The other day I talked about how important it is to understand that failing or not meeting your goal may not be the best feeling, but it's part of life and part of learning and growing. They are not bad things. If you read that post, you know it was a big lesson that I needed to learn. If you made it to the end, you also know that I signed up for a crazy event (well, crazy as in, "Good grief I can't believe I'm doing this!") in order to learn that lesson.
Well, I'm here to tell you that I DID IT!! I survived!! And I want to tell you all about it because this ended up being a story about being flexible, having patience, having unexpected help, trusting people and just going with the flow. So please be patient with my little novel here.
First you need to know that I am a planner. In thinking about doing this I had already attempted to run the different parts of the running course, and I made a schedule for myself the morning to the race so I would be all ready to go.
Then Wednesday evening happened and threw a kink in my well-planned schedule.
Very often people around here, for many different reasons, think that they can cross the river without a boat or any type of life preservers. I think they believe it's possible because the Susquehanna (pronounced Suss-kwah-hanna for those of you from afar) is actually very shallow in many spots. What they don't realize is how deep it is in other spots. They also don't realize, which I just learned yesterday during the race, is that there are many places where the current swirls, pulls you in odd ways, and just plays tricks on you. Properly equipt you can safely travel up, down and across the river and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Sadly, three young men tried to swim across the river Wednesday evening with no protective equipment. Two of the young men were eventually rescued by passing boaters, but a third did not make it. A search and then recovery mission started Wednesday evening and continued through Friday night. I received a call Friday that because of the emergency situation we would be starting the race three hours later than expected. The planner in me had been doing all my runs earlier so I would be familiar with the conditions so that made me very nervous. But it was out of my hands so I rejoiced in the fact that I would get to sleep in 3 hours!
Saturday morning arrived, I followed my adjusted, but well planned out schedule, and I arrived for registration about 10 minutes early. The scene was very, very confusing. The kayaking company responsible for the second part of the race had been helping with the recovery mission the night before without success, but as they were setting up the course they discovered the missing swimmer. During the next three hours the authorities had to take care of their responsibilities, the family needed a chance to mourn, and the organizers of the race needed to come up with a plan to set up the kayaks when they couldn't get to either the launch location or the finish line. So, my best laid preparation plans flew out the window (as they should have) and thankfully my nerves went along with them. I talked to my friend Alan, made some new ones, and just waited until we got the word that we could board the buses to take us to the starting line.
We ended up starting the race at 12:10, much later (and hotter) than we had expected. Off we went, and it only took about a 1/2 mile until I was the last runner in the race. But it was okay. When the handy dandy lady from MapMyRun came on to tell me my first mile was up, she told me I had finished it in 13:02 - I know that doesn't sound like a great time, but for me - that was the fastest mile I have completed this whole summer. I was thrilled and kept going. I walked a bit during mile two, but I still finished that mile in 13:23! I was on a roll! WOO HOOO!
And then I came off the trail. And hit the hill. And the sun. And the proverbial wall.
My dear hubby was waiting for me at the top of the hill (which really isn't that big, but it looked like a mountain to me) with my next bottle of water, and I had never been happier to see him. He later told me he was very worried when he saw me, and he was actually expecting me to call him to come get me because I couldn't make it to the kayaks. I'm proud to say that the thought never even crossed my mind. My two choices were to be last or to quit, and the second option really wasn't even a choice.
I didn't run much after that - little pockets here and there, but the heat and my awesome first two miles took a lot out of me. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, kept sipping my water, and kept making little goals for myself. I finally ran down the last stretch and under the bridge. I had traveled 4.91 miles in 1:12:23 to reach the transition area where I changed my shoes and got ready to head out.
One of my biggest fears was being last, but I ended up finding out that being the last runner had some perks. There were four guys at the boat launch who were still cleaning up from the earlier rescue operations. As I changed my shoes and got my preserver on, they graciously carried my kayak down to the river. Then they helped me into the kayak and gave me a great shove to start the second part of my journey! I believe there may be a video on FB of this, but I haven't seen it yet.
Once I got out of the course, it was a little scary at first - like I said earlier, I didn't realize how the current swirled and pulled in some places so I wondered if I would really be able to make it all the way down to the finish line under the bridges. Rather than going back and giving up, I focused on the first set of orange flags marking my course and just paddled. There was a man on the rocks who asked if I was having fun (I said, "Maybe!") and pointed me towards the next flags and river guide. I shared that I was the last person, and he radioed that information on to the rest of the group.
As I passed the next river guide, he also asked if I was having fun, and he gave me some helpful tips for getting through the next part of the river where it got a bit rocky. I was actually enjoying the paddling even though it was more challenging than the other trips I have taken. I thanked him for his help and headed for the next flags. And this is where the cool part happened. The next guide actually got into his kayak and came to greet me. He asked me how I was doing, asked if I was having fun, and then paddled with me to help me along. He told me when to paddle hard to get over the rocks, and let me follow him through the tricky spots.
The other two guides quickly caught up with us, they provided me a big bump when I ended up getting stuck on some rocks, and two of them (sadly, I did not get their names) guided me most of the rest of the way to the finish line. As we got closer they paddled off to the side and told me that I needed to go and finish on my own - they didn't want to steal my thunder. It would have been very fitting if they had paddled with me to the end. It was their help and positive words that truly got me to the end.
I crossed the finish line where Jerry and Alan were cheering me on. My final time for the entire race was, I think, 1:59:23. I know it was 1:59:something. It may be less than that - I'm not sure if they count the transition time or not. Either way, I finished under 2 hours. I never really set myself a goal for completing the event, but I was happy to finish 5 miles with a pace of less than 15 minutes per mile, and I was very pleased to finish just a *wee little bit* under two hours.
So I did it. It was HARD, and some parts were a little scary. But I never wanted to quit, and I didn't give up. I was last, but I did it! And even though I was the one who had to actually DO it, I know that it was the support of my friends, both online and in person, the help from the wonderful kayak guides, and the help from my husband who brought me much needed water during the run and cheers at the end that got me to the finish line.