Run to Achieve
An Uphill Battle
What was it about a mountain marathon that offered almost the full distance of 26.2 miles as uphill travel? I think that I have figured it out after interacting with many other runners on the bus to the starting line the morning of April 29, 2012, in Tucson, Arizona. The small number of us who ran the uphill event made up an interesting group of people who I believe feel like if we aren’t pushing ourselves to our limits then we aren’t truly living. Crazy huh?
I have become somewhat of a “one up myself” kind of person. Since I really started running organized events years ago, with the few unorganized long runs mixed in, I have looked at doing more difficult runs each time, pushing myself farther physically.
It all started with a normal half marathon, then a full marathon, then another and another. I wasn’t one who had to run fast, but instead I was one of the runners who wanted to finish with a respectable time but feel like I pushed myself. What the flat marathons didn’t provide me was the ability to run by myself, sometimes in complete silence for miles at a time without really interacting with anybody.
Don’t get me wrong, I do still enjoy the crowded marathons with the excitement of the thousands of spectators lining the streets. It does help keep the feet moving and it is fun to finish those events because of the party atmosphere at the end.
I did come to a premonition though with respect to pushing my body to the next level. I signed up for the Mount Lemmon Marathon in Tucson, Arizona and began training with 40-50 mile weeks. I ran a lot of hills and sprinted bleachers every chance I got to get my thighs used to the constant uphill strain. When the day came to run the event, I was at the start line with only 92 other runners. The sun came out and the run began with the first few miles feeling pretty good. I thought of professional cycling while running the marathon and what the legs of the riders would feel like. As I approached mile 12, the steepness got steeper and I felt like a tortoise. As per my watch, my pace was decent as compared to my ability and I kept plugging away. For the next two miles, I felt like I was being pushed back after every other step. It seemed to take forever. My family was waiting for me at mile 14.2 and I rested for a few minutes, sucking down some Pediatlyte and orange juice, and munching on some salty pretzels.
Once I resumed uphill travel, I began running with another participant who also needed someone to keep him going. The legs were tiring and the altitude was rapidly increasing. Before we knew it we had climbed 5,000 feet and mile 20 was upon us. During the last few miles we were awarded with a long 1 mile downhill section where the jelly-like legs got a reprieve from constant uphill torture. What I wasn’t expecting was the sense of no control while running downhill on legs that felt like they had no more bones in them.
At the end of the marathon in a quaint little town named Summerhaven, we were presented with a long uphill finish with spectators and family waiting. As I crossed the finish line camera shutters were opening and closing rapidly. I had completed the toughest feat in my 41 years and had run uphill for almost 26.2 miles, climbing over 6,000 feet of elevation in just under 5 hours.
I have heard some say that they were cured after running this event in the years before and that they would never do it again. I have to say that I was not cured. Instead I was instantly thinking about the next one and how I would train differently to achieve the finish again. Run on is what I say! If that doesn’t work for you then at least walk!