Uphill Battle: Part I
By Asia Shah
Until recently, I have never really thought about the phrase “uphill battle” in its original context, which I picture to be a bunch of burly men carrying guns and axes charging up a hill; how fucking unfair? What moron decided that positioning the army at the bottom of a hill would be a winning strategy? I mean, unless these guys have some intense quads and have been doing repeats up Ladera Norte, I’d say they are up a creek – maybe I’ll analyze that one day. Once I got over the unfathomable disadvantage these soldiers were given I began to associate this with my own situation on the roads as of late.
A few humorous interpretations of said “uphill battles”
How does this relate to my running? Well, I guess this deserves a recap of sorts. About two weeks ago our little group headed to Sacramento for CIM (California International Marathon), which happens to be the site of my first marathon race as well. Leading up to the race, for about ten days, rumblings were in the air about potential rain on race day. The rumbling got a tad louder, then enter: WIND. Once the words “strong winds” were being thrown around and we had been promised heavy rain, things began to get a bit interesting. Even with near constant rain leading up to the race, I felt utterly unprepared mentally physically, for what was to barrel in on Sunday morning. Even though the weather was looking horrendous I maintained a very calm and confident feeling the days leading up to the race. For some reason I felt this unwavering positivity about what I was going to do on Sunday. This was partly due to my fitness and the trust in the preparation that our coach provided us, but it was something beyond even that. I would describe it as an unnamed, elusive feeling that had been grown throughout the season with sprinklings of fitness, desire, intent, and a solid intention at its core. Either way, I was ready. Or so I thought.
The day before the race a group of us rented a car and surveyed the entire course on a recon mission of sorts. This is what we came back with:
1) Nice course!
2) I might have missed some of it since we couldn’t see out of the windshield for a bit
3) Wait what? the weather is going to be WORSE tomorrow?
Halfway through the drive we reached an oasis in this rain-filled desert and grabbed some lunch. We almost got off track for a bit due to there being a pet store next door and a “puppy event” going on. Alas, they were not very cute dogs, so we were only slightly tempted (yes, I am one of those people who believes in the existence of ugly babies and not-so-cute dogs, for I have seen them both). After the usual Whole Foods psychosis, the approximately 20-30 minutes of indecision that appears when deciding what the hell to eat, we sat down to eat, rain smacking the windows. Our coach calls me mid-faux chicken and I do not pass up the opportunity to garner some advice. Instead, a bomb is dropped, due to the weather, there is the possibility to run a different, local marathon the following weekend. This is not an entirely novel concept, but it is one that none of us had considered as a viable option. At first, I was not into it. I felt like we had come so far, geographically and emotionally, and could not possibly fall short and rely on plan B. However, the thought was to gauge the effort level, level of suck, and progress toward the overall goal and make a decision not long after the halfway point to stick it out or defer to plan B. This was not about chickening out or ditching when I felt bad, this was about choosing the option that would maximize my chances and ability to hit my goal and have a positive race experience. Once I hung up the phone I was confused and conflicted as to what route to take.
Somehow, by the grace of Gus, I managed to convince my group of three carnivorous men to have their pre-race dinner at a Vegan restaurant! Having done plenty of research prior to the trip in order to have some good dining options at the ready, I had found an awesome little place that I was itching to try. The Plum Cafe & Bakery was only a ten minute walk from our hotel and worth every rain-soaked minute. We all ordered a variation of their house-made veggie burger, which came with huge steak fries. I topped off my tank with a side order of smashed sweet potatoes and it was heavenly. We even sat outside comfortably due to their backyard tent and space heaters. Nice!
Race morning finally came and I moved through the motions of oatmeal prep and GU-pinning and got decked out in my uber-cool race outfit: matching blue cheetah printed Nike sports bra and shorts. I gotta look good, okay? We met our friends in the lobby and walked over to another hotel to catch a ride on one of the school buses to the start in Folsom. At this point, in downtown Sacramento, it was raining a tad and quite windy, but it didn’t seem too bad yet. YET. All around us were people wearing trash bags. What is this? A rained out football game? People literally tied plastic shopping bags around their shoes. This reminds me of those people who buy running shoes and say, “I don’t want them to look dirty! I can’t possibly get that color”. WTF people? I would not go to war with a guy wearing plastic bags on his shoes, would you? Anyhow, after sufficiently judging these people at 5:00am, we got on the bus!! In fact, we got in the dead ass back of the bus. This was an okay thing however, because the heater was right behind us…until the bus driver turned on the air conditioning, which it also served as. Burrrr. The ride was uneventful, other than listening to a 78 year old guy talk about the Ironmans he had done. Legit. It is worth noting that the women sitting in front of us used shower caps with holes in them to wrap around their shoes. Wonder how that worked out! After a while we began to see the prison and the long sweeping road where all of the buses park in the distance. I thought, “HOORAY! I gotta pee like no other,” so once we were no longer moving I headed for the door. Two of my teammates were headed there as well, so I planned to wait and head over together. That is, until I stepped out of the bus and my brain caught up with what my body was experiencing.
I will spare you the CIM 2012 horror show weather pictures, as I am sure many have posted them in order to justify their 9 hour marathons. However, my reaction says it all. I took one look behind me, said “seeee yah!” to my buddies, and ran like a crazy person fighting imaginary ghosts straight (likely sideways given the wind) to the long line of porta potties that lined the adjacent road. To my dismay, it took me about a half mile to find an open loo, during which time I sprinted through sheets of rain that were being pelted at me like whips. Hot damn, I made it. There was a moment, I dare not kid, that I contemplated how much more fun it would be to sit, butt exposed, on that freaking porta potty for three hours, than to actually get out of that thing and face the elements. After a few minutes I realized that I probably would not be credited for this feat and definitely would get no medal or fancy tin-foil blankey, so I opened the door and hightailed it back to the bus. By this point I was completely soaked and in a state of shock. Up until then, the weather had been rainy, but coupled with the 35+ MPH winds, it was a whole different animal. It went from a grouchy yellow lab, to a full on doberman from one of those old snoop dog videos. Fierce. To calm my mind I ate some peanut butter, which is a completely normal coping mechanism in the face of total annihilation. While still on the bus I realized I had to pee pretty desperately, but there was no way I was getting off that bus before it was absolutely necessary.
That point came about 20 minutes from the start of the race. We got our stuff, put on hats, and got off of our little yellow haven. On the way to the bag check my hat went flying down the road and I sprinted after it as if my life depended on it, which it sorta did. I remembered from my first trip to CIM that the start line is next to a large apartment complex and that the trees and bushes surrounding it are like one giant bathroom, so I made my way over yonder. The race had yet to start and already there was a slice of mayhem in these bushes and trees. Women take an “oh what the hell” attitude and squat down with little regard for the man peeing next to them. This is survival people. So I find my spot, do my deed, and sprint out to join the others at the start line. This is the part where I shiver for about ten minutes uncontrollably. We decided to take our pace out conservatively and try to stand near the 3:05 pace group. Knowing that the pace leaders at CIM are dedicated to an idiotically fast race plan, we thought this would put us in a good spot to be around 3:00 pace while serving as a windshield for as long as possible. Someone sang some song about being free and home of the brave, and I stood there thinking how this is more crazy than brave, but okay. Just a few last minutes of huddled anticipation, some debating my clothing choice, then BANG! The gun sounded. Aaaand we’re off like a herd of blind caterpillars!!
Stay tuned for Asia’s Uphill Battle: Part II. Keep up with her running here.