by Chris McClung
I lost something in February. On Sunday, after just over 8 weeks of searching, I found it again… somewhere at Walnut Creek park, perhaps near the bottom of the 2nd creek crossing in the middle of the woods. This is the story of my search or maybe how it found me again…
I ran the Austin Marathon on February 19th. I didn’t write a race report then because, well, there was nothing to report. That day, I started with confidence on a day tailor-made for marathoning. After ~6 months of race specific training and 1,000+ miles run, I was fit and ready to PR again. Somewhere between miles 15 and 17, however, the wheels started to come off, and I would fight home to a time about 8 minutes slower than my goal. It was another marathon finish and another marathon where I didn’t run as planned. That happens in marathoning. That is why the race is so intriguing. Sometimes, failure motivates you to push harder and continue training with renewed energy…. other times it makes you question why you do this and makes running again seem like a chore. This time, I was in the latter place. I had lost my desire and will to run.
Usually after a marathon, I take 7 days or so almost completely off (with 1-2 easy walks or runs) and then 4 weeks of extremely mellow, but normal-volume training. This time, one week of almost no running turned into 3-4 weeks. I could feel my fitness fading and could see the post-race pounds packing on, but I couldn’t find the motivation to kickstart the early morning runs again. After 4 weeks or so, I decided it was time to change and even showed up for a few training runs with Team Rogue. At that time, I remember managing to get in a stretch of 4 runs in five days. For a moment, I thought I was back, but I was ultimately just going through the motions. It was “time” to start training again so I did, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. I didn’t have the passion again. So, it didn’t stick. Another 3-4 weeks passed, each week I could only manage 2-3 runs with no real purpose or enjoyment.
This past week started similarly to the prior 3-4. I managed to run on Tuesday and Wednesday, but with no real passion or direction, I didn’t again until Saturday. On Saturday, things began to change, and Sunday, everything changed…
On Saturday, I ran just over 16 miles… the longest since the marathon. I hadn’t planned on running 16. I started at 6 am and planned to do 1 hour with my normal training partners and then loop back for the 7 am start to run a few miles with the group I coach. No offense to my Team Rogue training buddies, but the first hour wasn’t fun. Again, I was going through the motions, following a group at a pace that felt labored and hard when it shouldn’t have. Circling back, I met my group and ended up running an hour and 20 minutes with them, about an hour longer than planned. What changed? The pace was nice and mellow as it should be on most long days, but more importantly, the conversation was good and fun. Mary, Joe, Sarah, Dana, Richard, Sandra, and Keith entertained me as we talked about everything from their upcoming 5ks to the amazing weather and view of downtown from St Edwards. It reminded of one of the reasons why I do this… because the people and community are so great and their stories so inspiring.
On Sunday, fate took me to the first race of the Rogue Trail Series at Walnut Creek Park. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I got a call from Ruth on Saturday. She needed me to pick up some extra tables and bring them to the race start. And, as hard she works to put these races together, I wasn’t going to let her down. Arriving there at just after 5:30 am on Sunday, I delivered the tables and proceeded to help with pre-race set-up and packet pick-up. Since I was already there, I decided to jump into the 30k race for a couple of 10k loops as my run for the morning with no real goals or plans. Several Team Rogue training partners were racing or doing this as a training run, so I planned to do a few loops with them and call it a day.
At 7:00 am, the gun went off. Initially, I hung back while the lead pack took off like antelope. I noticed Asia – one of my training buddies – up ahead in the 2nd mini-group behind the leaders with one other female (the speedy Desiree Ficker) in front of her and 2 following close behind. Kamran – her husband and another training buddy – was running next to me. I looked over at him, and said, “She is going for it, huh?” He said, “yep” with a smile and that is all I needed to hear. Instincts kicked in, and I shifted gears to catch her. Desiree, the great Austin triathlete and former winner of the Cap10k and Austin Marathon, was up-front, and Asia would need all the help she could get to catch her. I quickly caught up to Asia and we fell into rhythm while Desiree pulled further away following the men’s leaders. Asia and I quickly chatted back and forth to sync into a comfortable rhythm and decided to stay patient early hoping Desiree would come back to us.
Then, we just ran. The beauty of trail racing is that your watch doesn’t matter. There are no mile markers, and your pace is essentially irrelevant. All that matters is your effort and how you are doing relative to your other competitors. It is racing in its purest form but in a weird, kum-ba-ya sort of way. You are racing, and its competitive, but your competitors are more likely to give you a high-five on the trail than kick your ass. And, it is zen-beautiful out there. Between the trees, the water crossings, and beautiful scenes of sun rays shining through the leaves, you are surrounded by nature at its finest. And, you aren’t just running. You are leaping, ducking, bounding, skipping, plunging, and occasionally walking (yes, walking!) over the hills, between the trees, and straight through the creeks from lovely, well-stocked aid station (read: gummy bears) to aid station.
In support of Asia, I was running with purpose, and we were having fun. Desiree wasn’t having her best day and clearly the fast early pace took its toll. We managed to catch her just before the 5k point and move ahead. But, we didn’t know how close she was following, and we certainly didn’t know how the other women were doing behind us. So, we were running like we stole something, and Asia was no doubt going for the win. We would alternate the pace making in a relatively smooth rhythm and managed to hit nearly even splits on the first, two 10k loops. At that point, I gave Asia my final tips and encouragement, and she disappeared into the woods to close the deal. She would go on to win the women’s overall by just over 12 minutes. My job was done, and it felt good to play a role in her victory.
From there, I joined the finish line party as the growing number of 10k finishers chowed down on burgers and downed a beer or two or three. I chatted to a few folks, checking to see how their 10k races went. But mostly I just watched, soaking in the smiles and laughter from a band of sweaty, but satisfied runners, who were loving ever minute with each other, wet shoes and all. There was no pretense to be found for miles, just an overwhelmingly aura of joy. I quietly slipped on my warm-ups, grabbed my keys, and headed off. I drove home with nothing but a smile on my face. I found it again or it found me. The passion is back, and I missed it desperately.