Running for Cocoa!

February 17, 2011

Is it worth running six miles just so you can drink a cup of hot chocolate to bring up your low blood sugar?  I had the debate with myself at 6 am on a Saturday morning, one of my precious days off, as I pulled on leggings and long underwear, a vest, a hat, neck warmer, and gloves, and packed my bag full of honey packets and granola bars.  The Hot Chocolate 10k in Asheville is a staple of the city’s winter running scene, and all my friends who can have hot chocolate anytime they please were doing it, so I figured it would be the hit of my January – until of course I was prying myself out of a warm bed into the chilly early air.

I fixed a small bowl of oatmeal and ate it with some agave nectar, dried fruit, and walnuts.  Ordinarily if I eat oatmeal I melt rice cheese in it, attempting to mimic cheesy grits (it’s actually delicious), but I needed something more carby before the race.  I packed a banana for the car that I could eat depending on my level about half an hour before start time.  The race started and ended at a local elementary school perched on a small hill right on the outskirts of downtown Asheville.  The halls were bursting with runners when we arrived.  Bodies young and old lined the passageways and no one bothered with inside voices or orderly lines.  Forty year old men in leggings stretched their hamstrings on the water fountain, women lunged in the aisles of the auditorium.  Children ran through the tapestry of legs complimenting the general chaos organically.  I was anxious to start the run and break free of the immense pack of people who all seemed so ready, confident, and prepared.

With my vest pockets stuffed with honey zingers, my blood sugar checked and augmented with my banana and a bite of a granola bar, I reluctantly faced the cold.  Every minute that went by had become another minute that I was closer to being finished with the race.  It’s strange how different my feelings are at the beginning and end of a race.  At the beginning I always consider running the opposite direction, away from the mounting crowd and start line, towards the safety of not following the course of hundreds of others.  After the race I am so caught up in the personal journey and struggle that I feel ready to calmy face anything, and excited to plan for another big run.

Maybe big is relative for me.  10k’s is about the number of k’s I enjoy – the outer echelon of the k’s that I enjoy, actually.  I made a playlist on my ipod that got me through over 5 miles of the 6, but that last half mile I had to to run with only the sounds of heavy breathing and pounding feet to urge me on.  By chance the last song to come on my playlist carried all the spirit and passion of Janis Joplin into my ears and down to my legs, and had me singing “TAKE IT! Take another little piece of my heart now baby,” at least in my head, and thinking that the pain I felt in my chest made it all too appropriate.

As I rounded mile five I realized that the first part of the loop race led us about half a mile down the only steep hill in the race.  Dreading the uphill climb may have been worse than actually doing it, but it definitely took all I had.  I knew my partner Jamie would be waiting for me at the finish line so I wanted to finish strong, but as I staggered upwards I felt my energy sticking to the ground behind me with each sluggish step.  Suddenly I saw him bundled in his down jacked on the lawn and realized that meant I had to be close to the finish line. I heard the cheers, saw the supporters jumping for their exhausted love ones, and I gave it all I had left to surge forward with a burst of what could not be called speed, but maybe a slightly increased pace.  As I passed Jamie I realized what I thought was the finish line was just a particularly dense group of people on the sidelines and that I would have to run about 20 more feet up the steepest part of the hill left.  Drooling slightly, haggered, and definitely not surging forward anymore, I stumbled, still running,  through the finish line.  A hand belonging to some wonderful volunteer handed me a bottled water and I collapsed on the ground to drink it.  I was still caught up in my mantra, repeating, “You’ve got this,” to myself, when Jamie found me on the ground.  I was sweating and not in need of the many layers I had piled on before the run.  We wandered over to the parking lot, reuniting with our friends and remembering the hot chocolate kegs waiting for us.  Non-runners would later tell us that it was not, as we all professed, the most delicious hot chocolate to ever be, but they didn’t spoil it for us at the time.  It was worth every mile.  It would have been worth it without the hot cocoa.  I squeezed one honey packet in my mouth during mile 4, but other than that my thoughts were not on diabetes but on moving forward with my own energy and the energy I could feel coming from the whole pack of us who had gotten out of bed just to run somewhere for not a whole lot of distinct reason.  I guess it was to show off our hearts; just to show you (baby) that a woman (or man) can be tough – come on come on come on, and TAKE IT!!!!

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