Nov 21, 2007

The Turkey Trot

This was the only picture I was able to take of some of Team SDA before the run began. I had to leave my camera in the car at the base of the mountain and besides, I wouldn't have had the spare energy for picture taking anyway. From L to R, Bev, Me, Jessica, Judith, Riki, & Mai.

They call it "The Turkey Trot"-- a rather benign name for a grueling Thanksgiving morning run from sea level at Lower Base to the pinnacle of the highest point on Saipan--Mt. Topachau. I don't think I did anything remotely like "trotting" during the course of this mostly uphill 4.2 mile run.

Over the years, I'd been invited numerous times by various friends to do the "Trot" and for years, I declined. It was awful early in the morning--and on a holiday, no less, when I didn't have to get up early. Furthermore, up until last year I didn't even like running so the idea had even less appeal.

But this season, I and my running buddies, Mai, Judith, and Jessica decided early on that this year we were going to do it. For someone as schedule-oriented as I am that was the key: planning my Thanksgiving activities around it and being able to "train" a little bit for it by running some of the small hills near our home.

And so 6:00 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning found us at the starting line with a motley crew of avid runners, once-a-year Trot enthusiasts, and other early risers. I was excited and a little nervous. My personal goals were simple. A) To make it to the top. B) To run the entire distance. C) To not totally hate every minute of it.

Mt. Tapochau as seen from sea level at American Memorial Park.

The run started off well enough. The big worry for me, ironically, was not the rocky, rutted slopes of Tapochau near the end, but the first leg of the journey, the long, curving incline up Capitol Hill. There were few level stretches on this part of the run and I wondered if I'd tire out on such a long hill. It was here that our group spread out, each person finding their own pace--Jessica pulling far ahead and soon out of sight, Judith a tiny figure up ahead, and Mai within calling distance in front of me. I'd been worried that my pride, my need to "keep up" would take over, and I would push my self harder than I should, using up valuable energy I would need for later. I was pleased to find that my pride was broken and I was at peace with the pace I'd chosen. (I'm sure the fact that I passed quite a few walkers and runners also helped). Though the trek to the crest of Capitol Hill was challenging as I'd expected, I was able to do it without walking once, and reached the top with energy to spare. So far, so good.

The jaunt through the Capitol Hill residential area was smooth, and soon the asphalt turned to gravel as I began the ascent of Topachau itself. There were some beautiful vistas, snatches of ocean blue through gaps in the tree line as I jogged ever higher. As I approached the Coral Island Condominiums, the uniformly upbeat songs on my ipod cut out and the quiet, meditative guitar of Rich Mullins' "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" soothed my weary steps. Perhaps not the typical "running song" but it was just what I needed. For a moment, the run became a metaphor for my life: "All the way my Savior leads me and he cheers each winding path I tread, gives me strength for every trial. . .though my weary steps may falter and my soul athirst may be, gushing from a rock before, lo a spring of joy I see. . ." I kept running.

Finally, at the steepest incline of the entire race--a brutal, rocky stretch that usually has my car straining and spitting gravel when we drive to Tapochau--I stopped running. I felt a little bad--I'd wanted to run it all--it's why I'd chosen a slower pace, but I quickly felt both better and worse. I'd thought walking would be easier--the reward for one who couldn't hack the run, but I was quickly proved wrong. This one walking stretch proved to be hardest part of the entire journey. Every step was an act of will--bent forward, hands on my knees, breath in agonizing gasps. Switchfoot's lyrics interspersed with my ragged thoughts:

"Don't leave me--"Step. "I'm tired." Step. "I'm tired of feeling. .low "step. foot slips. "Low." gasp of air. "without lungs." "I want more than my lonely--"Step.

At the crest of that incline at the last water station, I finally caught up with Mai. I gulped down some Gatorade, and began running the final home stretch. The last incline is pretty steep and I wasn't sure if I had energy left to make it up. But, it was just like they say, just when you're not sure you can go another step, the finish line is in sight, and everyone's cheering, and somehow you find the energy to pick up the pace to a slow-motion sprint and finish the race strong. It took me one hour, five minutes and 15 seconds (Though I forgot to look at my watch at the beginning and end of the run, I was able to figure that out based on my ipod playlist and the times for each song).

The View from the Top. On Mt. Tapochau's summit.

I feel I did accomplish my goals. I made it to the top. I ran the whole way--and the one stretch where I didn't, the walk demanded more of me than all the running put together--so I count it a success. And finally, I didn't totally hate every minute. There were hard moments to be sure, but exhilarating ones too, and the tremendous feeling of accomplishment I had at the end--and still have now--made it all worth it. I can't wait to do it again!


Mai said...

Great run, Sean! I'm really glad we did it - but it's just the beginning! I can't wait to run Suicide!

Brit's Blog said...

Good Job!!

Can I do it when I go back out?? lol..
I wish I would've done that while I was there.
I'm Job!

Mr. Graves said...

Sounds familiar. I felt the same way on my bike going up Topachau. Glad you did it. Keepin' the tradition of a Thanksgiving adventure. I rode a camel. Not as grueling as yours, but it'll have to do. Miss ya, buddy.

Whimsy Peddler said...

I think we all accomplished what we needed to, even if our goals were not as clearly defined as yours. Excellent work! Aren't you just pumped now? I don't want to stop running for fear that I'll forget how much I loved it!