“The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.” -Steve Prefontaine
I guess it’s only natural, then, to do as the Oregonians when in Oregon. The XTerra Trail Run National Championship was this past Saturday, and although I didn’t smash any records, I think I ran pretty well. Rob had asked me on the way over to the start line if I had a plan, and I said yes. I did have a plan. I wanted to run 2:06 for 14 miles. I was going to do it by being smart, not getting caught up in the crazy pace at the beginning and by running nice, even 9:00 miles. Then the cannon went off.
By mile one, I had shredded the plan into tiny bits. By mile two, I had thrown the bits out the window. Mile three was spent coming up with a new plan. Basically, I had one alternative– hang on. Hanging on for one mile is easier than hanging on for 12. The course was pretty good. Honestly, at the start, I was a little disappointed. The race began in a high-end shopping center in front of REI. “What kind of trail race in Oregon is this?” I wondered. But the pavement soon dipped down to the river and ran out through a residential neighborhood, which quickly, like everything out West, turned to wilderness. It really was beautiful.
The trails were really smooth compared to what we run on here at home. There were some rocks, particularly in a few areas, but there were far less roots and stumps, and the trails, in general, were much wider. I kept thinking about how this trail didn’t even come close to the trail we had run in Banner Elk a couple of months ago. The thing that did compare, though, was the beauty. It was a very different landscape than I had imagined it might be. I had expected lush, green Pacific Northwest landscape, but what I got was referred to as high desert. The area around Portland and Mt. Hood, which we had driven and hiked through on our way to Bend, had met my expectations about what Oregon was supposed to look like, but the desert was a complete surprise. The dirt was a dark, almost black, red dust from layers of volcanic rock, and the air was very dry. The land was wide open and the plants were much scrubbier and scragglier than I thought. Running by some of them in tight spots can really scratch your legs all to pieces. And it was much more brown than any place I’d ever been. Still, it was awesome in its own way.
As I was running, and suffering somewhat, I reminded myself, just as I had at Pilot Mountain, to look up. “You came out here for the experience,” I told myself. “Don’t run by all this and not see it.” And even though my legs and lower back were about to rebel, I had to smile and thank God for the chance to, not only see Oregon, but to run through it. Running, and hiking, anywhere gives us a chance to see things from a totally different perspective than when we are driving. The slower pace, the smells, the sounds, the actual physical contact between feet and dirt all lend to seeing things in a much different and probably clearer way. To be in Oregon at all was a blessing; to be able to run and feel it beneath my feet was a spectacular bonus.
In the end, I made my goal time. I ran 2:06.01. I didn’t do the right things, I didn’t do what I’ve told the kids to do, and I did exactly what I give Jay a hard time about doing. I did it the hard way. I’m sure I could have run faster if I’d gone out in, say, 8:50 rather than 7:54, but to tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I could run 9:00 for 14 miles at all, much less while in oxygen debt from the get-go, so to do it (albeit rather haphazardly) after starting off foolishly feels good in its own way. Next time, I hope to be a little smarter and a good bit faster.
Overall, it was a good experience. I didn’t even compare to some of the other people there, but I don’t think it matters. It was fun. Even when I went to packet pick-up the night before, I was surprised when they couldn’t find my number and one of the guys said, “Stacey? Stacey Libbert? Yeah, she’s in this pile. She’s a regional champion.” He pulled my tag, different from the others, from a separate pile and handed it to me. It had my name on it and down the side, it read “North Carolina Regional Champion”. It was like I was for real or something. It was a brand new experience for me and a little freaky actually. There was a part of me that wanted to hide it while I was running and yell to people on the side of the road, “I’m not a good representation of what North Carolina has to offer in trail running”, just as a disclaimer for my home state. But I didn’t. I shrugged it off and enjoyed the idea that every once in while, hard work and just showing up pays off.
Sixth in my age group and 39th of 88 women in a National Championship is OK. It was fun and probably something I’ll never get to do again. I’m glad we went. I was not the fastest or strongest runner. I wasn’t even the smartest runner. And I haven’t been all along. I just keep coming back for more, and maybe that’s my gift. I just keep coming back. I run as hard as I can, when I can, and I do it in the company of some pretty awesome people. I also have the luxury of being coached by one of the best, arguably the best. As I ran through the juniper bushes and over layers of volcanic rock, I realized that being able to run at all is the gift, and as Prefontaine also said, “To do anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” I never want to sacrifice the numerous gifts I’ve been given, not the least of which is the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.