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Every month, on the 15th day, thirty dollars is automatically drafted out of my bank account for my membership to the Eagle Endurance “$30 Club“. The premise is this: sign up for one year of monthly $30 payments, race any (or all, in our case) of Eagle Endurance’s race for no additional cost. When you look at the rising cost of ultras these days, and then figure $360 can get you, in theory, 9 races or more (most of which are ultras), this club isn’t just a deal…it’s a steal. Really, I don’t know how my household alone hasn’t put Eagle Endurance out of business.
But this club is also akin to that bad-influence friend who is whispering in your ear “come onnnnn, just one more race, it won’t hurt you!” when you know full well that you are supposed to be tapering this weekend.
And that, my friends, is the story of my “Almost 9 miler“.
As I write this post, I am in the middle of a cutback/taper week for the Conquer the Rock / Foothills 50K. That 50K is the start of my last peak block of training for the Georgia Death Race in just over a month. So when I realized that I had ambitiously signed up for the triple (3×9 miler) version of the “Almost 9 Miler”, I knew I had made another $30 club influenced mistake. Conveniently, it was also a kid week (I split week to week custody with their dad) and my boys are slowly starting to become race fiends themselves.
So I opted for an adventure of a different type: 9 miles with kids.
While we tend to enjoy camping before these races, this hot one day/freezing the next /raining/not raining/but probably raining winter weather as of late left me preferring to get up at 4 am rather than attempt camping. So at 5 am, we piled the whole family in the car, and headed South.
The Almost Nine Miler was held at Biggin Creek Mountain Bike Trail in Moncks Corner, SC, on a loop that is anywhere from 4.5-5 miles, depending on your GPS. Hence, “Almost 9”. This is the same location as the new Hallucination 6/12/24, and the Revenge of Stede Bonnet 10 hour night race. Being that it is a mountain bike course, this trail is very windy and “bumpy”, rather than hilly, with a lot of hairpin turns, roots, and other features that are fun on mountain bikes. They are fun running over too, but the trade off is that this sort of course never really allows you to open up your gait and get up to speed if you will. But that challenge is half the fun. And the course is absolutely gorgeous.
The format of this race is slightly different from most, in that there is a wave start. I’m almost certain it was based on age, but every few minutes, race director Chad would call certain numbers up to the start line, countdown, and send them off onto the single track trail. I love this, because crowds on single track can be a bottleneck nightmare.
My kids are young, only 10 & 12, but their race strategies have become quite predictable as of late. The 10 year old, Kain, has the kind of energy you truly wish you could bottle up and sell. He does not stand still, it’s almost as if his body has either an “ON” or an “OFF” switch – there is no in between. As such, he tends to take off sprinting and/or dancing down the trail for a few miles, at which point he decides he’s done and would rather do something else.
The 12 year old, Rowen, is much like the rest of us: he HATES the first two miles of any run. Absolutely suffers through them, probably questioning in his pre-teen brain why the hell he agreed to this with every single step. But once he finally gets his stride, there is nothing that will stop him. He’s got the mindset of an endurance runner, and once he has a specific goal in his mind, he won’t stop until he gets to it, no matter how much he may be hurting.
As such, when Kain’s number is called before the rest of us, he lines up and takes off down the trail. Rowen and I take bets as to what mile we will finally catch up with him.
8:17, seventeen minutes after the official start, Rowen and I, along with a ton of other women (apparently the female 35-40 age group was the most popular) line up. Chad says go, and we take off down the trail. Rowen and I had decided on a 2 minute run/ 1 minute walk strategy. He’s still working on his endurance, and the 2:1 split really helps him ease into the run. We make it through the first run/walk, no problem. We’re on the second run interval when I hear that unmistakable noise no trail runner likes to hear, never mind a trail running mom who knows the runner making said noise is her child: a trip and a fall.
Rowen goes down, HARD. I had warned him ahead of time that this trail is covered in roots and he HAS to a) watch his step and b) pick up his feet – no middle school shuffle allowed out here. I quickly pull him up off the ground in the same fashion that you do when your toddler trips. It’s mom instinct. He’s looking at me with a combined look of pain and fear – but there’s no blood. No broken bones either. Just dirt covered palms and I’m certain an elevated heart rate for both of us.
As a runner myself, I know this is a pivotal moment in how the rest of the race is going to go. And much like a mother does with a toddler, you have a decision to make and you have to make it quickly: do you make a big deal out of this, in turn giving your kid reason to freak out, or do you brush it off, literally and figuratively, giving them no opportunity to freak out? I chose the latter. I asked him if he was OK, and said something along the lines of “you’ve got this buddy. That happens to the best of us. I know it hurts, but the sting will go away in a few minutes. Keep moving forward.”
And he does.
We continue our 2:1 intervals, playing leap frog with my friend Kevin and his running crew. We get passed by the other waves as they come through, and I’m so darn proud of my kid’s trail etiquette as he warns me to move to the right before I even hear the yells of “On your left!” from the runners getting ready to pass.
Then, like clockwork, we catch up with Kain at mile 1.5 Both Kain and Rowen take turns leapfrogging with me – first they are ahead, then they are behind, then they want to run with me, for at least the next 2 miles. We have fun. We joke, we laugh, we take a bunch of silly pictures.
I sneak a bunch of “proud mom” pictures.
