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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Time To Hit The Trail

Hello Bees, Runners, MSers.

Sorry for the delay in post.  I have been baking and working and helping start the theater group at my kids' school.  Oh, and I finished a work of fiction.  Stay tuned.  It will be out within a month (maybe two).  It's called Ignorance Is and it is about a woman with prosthetic wings!  A little spooky.  A little feminist.  A lot of cinema potential.

So, let me first tell you about some recent runs.  Tonight I ran a solo three miles without music.  It was good to be out on the street with my only the sound of my breathing and feet to move me along.  I don't do that often enough.  Next, I had a great run with my husband this week.  He is not a super avid runner, but he does make it a point to run in the Turkey Stuffer each year at Thanksgiving so that he can justify his binge later that day.  I enjoy his company during his training runs.  And finally, Stephanie Gray and I ran the Happy Girl Trail Half Marathon.  Here's where it gets interesting.

The run took place in Sisters, Oregon, a beautiful place just east of home here, and up in the Cascades.  In fairness to the geography, you actually cross the Cascades at the Santiam Pass and then descend into a plain on the east side.  I point that out because if we had been only 1,000 feet higher, we might have been running in falling snow.  But, at 2,500 to 3,000 feet up, we didn't experience snow during the run (note the "during the run" part at the end of that statement).  We did, however, have our fair share of weather.  Make no mistake about it. After all, it is November in the Pacific Northwest. 

Stephanie and I were escorted to the event by our husbands.  In fact, we had the rare kidless dinner together where we talked about all sorts of grown up things (like our kids).  It was a fun evening and the perfect way to start the mental preparations for thirteen miles on a trail with variable weather.  We plotted time of departure, schemed clothing options, attacked the pace schedule verbally.  A very productive dinner, indeed.  I gave Stephanie a plastic poncho.  I think I called it a "plastic parka."  Oh, thank God for malapropisms.  But I digress (because it is a blog and not a novel, and so I can).

The next morning, as we made our way up to Peterson's Ridge, a volcanic precipice that flanks the western valley, we enjoyed the lovely scenery and relatively gradual climb.  The boys left us off at the start where we met up with 500 of our closest girlfriends.  The race had arranged to have hot coffee at the start which seemed to contribute to the number of racers in line at the port-o-lets.   Steph and I moved around a bit, stretching and psyching ourselves into the run.  I donned my plastic parka, even though it wasn't quite raining.  Steph not wearing hers and being braver than me about getting wet.  Soon enough, they lined us up in the chute and set us on our way.

One of the first things that I noticed was how amazingly blue the sky had become.  In fact, it looked like a summer day.  After about half a mile in to the race, I took off my gloves.  I had pitched the plastic parka at the start line hoping some race angel would take it to a recycling facility.  Hemmm.

Anyway, the blue increased.  No clouds blotted out the increasingly warming sun.  I marveled at how only a few minutes ago I was hopping in place, my breath visible in white puffs before me.  Off came the jacket, tied up around my waist as we continued to run (a skill I pride myself on).  As we turned from the eastbound route, switch-backing to the northwestbound route, a gal just ahead of us twisted her ankle.  She limped to the side of the train of women, clutching her leg.  We made a note of the mile-marker so that we could let the first aid at the next water stop know where she was, and we pressed on. All around us, gals were tripping up on roots and rocks.  Some of them even fell with a cathartic thud, skittering in the needle litter and dirt.  I went next, my toe clipping a rock.  Down I fell into a pile of fir branches softened by their decomposition.  Steph helped me up and I was okay so on we pressed.  We reached the first aid station and alerted them about the twisted ankle at mile-marker three.  The water stops along this run were different from the water stops of other runs.  Instead of grabbing and going, we lingered, taking in small sips if icy water, grateful for a resting place free from trail hazards and exertion.  As we were prepraing to continue on, the gal with the sprain from mile three came along, running pretty steady.  We'd see her again pass us, her ankle bandaged and spirits high.

