Finishing almost last is still finishing

I did it.

I finished the Cradle to Grave 30k in Pisgah National Forest.

It was brutal and excruciatingly difficult at times. It was wet and the course was more than just a little bumpy, sometimes proving to be almost impassable. On more than one occasion, I nearly lost a shoe sloshing through puddles of mud nearly to my knees.

It was also the best race I’ve ever finished, even though it left me with the same thought I had after giving birth for the first time, “I probably won’t do that again for awhile.”

A few things I didn’t know going in: this was the first time for this race. The participant list was short. I signed up knowing I would walk (briskly, but still walk) the length of the trail. The other 200 or so participants signed up to run. And run they did, some finishing in just over two hours. I also had no idea that it would be pouring down rain when Chris dropped me off at the starting line. And while I was sure I had trained more than enough to climb up the side of the North Carolina mountain, I never guessed just how tough it would be.

I climbed many of the hills around my county to train for this hike. Most weekends were spend mapping out 15+ mile walks from one zip code to another, all ending at my driveway. One Saturday, I had my husband drop me off two towns over so that I could hike up our knobs via Corydon Pike all the way to Georgetown. A red pick-up truck that had passed me early in my walk, passed me a second time later that day two miles from my home. The driver slowed down beside to yell out his window, “God damn girl, when you take a walk, you take a walk!”

I wanted to hug him. Instead, all I could muster was a half-smile and a slight wave, “I try…” I yelled back.

On the morning of the race, we woke to loud booms of thunder and rain slamming down on the roof of the house we rented in North Carolina. My husband asked if I was sure I still wanted to do it.

“I can’t not walk now that we’ve made it all the way here. It’s just rain. I’ll be fine.” Fine ended up being the wrong turn of phrase. If I could edit that conversation now, I would rewrite it to say, “I’ll barely survive.”

Once we made it to the race, the small group of runners collected at the starting line. I stood in back, out of their way. It appeared that no one else had plans to walk the course. But, after the starting gun blast and the first few hundred feet, I caught up with a couple who were walking with the help of hiking sticks.

They were from the area and had walked the path a few times already. Both in their mid-sixties, they were in shape and focused on keeping good time. I walked with them for the first four miles, until we hit a gravel path and they decided to run. I kept walking.

It’s worth noting here, that not only did the 60 year old couple beat me to the finish line, but the husband did so with a hernia. “I told him to take it easy until his surgery next week,” his wife said, “But he won’t listen to me.”

By the end, I had trudged through over-flowing creeks and up the side of the steepest mountain I’ve ever climbed. To my surprise, I didn’t finish last. One woman I passed going up the mountain. She was struggling like me and had taken a moment to sit and enjoy the view. As much as I wanted to join her, I knew if I stopped, I would be hard pressed to get going again.

There were another two women runners who had transitioned into walkers in the final leg of the race. I past them somewhere around mile 12 and didn’t look back, although every now and again, I could hear their voices behind me which only made me walk faster.

In the end, the 18.6 miles through the woods and up the side of a mountain in the rain took me nearly six hours.

But, I finished.

This whole shebang started because of a horoscope encouraging me to seek out mountain top views. Four weeks ago, Rob Brezney said Leos everywhere would be scaling to the top of some mountain. “What do you want it to be? A crumbly molehill? A pile of cheap, but useful gravel? A lofty peak where you can see for miles and miles?” he asked.

I chose the lofy peak.

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