Sunday, August 18, 2013
This year was the 4th annual running of the WestMonster, a challenging cross-country style 5K looping through the gorgeous Westmont College campus. This was my third visit to the race and I arrived as the two-time defending women's champion. There was that little twinge of pressure to make it a three-peat which made it hard to approach it with a "let's just go out there and have fun" mentality. I so wanted to just go out and have fun but the memory that most stuck in my head from the previous confrontations with the course was that of pain, relenting hills, and oxygen debt. But there is something about it that grips you, digs into your skin and makes you come back for more.
I've been training for the Santa Barbara Triathlon for many, many months but my main focus and mode has been putting extra miles in on the run. In an effort to work on my overall endurance, I've grown in strength this year and I've enjoyed the running events so much lately. Though my success has been up and down, good races and not so good, for the most part the training has been going well and the racing has been getting progressively better. John and I recently competed in the Goleta Beach Long Course Triathlon and had a really fun experience. I was so relieved to find that after the 1500 Meter swim and the 22 Mile bike, I had a really solid 5 Mile run to finish it off and it has helped my confidence. To know that you can run well on tired legs with a pre-fatigued body has it's benefits as you toe a line to run a 5K on rested legs with fresh lungs. So training for the triathlon has fed nicely into some successful running races and I came into this years WestMonster staring it right in the eyes. Bring it on!
Thursday night, 5:00 PM, I arrived at Westmont College to check in and warm up. I smiled as I looked around at the assembling runners and thought to myself, "ah, so many fellow crazies out for some evening, mid-week suffering." I warmed up over the first loop, trying to shake out nagging bursitis that was flaring up in my right hip. It lingered but it was more of an annoyance than a problem and I hoped it would not factor in to tonight's race. Summer has been very cool and overcast, but of course tonight was warmer than it had been, darn it. The shade was nice and I stretched for a long time in it. Another half mile on the track and some strides on the grass and I was ready to go. John had intended to race tonight as well but texted me to say he didn't think he'd make it. As I got ready to head over to the starting line I was surprised to see him hustle by. John is a great multi-tasker. He was walking and pinning on his race number all at the same time. No warm up for him but he made it. This was a good sign and brought a smile to my face. I love that we can share these things together.
There was a smaller crowd this year and as I can't help but do so, I scanned them for potential competition. I began to think that maybe I wouldn't be closely challenged by any other female this year but then Bethany Nickless arrived to the starting line. Bethany is a top-notch runner and is in her prime. I have all the respect in the world for her so I accepted her presence and recalculated my will and heart to win.
A few race instructions and then we were sent off on our way and I eased into the first mile, passing the young boys who quickly blew themselves out on the first hill. I tried to settle into a pace as soon as possible and from past experience, knew to take it out moderately. The first mile includes a downhill start which hits a short but significant uphill, right turn onto a slight decline which flattens out before you finally begin a steady climb up. The steady climb up can take you by surprise but I was prepared. Bethany came alongside me at this point and I decided I would test it out and see if she might be my tool to a PR on the course. Either I would hang with her or she'd run away from me. By the time we hit the first mile mark we were settled into a group which included Bethany, myself and Eric Widmer with Jim Triplett striding just ahead of us. Not a bad group to be stuck in. I hung on Bethany's shoulder through the passage of the middle of campus and when we came back out again to the downhill section I passed her. My intent wasn't to pass and run away from her but rather to share the pressure of leading. Bethany hung on my shoulder around the second loop, down the hill, back up the short, steep section and around through the middle of campus again. We came out and were directed to the right which as I well knew was in the direction of the Monster. The Monster is the portion of the course that can suck the remaining life out of you faster than a dementor (Harry Potter reference). It is a significant climb, that gets steeper as it progresses and gives you the added gift of a false flat at the top. It isn't longer than maybe 200-300 meters but it comes at the end of the 2nd mile of an already tough course and things burn as you climb. Eric and I ran side by side up the Monster and Bethany slipped in between us to take the lead. She was sweet and said "excuse me" as she passed. We hung with her and all crested the top as a group and let the legs chill a bit as the incline began to transition into a nice long decline. We wound around tight corners, across pine needles, dirt paths, sidewalks and finally onto a dirt road that led back to the paved road. Bethany and Eric, like many that day, were unsure of which direction to go but I directed them and we regrouped as they recovered from a near disastrous wrong turn. I tucked in behind them and we added Jim to our happy little group as Bethany and I spat directional instructions throughout the remainder of the race. "Up there turn left and then go straight across." "Just up ahead take a sharp right." We came down the hill, across the main road, around the tennis courts, back through the parking lot, down the steep hill and whew! onto the track for a 350 meter sprint to the finish. Jim was leading the way, then Eric, Bethany and myself. This was gut check time and I attempted to imagine running intervals. Nash Jimenez, who has been adding his years of knowledge, experience and success to John's and my training and racing, has had us do intervals with a jump in pace at the end of each. You have to believe you have that extra gear and I'm thankful that he had been teaching us and reminding us of that. At the 200 meter mark (that is 200 meters to go) I picked up the pace around the turn and passed Bethany and Eric. Eric responded and picked up his pace while at the same time finding the breath to say "good race" to me. Thank you so much for that Eric. That was awesome. He also urged me on in the final stretch and I gutted it out to finish just behind him. Boom, race over, time to double over and try to find extra oxygen in the atmosphere. I know it was a gutsy race for all of us as we stumbled about afterwards. I'm thankful it wasn't just me stumbling around. Bethany finished just behind and I puzzled over why she hadn't run away from me and dropped me early in the race. Later I talked with her and she had taken some time off after the track season and hadn't been training much. She came out to do the race as a training run and wasn't in excellent shape but she said she worked hard and her competitive juices had kicked in. That explained things a bit and in the end I was so very thankful to have that challenge to push me to my best time on that course by 22 seconds. And a three-peat!
The Santa Barbara Triathlon is a week away and I couldn't have asked for a better race for final preparation. It was a race challenging enough to test me mentally and physically, and the boost in confidence to complete it and feel like I had a really good race was priceless. It hurt but not too much and I totally enjoyed it. There was no panic, no time that I didn't think I could hang with my fellow racers and I had the guts to finish well.