Last week one of the analysts at my firm (20 years younger than me) asked if I was doing the Pier to Peak half marathon 5 days later. Now I can’t explain why I respond in this way, but that isn’t the purpose of this post so it’s irrelevant right now. I answered by saying I didn’t realize it was this weekend, but sure, “why not?” So I immediately signed up (after checking “my” schedule with my wife). That was it. Five days later I would be participating in the 5th toughest half-marathon in the world.
Forget that my only exercise over the past several months had been barefoot hiking, so my cardio was even more limited than usual. Not to mention that I am still at the stage where my feet are breaking down so that they can toughen up. Every hike results in the soles of my feet getting a little bruised, the pads getting burned or scraped, and a toe or two getting beaten up. Ultimately, the goal of barefoot hiking is to slow my pace down, to allow me to be more mindful of where I am, not to get in shape. That is great, unless you decide to participate in a grueling endurance race.
The day before the race I was feeling antsy and needed to get out for a hike, so I did a 5 mile barefoot hike to the site of the yarn bomb. It was a nice cool day, so my soles didn’t burn, but I did manage to find lots of small, sharp pebbles to poke into the soft parts of my feet and create tiny polka dots of bruising. I would come to regret that hike less than 24 hours later.
Saturday morning at 6:30am, I lined up along side 371 other nut jobs to run 13.15 miles from the Santa Barbara pier to the lookout tower atop La Cumbre Peak, roughly 5,000 feet higher than the start. The course is rated a Cat 1 Climb, the steepest grade on a scale of 1 to 5, only to be outdone by what is called the “Hors Categorie”.
By mile 6, I was already questioning the intelligence of the decision to participate without any preparation. I hadn’t even thought through the right shoes to wear and the hot spots were beginning to develop.
By mile 8 my feet were in agony. Every step was pressing on the bruises and the thick padding that’s been developing across the balls of my feet felt like they were beginning to separate from my foot. I feared they would break away, leaving a very large, raw, open wound in a most crucial spot.
At mile 10.5, Gibraltar Road finally meets Camino Cielo, where I had expected the trail would turn left, leaving the majority of the remaining distance to be somewhat flat. I was wrong. They turned us right for a grueling half mile psych out that climbs up and around several blind corners. You know that every step you take will at some point need to be retraced, but you can’t see how far it is to the turnaround. Every runner coming back assures you “it’s just another 200 yards,” but only one of them is correct. My hamstrings are so tight, I can imagine just the slightest misstep will cause one or both to snap. My feet are on fire and I can no longer feel the three smallest toes on my left foot.
Finally, I reach the turnaround and head downhill for the first time since we started. I thought it would be a relief, but it made it even worse on my feet as they were mashed into the front of my shoe with ever step. The three little piggies on my right foot mentally disappeared as well. My mind was clear, I felt great cardio-wise, but my legs were shot and my feet, well, I don’t know how to describe the anguish they were causing me in those shoes. Uphill, downhill, it didn’t really matter. I just needed to get off of them and out of those shoes.
As I faced the final 1.65 miles, I recalled why I was there in the first place. It wasn’t a moment to escape, but a moment to revel in. This was the moment to become mindful of the anguish, to breath in the fresh air, to appreciate when my feet feel good and my legs are powerful. This was a highlight in my life, not a lowpoint. I wanted to experience every ounce of pain, for it was the extremity of the pain and anguish itself that made that moment stand out from all the mindless, petty stuff that takes up the majority of our lives. This, was a break from the mundane. This, was living and I wanted to wring every drop out of it. While I heard others complaining about the heat, I was mindful of even the slightest breeze and felt cool. I saw the steep climb that lie ahead and wished it were steeper. I knew that physically I was tapped out, but mentally I was gassed up and ready to go. In my head I was running at full speed, but to anyone witnessing my actions in the real world, I was barely giving the tortoise a run for his money.
At the finish, I just wanted to grab my shirt, get on the bus and take off my shoes. During the party bus ride back down, it dawned on me that this was my first endurance event since becoming a vegan. I felt better aerobically than ever before, probably a result of the 13 pounds I’ve lost and the reduction of body fat by 33%. What I found most interesting is that normally after completing an event like that I have a mad craving for steak, but this time I simply craved calories. I thought it odd, because cravings are not a conscious choice. The fact that I had absolutely no interest in ingesting meat after this race, tells me I have accomplished Learning Resolution 7: Eat Right (Vegan).