silly things we did
Race day quickly approached and I had nearly written it off as a loss. With one week to go, I found myself at the start line of The Monster Dash – this had been my first ever road race in Ashland three years prior, a family tradition and opportunity to bring the newly formed Siskiyou School Run Club out into the community. As I would be running the 1Mile and 5K with my kids – biological and of the team – I registered to run the 10K solo. Starting out on the same path as the Hill Climb, I felt immensely grateful that I would be able to turn around and run back after only three miles of “up” and was encouraged by finally maintaining a sub-8-minute pace for the first time since I restarted running. After completing the second two races, casually, as support for the children, I found myself thinking “that wasn’t so bad…I could do that for another 15 miles.” For the first time in the year, I found myself verbalizing the plan to others and being met mostly with encouragement, moving me through the contemplative stage.
With a forecast for cold but dry weather and affirmation from my husband that he would handle the morning (as he so often does) I signed up the night prior, prepared my race-day items and committed myself to enjoying a lovely day on the trails of Ashland with no expectations for time or place. Reminiscent of my first ever marathon some 18 years prior, when I took to the wild Alaskan terrain and simply enjoyed the opportunity, I was totally relaxed. Though my pace was much slower than any of my prior attempts, I managed a courageous climb, steady shuffle and delicate descent, running consistently to finish just under five hours. After congratulating a fellow gym member who blazed a finish time nearly two hours faster and finished third overall, I biked myself home and felt surprisingly well after the effort.
I often hear songs when I treat patients, usually a reflection of the therapeutic process. With this experience, it was the simple chorus of this obscure song, two words repeated endlessly as I ran. As I investigated the rest of the lyrics, I was happy to discover I had defied the disappointment of the song. Following through on my initial vision and completing the run, most appropriately, down the same tricky switchbacks of Bandersnatch, where the plot was hatched nearly one year prior. With gratitude to all who believed and for discovery that the always-but-not-specifically-training plan truly can make us fit for anything, helping us keep our promises even, and especially, those we make to ourselves.