I knew the hills would be beastly. I knew this, and I still walked away from that finish line with renewed respect for them. Not to mention renewed humility.
I had run Albuquerque’s Shamrock Shuffle several times. Unlike many of the city’s races, which are in the Rio Grande valley and mostly flat, this one takes place across the river — technically, in Rio Rancho — in a neighborhood blessed with long, steep, rollers.
What can I say? I was craving a challenge.
Race morning dawned cool and clear. It was the first day of Daylight Savings, so I’d made a conscious effort to get to bed a little earlier than usual the night before. I didn’t have much trouble waking up, but I can’t say for certain if that was due to my bedtime strategy or old-fashioned pre-race jitters.
My support crew (Robin Hood and Ann) and I made it to the race site with plenty of time to hit the bathroom, find the starting line, do a warm-up trot, and acquire a fan club. *Ahem.* That would be Ann who acquired the fan club, because hey, everyone loves an adorable coonhound who wags her tail a lot and doesn’t poop directly on the race course.
Anyway. The race.
The 10k launched down a gently sloping downhill. That ended pretty quickly, and we began the first long climb. As far as I could tell, I was the 4th woman at that point, but I had my eye on 3rd place.
There are certain signs you learn to pick up on, both from yourself and your competitors. The 3rd-place woman didn’t have too big of a lead on me, and I told myself, “You can pass her, just give it a minute.” Well, it was slightly longer than “a minute,” but I passed her before the 2-mile marker, and looked for the 2nd-place woman.
She was in sight, but further off. I maintained contact until somewhere in the 4th mile, when…poof! She surged or I faded, or both. From then on, I focused on rallying however I could, even if that meant I didn’t pass anyone else. These hills would not get the best of me. They would not.
In high school, I hated hills. Our cross-country coach would tell us, “Hills are your friends.” My teammates and I would roll our eyes.
Nowadays, well…”love” is a strong word, but I respect and appreciate hills, especially in a race. They demand the best from a runner. There’s no filtering them down, no easy middle ground. It’s possible to casually sign up for a race; it’s possible to casually run a race. But it’s awfully hard to casually trot up a hill. Hills require raw commitment.
I was thankful for the hills in that race. How often are our challenges something visible, right in front of our faces, and we can conquer them right there? I gave those hills my best, and they took it. Did they give me anything in return? I like to think so.
I held on to that 3rd-place spot, and finished the 10k in 46:32. No PR by a long shot, but I’m proud nonetheless.