On Saturday, March 23, I joined many of my fellow Fifth Third River Bank Run Road Warriors and nearly a hundred other dedicated runners from RunGR on a 12-mile training run at Fallasburg Park in Lowell, MI. Several veterans who had previously endured this training run warned me that it would be the most challenging course I would face this training season. There was much talk of hills as if they were mountains.
Just prior to starting the run, Coach Amy pulled me aside, grasped my shoulders and looked me in the eyes, saying, “This is a tough course. It’s okay if you get to mile 4 or 5 and you want to turn around and go back.”
Oh, boy! I thought. If my coach is giving me an out to shorten mileage, this must be a tough course.
As we began running, I kept Coach Amy’s words in the back of my mind. I stayed to the back of the pack with a few of my regular running buddies knowing that I was not looking to break any speed PRs on this run. I knew I had to find a steady pace that I could hold for twelve miles. It didn’t take long for my running buddies to start edging away from me. I was okay as long as I could see their Hi-Vis green and pink in the near distance on the road ahead of me.
One of the tricks my running buddy Cindy taught me is this: don’t go into the run thinking about the entire twelve miles, but rather think about running just three miles to the aid station. Once there we can grab a couple cups of water and/or Gatorade, suck down some Gu or PowerGel, then run just another three miles to the next aid station. It’s a nice little mental trick to make long runs endurable…and it works.
About mile four I realized that I was in this for the long haul. Coach Amy’s words still echoed in the back of my mind, but there was no way I wanted to face even the medium sized hills I had already traversed a second time. I especially didn’t want to go back up some of the larger descents we had run.
With the sounds of Metric and Sleighbells serving as the foundations of my playlist, I kept my feet moving, my arms pumping, and my lungs breathing. I wasn’t going to trip any police speed gun with the pace I was keeping, but I knew it was a pace that would carry me the full twelve miles. I was a diesel engine, chugging along at low gear, but maintaining forward progression.
At the mile six aid station, after more water and Gatorade, and two Girl Scout Thin Mints (don’t worry…I burned those calories off, no problem), Cindy pointed out the sign that said we only had one mile to the historic White’s Bridge. That meant that the dreaded Mile Seven Hill everyone complained about was coming up.
As we started running toward the covered bridge and the inevitable climb afterward, it was apparent that we were descending toward the river valley. In the distance all that was visible was a tall, tree-covered hill that I knew concealed a winding road up its face.
White’s bridge is a neat little reminder of a past over a hundred years gone. As I ran across the wooden planks, I could easily imagine the echoes of the horses hooves and wagon wheels of yesteryear. Moments later I emerged from the bridge and my feet and legs immediately felt the increased incline in the road. I kept my engine in the lowest gear and maintained constant forward progression, feeling the burn in my lungs and my legs.
As I crested the winding dirt hill, Coach Woj had left an inspirational message of encouragement for us:
The next two miles were nothing but straight, paved roads…that rolled gently and majestically over some of the biggest elevation changes I have encountered in my running to date. It looked something like this:
At mile nine I hit the last aid station, drank some more water and Gatorade, sucked down a PowerGel, and started moving on for the last three mile leg. Finally, the terrain became tamed and less wild, the rolling hills leveled out, and the goal drew closer. Around mile ten, fellow Road Warriors Adam and Daniel–probably checking to see just where in the heck I was–came driving by. They hollered out words of encouragement (that were lost in my delirium) and Daniel offered a drive-by high-five.
Around mile 10.5 or 11, as I made the final turn onto Covered Bridge Road, I felt my cage
start to rattle a bit. My feet hurt, my knees were crying in pain, my lower back complained, and my head hurt…but I knew I was almost there. Just a few minutes later I crossed the historic Fallasburg Covered Bridge, rounded a curve, and neared the finish. Cindy wasn’t too far ahead, but she turned around and came back to round me up, saying, “Our cars are just around this curve.”
Sure enough, a few hundred yards later, I saw Adam and Daniel, Coach Woj, and the parking area. A couple more high-fives and fist bumps from the Road Warriors and I was done. I had conquered the Fallasburg Park 12-mile loop and run my longest distance to date.
Coach Woj said that it was a 12-mile run at 15-mile effort. “After Fallasburg, the River Bank Run shouldn’t be a problem.”
A day later my muscles were still a bit taxed, but felt stronger. I’m still in disbelief that I ran twelve miles. I may have come in last out of a hundred runners that day, but as my friend Kim said, I came in “…before all those people that didn’t even go!”
You too can enjoy triumphs and challenges like this. It’s not too late to sign up for the Fifth Third River Bank Run. There are 5K, 10K, and 25K events and fun for all ages.