Then out of the blue, Kain’s ankle hurts. Rowen takes off, and I offer to “tow truck” Kain, a technique we came up with when they were really little and I would drag them up and down mountain hikes. Essentially, I would hold one arm behind me and pull my kid along. This also applies in grocery stores, when you are running late to appointments, practically anywhere that you need to get little feet moving a little faster than they would on their own.
And this, my friends, is where the Kain commentary begins.
This child is one of the most entertaining human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. He can talk to you about anything, anywhere, with zero rhyme or reason, for HOURS. It went a little something like this:
“Hey mom. Do you know why I like to sleep on the cold side of the pillow? Because the cold side doesn’t make my face get all sweaty, like the warm – OH LOOK ! It’s a dummy dressed like a biker in the woods! Quick take my picture!”
“As I was saying, when I grow up I’m going to invent an air conditioned pillow. I bet it would be really popular. I’m probably going to have to quit after this loop and put my bib on the wall of shame. My brain says ‘don’t quit’! but my ankle says ‘don’t be stupid’! And then I’m going to eat a lot of food. It’s really important that you eat food after a long race so you can recover. Guess where I read that? YOUR BLOG!”
(first place finisher comes FLYING by us on his second loop)
“WOW that guy most definitely does CrossFit. I can just tell. Hey mom guess what? You’re the best exercise physiologist in the whole world. But that’s just because you’re my mom. I love you. More than I love video games. Especially Minecraft, no one plays THAT anymore. Hey, can you tell me when we have one tenth of a mile left to run? Because I’m going to run in to the finish FAST. According to the book ‘The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I run Long Distances‘, if you sprint into the finish line, no one will ever suspect that you walked the last few miles”
As promised, I tell Kain when we reach a tenth of a mile left. It’s not hard to do- the trail is marked every 1/10th of a mile.
He walks up to the tree holding the marker, jumps up, slaps it, then takes off sprinting yelling: “YOLO!” at the top of his lungs.
I sprint off trying to keep up with him, and this would be the only point in the day where my Garmin registered my heart rate above Zone 1. We finish the first loop in about 1 hour and 11 minutes. Rowen is waiting for us, munching on a bag of Cheese-Itz crackers. Kain decides to bail, and I don’t question it. He mentioned his ankle enough times for me to know he was genuine, and besides, I NEVER push my kids to run, I want them to be self motivated.
So I set him up with his ipad at the timing table, and tell him to stay put until Geoffrey gets back. Rowen and I head back down the trail.
My second loop with Rowen was equally as enjoyable, but in a completely different way. He had pushed hard on the first loop, and his little legs were feeling it for loop #2. I can’t blame him: I always forget how hard this course is on your legs. So we run when he feels up to it, and we walk when he doesn’t. He tells me how much he loves being out there, but not to run fast, he just likes to be in the woods pushing his limits.
Preach little man, I get it.
At one point, we are moving much slower than before, and he asks me if I think he will be able to run his 10 miles in less than 3 hours. I do some quick math, and tell him that as long as we keep this current pace up, we will just barely make it. He retorts, “Just barely isn’t good enough” and pushes past me running off down the trail.
Woah. Alright then. I take off running behind him, noting his gait has definitely become more of a tired shuffle, and I wonder what the hell I was doing at age 12. Probably my hair, organizing my Caboodle, and reading YM magazine. I admire his tenacity, and wonder if he’ll keep up with it as he grows. The realist in me knows that teenagers are going to do whatever they want, and I can only hope that he will grow up to experience the same love I have for endurance sports. I make a promise to myself to continue to only encourage, maybe gently push, but never force running on my kids.
We’re about a mile from the finish line. Rowen says to me “My legs hurt, I just want to stop” in that pathetic sort of voice that I hear from grown adults who are starting to bonk from low blood sugar and being so close to the finish line. I explain to him how this moment right here, this is a life changing moment. That one day in the future he’ll be in a tough situation, one he wishes he could magically disappear from, but he’ll be able to know that he is capable of doing hard things…because he’s done it before. I know that this concept is still hard for a pre-teen brain to understand, and it doesn’t quite distract him from the discomfort he’s feeling at that very moment.
So I ask him to tell me about something he’s learned in history class – his favorite- recently that he’s found very interesting. He starts rambling on and on about Feudalism in the Middle Ages, and I keep him going with many “oh wows!” and “tell me more about that!” even though I’m feeling pretty ashamed that I have zero idea what he’s talking about. Middle School history has long since left my brain. I can tell the distraction is working as his pace picks up. Before I know it, we’re at that same last 1/10th of a mile sign. Rowen doesn’t slap the sign and yell “YOLO!” like his little brother, but instead puts his head down and runs.
As we hear cheers from the finish line, he picks up the pace. Again, I struggle to keep up. I only wish I was in front of him to see the smile on his face when he crossed the line and Chad handed him his finishers coin. This picture will have to do.
I too officially finish – in absolute dead last place. But for once, that inner competitive voice of mine does not make a single peep. There are stories that results on Ultrasignup will never be able to tell. Tales of running down the trail with a little guy who tells you that he loves you move than Minecraft. Memories of laughing at how awesome, and silly Mother Nature can be with seeds that look like pig noses. Stories of watching your child learn how to push through his own personal limits and doubts, and finish something that he started, even though it was far from easy.
This was, without a doubt, the best last place finish I’ve ever had.
Thank you, as always to Chad/Eagle Endurance for not only another fabulous course, but for welcoming my entire family into the local endurance community with open arms.