13.1 miles seems impossible to anyone who doesn't consider themselves a runner. It was the dawn of 2016-- literally just past New Year's Eve-- when my best friend Zoë called me to ask if I would join in on a half marathon in the Grand Canyon with her in May. Team Adventure Lovers would consist of girls from all over America, both experienced and inexperienced runners alike.
I had never run past 7 miles before... I mean, I had run 7 miles and limped another for good measure, but I hadn't even tried to push myself farther than that. That 7 mile-mark was usually a mile or so beyond the pain in my glutes, a cramp in my left foot, and tight-- very tight-- calf muscles. But I have always heard that if you can run a 10k, you can run a half, and so I decided to trust the rumor, and I registered for the half marathon.
On our way up Mt. Baldy, a 3,500 incline to reach 10,069 ft at the peak.
My training consisted of regular yoga, cycling and rowing at the gym, and hill sprints up Baldwin Hill in Culver City, and 7-14 mile runs with girl friends Emily (who also joined in for the marathon) and Tina in South Bay. For altitude training, we hiked the 11+ miles to the peak of Mt. Baldy at 1069 ft, a 3,500 foot incline that burned into our calves. But springtime in Los Angeles is a very different climate than springtime in the mountains of Arizona. Even with the altitude of Baldy, the majority of our training at sea level in 70 degree weather was not preparing us for the weekend ahead.
In the final weeks before race-day, I was experiencing severe tightness in my calves. I was fearing I had plantar fasciitis and would have to give up the race. I spent my weekdays limping and recover just enough for my light, long-distance run with the girls on the weekends. I wanted to push through the pain, but everyone kept telling me I could really damage myself that way, so I followed their advice, and did gentle stretches and foam rolling and lots of resting. I wasn't sure what race-day would feel like, but I was preparing myself for the worst.
Emily and I at the Grand Canyon
It was beautiful when we arrived at the Grand Canyon, the morning before the race. My boyfriend had driven Emily and I through the night so we could sleep as much as possible and could spend the day acclimating. We walked along the Canyon's edge, taking in the awesome views of millions of years or erosion. It had been almost 20 years since my last trip to the Grand Canyon, and I was so grateful to be able to return to it. Everyone really should visit it as an adult, and if possible, do more than just the scenic edge. We've all agreed to return and spend a week or more hiking and rafting the canyon's depths.
Cozy at our Airbnb outside Williams, AZ
That night however, just after the rest of our group arrived, a heavy storm rolled in, bringing rain, hail, and yes, even snow! We were cozy inside our Airbnb, but early the next morning we faced the weather and met at the race start just as snow began to fall.
Team Adventure Lovers trying not to freeze before the race!
13.1 miles in snow, freezing rain, large hail, and even sleet, but Emily and I managed to beat our goal time by almost 20 minutes! The trail through the forest was muddy sludge, and racers were slipping and falling into each other. Racers were forced to walk for much of the race because the mud was far too thick and dangerous. At mile 9, however, the trail went from a pleasant flat to a steep incline, and I was able to put all my hill training to good use! I began passing racers by the dozens as I sprinted up each hill, resting only for Emily to catch up before I set off again. This is, no doubt, what led us to our PR of 2 hrs, 40 min-- not lightning speed, but then again, mud & snow!
The best part is, I did not feel an ounce of pain during the entire run! All those weeks of cramping, limping, and whining led to a run that felt my strongest!
After the race, of course, the sun graced us with warmth and a very beautiful morning at the Canyon.
Running is a challenge for everyone, no matter how long you've been doing it. After 5 years of regular running, 1 half-marathon, the relays in Peru, and many a hill sprint in between, I still struggle through the first two miles every single time as if its my first two miles ever. The secret to running is doing it~! Run past the pain in your legs and your lungs, and you will run past whatever finish line you've set for yourself.
Now that I've completed this half marathon, I'm anxious for whatever is next! 50 mile bike ride? 30k trail run? Grand Canyon River Rafting? I'm ready!