Nov 28, 2008

One Hill

Me at the top of Mt. Topachau at the end of my second Turkey Trot, Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2008. I ran the whole way, which was my goal, but there was really only one hill that mattered.

Nicole French, my fellow teacher, (wearing her game face! lol!), me, and Mike Stafford, a dentist at the SDA Clinic, at the finish line. Babs and Elijah as well as Mike's wife, Andrea and their kids met us at the finish line, so they were able to take pictures for us.

For months I'd been anticipating and training for this moment, and now it arrived in an appropiately dramatic fashion: the clouds closed in around me, cutting off my view of the panaroma of ocean blue and island green, and shrouding the peak ahead of me in mist. Gusts of chilly rain whipped around me, and I was forced to pocket my ipod. I would face my nemisis without the added motivation of music. I would face her alone, with nothing but my will, determination, and wordless prayers for strength.

One man against one hill.

They have a name for her, but since this a family blog I'm not going to say what it is. I will simply refer to the hill in the feminine and more worldly-wise readers will read between the lines.

Technically, I'd been training for the annual Turkey Trot--Saipan's thanksgiving morning run up our highest peak, Mt. Tapochau--but in actuality I was really only preparing for one part of that run--one particular stretch of rocky, rutted uphill hell. The rest of the run I knew I could do--but this one hill? I wasn't so sure. Last year, she was the only part of the run that I had to walk, and this year I'd made it my goal to conquer her, to run the whole way.

Last Sunday,as a sort of warm-up to the Turkey Trot, Nicole, Mike Stafford, Crystal Pierson and I ran from about halfway up the peak to the top. The run included the hill and I ran all of her, but she was brutal, a triple threat--she was one of the longest inclines of the run, one of the steepest, one of the most uneven and unsteady surfaces. The practice run only served to increase my anxiety. If, starting at the halway point, I barely made it up her unforgiving slope, how could I ever hope to do it starting from sea level? Despite the doubts hovering in the corners of my mind, I was determined to do it.

Nicole, Mike and I along with a little over a hundred other runners gathered at the base of the mountain at 5:30 A.M. By quarter after six, we were off and running. Mike and Nicole quickly pulled far ahead of me, as did other familiar island faces--Dr. Lyndon (Barbara's doctor during her pregnancy), LJ Castro (actor in the soap opera I helped write and produce a few years ago), Chris Nelson, running with a tiny camera mounted to a bicycle helmet (owner of our islands only local TV station), and Brenda Shultz, who I had kept pace with during last year's run. I let them all go, determined to conserve my energy for the battle ahead. At any rate, by the time we crested Capitol Hill, I'd already caught up to most of them and they became the group I would pace with for most of the run.

The day was beautiful and the run, though taxing, was fun. Until the clouds rolled in, and she loomed ahead.

I felt like Moses approaching Sinai.

There was nothing for it but to keep running. . .and keep running I did, passing many, more sensible people walking her steep trail. My breath came in ragged gasps, my smooth running gait became a floppy stagger, my heart pounded, my vision literally misted over (from the rain and fog on my glasses). There was no inspiring song in my ears to glofify the moment, just my own thoughs--you're almost there, you're almost there--and encouraging words from Brenda, Chris, Dr. Lyndon and others along the way. I thought of telling Dr. Lyndon that this had to be at least as bad as child birth, but I had no strength. Finally in a daze of exhaustion, too wiped out to think much less celebrate the accomplishment of my goal, I stumbled up to the last water station located just at the top of the hill.

"Water or gatorade?" a friendly voice shouted.

"Ga'orade, ga'orade," I slurred and sloshed back a few swallows. I walked a few paces down the road, before willing myself back into a run. It was actually downhiil for awhile--which was a welcome relief after that hill--then some more inclines before the finish line, but they were all a piece of cake by comparison. After all, there was really only one hill that mattered, and she had already been run.

There She is. Nicole snapped this picture out the window of our car on the drive down later that morning. There are probably more reasonable ways to run to the top of Topachau. I probably could have increased my time by running faster on the level, downhill, or low incline portions and walking a hill like this, but everybody has their own sense of what it means to "do well" on the trek to the top--mine was to run this hill.

Nicole, Mike and I each finished five runners apart. I finished 38th place, Mike finished 43rd and Nicole finished 48th. I'm not sure what my actual time was--my ipod was back in by the time I crossed the finished line and I didn't hear the time, but Mike's time was 59 minutes and 11 seconds so I'm estimating I finished 2 or 3 minutees ahead of him, so I'm guessing I cut about nine minutes off last years time. I was quite pleased to have improved so much!

All the Turkey Trotters pose at the finish line. Mike is on the right end with two of his kids, Nicole and I are in the middle (Nicole is wearing a green sweatshirt and I'm right next to her. Dr. Lyndon is kneeling about fourth from the left in the light blue jacket, and Chris Nelson is blue, standing third from the left in the back row. Click on the picture to enlarge the photo).

Nicole standing on top of the world. Due to our proximity to the Marianas Trench, it is said that Mt. Tapochau, from it's base far beneath the ocean to it's peak, is the tallest mountain in the world, for outsizing Mt. Everest.

"Looking back on the road so far. . ." The long and winding road to the top.

The Songs
If you're looking for some good running music, here's a few tunes I suggest you download to your ipod. I had painstakingly put together a track list for the run this year, trying to estimate where on the run I would be at what time and what song would give me that little bit of extra juice, but to my horror, I discovered once I began running that I'd set my playlist to shuffle, and so my carefully planned song order was out the window. This were the songs I ended up with:

1. Where the Streets Have No Name--U2
2. I Will Follow-U2
3. High of 75-Relient K
4. Beautiful Day/Srgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band/Blackbird-U2 (Live in Japan [bootleg])
5. Kite-U2 This song brought a smile to my face as I worked my way up Capitol Hill. I thought of my old running pals from last year--the 4Runners. "I know that this is not goodbye. . ."
6. The One I'm Waiting For--Relient K
7. Sometimes by Step-Rich Mullins. "Sometimes the climb can be so steep, I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach."
8. One Tree Hill-U2 (Live in Japan [bootleg])
9. One Country-Midnight Oil. For Australia, where my love of running was renewed.
10. American Dream-Switchfoot. Here, the rain began, and the hill loomed, so I put my ipod away for awhile. I finished the song on the final stretch and crossed the finish line to this next song, a bouyant classic perfect for running. . .
11. Pride (In the Name of Love)-U2


Mai said...

I'm so glad you conquered that one hill! If I ever come back, I will too! I wish I could've ran it with you again, but, such is life..... :(

G-rant said...

You're an inspiration. Great talk the other night. Thanks for the call. Take care. Strength and Honor.