On we went, gathering gusto with the slow descent of our new position along the ridge.  Out across the valley, dark clouds had gathered.  But just before them, a beautiful rainbow curved across the sky seeming to beckon us to the finish some nine miles away.  A pair of black tail deer bounced along the brush just outside the path.  Their effortless motion brought new inspiration.  And as we rounded the bend and the valley's view was brought fully into our sights once again, my toe clipped a root and I went down once more.  This time, other women stopped.  I was fine, I told them, including "go, go, go!" I got to my feet with Stephanie insisting that we walk.  I wanted to run because I was embarrassed about this fall.  I commented on my MS, telling her that I am used to falling, that it happens all the time.  I even went so far as to cite a few incidences when more memorable falls had occurred.  I once fell with Veronica in a baby backpack on my back, my father-in-law caught me preventing us from going all the way over.  Another time, I fell down my stairs with a laundry basket in my arms.  I explained to Stephanie that I have a good technique for falling, that I am able to tuck in and take it on my arm.  She wasn't buying it.

And then, once off the ridge, I fell for a third time.  This time. . . this time hurt.  Not only had I reinjurred the first scrape and contusion on my right shin, I had hit a rock with my left knee, the pain already smarting.  Stephanie told me that if I fell again, she was throwing in the towel.  I knew what she meant by that.  We had committed to doing this run together, in it to win it (which meant finishing).  I didn't want to walk.  I know that she didn't want to walk.  But she said that she couldn't watch me take another fall.  I joked and said that she should run in the front then.  She didn't seem amused.

And then as we started to run again, I thought about it.  What must it be like for other people knowing that I have MS, whether they believe I should be able to do the things I do or not?  What is that like?  What is it like for my kids, my husband, my friends?  I have commented in these posts before about how I am quick to assume that a common cold is an attack, that fatigue is an exacerbation, tripping my central nervous system short circuiting.  Still, I don't often stop to think about what it must be like for those around me.

The first time I heard anything in depth about MS was before my diagnosis.  We were driving on a road-trip to Southern California and we had been listening to NPR.  A program came on where they were interviewing a woman with MS.  Her primary caretaker was her young daughter.   Her daughter helped her out when she had mobility issues.  She gave her mom the injections of interferon and helped her through the side effects of those drugs (the worst part, I can assure you).  I though a lot about that woman and her daughter--her caretaker-- as I ran those last few miles with Steph.  I didn't want to fall again for many reasons.

As we neared the last mile, I flagged.  Steph pulled slightly ahead and I focused on her shoes and the ground where her footfalls struck.  My periphery was punctuated by protruding rocks and roots, alerting me to stay light and pick up my soles.  We had half a mile to go when we heard cheering.  Hooray, I thought in echo to the jubilant sounds we heard.  Then, around the bend came some very enthusiastic cheerleaders looking for a very specific runner.  My fleeting hope that the finish line would great us instead tore my ambition away.  My knee ached.  My pride flailed.

I had been counting my steps off and on, my distraction, my mantra.  As we continued, I started counting backwards.  We're almost there, I thought.  I kept my focus on Steph.  She would be my tractor beam, my chi motivation.  Then we heard a woman clapping and cheering. She was standing next to a building.  I recognized the building as the place where we picked up our race packets the night before.  We were almost there!

We turned the corner of that building.  Now concrete met out footfalls, now familiar faces and cheering came into focus.  My husband called out my name as I passed.  I waved, not as a greeting but to acknowledge that I had heard the sound of his voice.  Then we cranked it out to the finish.  Steph, just a few strides ahead, crossed the line as I slowed my pace, breathing hard but listening for my name as I came in.  Once there, I hugged Steph.  She was weepy.  So was I.  We had done it.  We made it.  Thirteen miles on the trail (which I did not hit again).  And that's the way it ended.

The next day, when Dave and I awoke at our hotel, we peered out the window at white snow blanketing the scenery.  It was a good thing we ran a day earlier.  Everything happened, as it always does, exactly they way it should have.  Happy girls, indeed!

Happy Girls

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