There is no other experience quite like pumping your legs and your heart for 13.1 miles through beautiful back country. As I found out, the journey across those miles is as chock-full of adventure and meaning as any experience can be.
The gun popped and we were off, all 4,000 of us. The excitement was electric those first couple miles. We were each feeding off the energy from thousands of pumped-up runners starting off fresh. David, the fiance, and I shared a big grin coming down the first hill. Life was easy starting off.
Then it hit. It was the side ache from hell. A biting, stabbing pinch in my side that wouldn’t quit. “You have got to be kidding,” I thought with disdain. “Just run through it. You are almost there. You can kick this. Keep going.” But it got the better of me. I walked. David stopped.
Runners call it “The Wall.” It’s that point where you just can’t go any farther, at least not on your own. I hit several this weekend. Some came in the form of side aches, another as the lactic acid pulsed through my throbbing legs. Yet another came when I just ran out of energy.
We have all had those moments. The ones where life, and I’ll admit a little lack of preparation, have gotten the better of us. Either physically or mentally we just have to walk it out. In those moments, it felt as if I were putting the brakes on others and their ability to run their own races. Just as there is no high like pushing yourself beyond the impossible, there is no low like having to give up because you just can’t hack it.
Then, in the middle of my anger at the bottom of a canyon, a hand reached back, grabbed mine and pulled forward. Now, let me put this in context. David has run the Canyonlands Half Marathon for five years straight now and done fairly well every time. I was almost upset that he was not going ahead and kicking my proverbial runner’s butt like I knew he could. I stopped about five or six times and each time, a hand reached back and pulled forward. There was no giving up.
The side ache eventually dulled to a low, pulsing pain and the red and orange strata on the cliff faces became all the more beautiful. Our feet pounded away the miles and there wasn’t much more to do other than enjoy the run in between the low times when “The Wall” hit.
Then, we came out of the canyon and hit town. As my legs continued to feel like rubber, we ran our way to the finish line, a milestone that came surprisingly sooner than I expected it to, although not a moment too soon. Running across the line, the hand reached back once more. The official race results say that I finished a fraction of a second before David did. I don’t remember much of the finish line moment other than that I was just glad to be done.
I do remember seeing the red, digital numbers on the clock. Two hours, five minutes and 43 seconds after that starting gun popped, I crossed the finish line. We had a 9:32 minute mile pace. I was the 671st woman to cross the line out of 1,941. I also finished 49th out of 170 people in my class, which was women ages 20-24.
And while those finish line numbers are the result of a lot of hard work, they are less meaningful to me than the journey itself. What I will remember are the beautiful red canyons, the rush of running and the feel of that hand as it reached back and pushed me past my wall.
Sarah Cooper is a reporter for the Daily Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org