I signed up for the SOB 15k on the morning of the first day when the online registration opened. It had been on my calendar for months and I wanted to be sure and reserve my place at the asylum. More than that, signing up meant I was committing to see the race through. None of this, “we’ll see as it gets closer” business. I signed up and I was doing it. It meant I’d have to get out of bed on a lot of Saturday mornings and put in some miles. As the race got closer, I found myself looking at the SOB website more and more often, especially the section that shows the vertical profile of the course. Since I more or less live at sea level, I knew that I’d better at least get there a day early to help with the altitude. As the race got closer, I went from concerned to scared to terrified. I had no idea what I’d signed up for and I was doing it anyway.
So it’s race day, July 14th, 2012, 8:30am and I’m running across the starting line with 188 other maniacs. I start my heart rate monitor and hope to finish with a time better than “deceased”. I’ve never been much of a race guy. I completed one marathon in ’99 and a couple 5k and 10k races before that. That was enough experience to know that during a race, you start out with a plan and then mob mentality takes over and you run like it’s Pamploma and there’s a horn with two tons of fury on your ass. I also know from training that my heart rate should be somewhere in Zone 4, which for me means something like 170 – 178 with a maximum of 185. In this race, the first .8 mile is on the road and then you head up the mountain on a dirt trail, single-file. As I stepped off the road and onto the trail, I glanced at my watch and saw my heart rate at 190! Oh crap, what was I doing? My plan was to stay in Zone 4 and now I was in heart attack territory. No problem. I figure if these other people aren’t keeling over dead, I probably won’t either. I don’t slow down.
Near the 1 mile mark, a guy ahead of me rolls his ankle and drops out. Maybe ½ mile farther, I step on a rock that I don’t see because it’s covered in dirt. I maintain my balance, but the guy behind me trips on it and hits the ground in a cloud of dust. I continue on and up…and up…and up….dude seriously, more up….and then it gets really steep. I’m talking crazy steep. Everyone walks. Hell, I think mountain goats would walk that part. There’s a photographer at the top and he cheers us on, so we all act like we’re still running for the photograph and stumble over the saddle.
I’ve never run this race before, so I have the sort of naive hope that maybe this is the summit summit, the final summit. HA! Good one, dude. No chance. Not even close. Up some more and then more after that. I finally reach Grouse Gap, the halfway mark after 52 minutes. I take a mouthful of water, pour the rest in my hat and keep going…up. It’s halfway and we’re still going up and not just for a little longer either. Now we’re on a gravel road and the incline is more gradual, but I’ve burned through my bagel and peanut butter breakfast on the way up and I’m beat. The woman who was running behind me most of the way up knew what she was doing pace-wise and now she pulls away and leaves me in the dust. I fall in with the guy next to me and ask him if he’s run this before and when does it stop climbing? Turns out, his name is Darin, it’s his fourth SOB 15k, and not only that, he’s a bowhunter too and even hunts elk near my favorite part of the State. I’m about ready to keel over and Darin informs me that we’re on-track for completing the run in one hour and forty minutes at this pace. I’d been budgeting two hours just in case, so I felt pretty good about my progress so far.
Finally, mercifully, the ascent ends and we turn back onto the trail for the final two miles, mostly downhill. I let’r rip. Eric’s running technique advocates driving the knees forward with rapid fire steps instead of trying to take long strides. Every time I think about raising my knees, I shoot forward. By this time, I’ve already hit my “second wind” several times. Another one kicks in and I go into some sort of insane trance. I breathe so hard that I am at maximum lung capacity with every breath and I start making some sort of dog-like growl with each exhale. Two runners step off the trail in front of me and let me pass, probably afraid I was rabid. I might have even been frothing at the mouth. I was way beyond exhausted, running on fumes and caffeine and I don’t know what.
The trail ends and I step back onto the road for the final .8 mile…uphill. Oh God, NO! I did my time already!! This can’t be happening!!! My calves disintegrate. I go into some sort of Quasimodo limping, lumbering gait and I’m sure my face is involuntarily contorted. I gimp-shuffle my way up the seemingly endless incline and then descend the final leg on pavement to the finish line. Mrs. Goathunter is there waiting for me, cheering me on. She takes a photo of me and I look insane. I cross the finish line and someone puts a finisher medal around my neck, then the world starts to spin. I nearly fall down. I am sick. I hobble off a little ways and sit down, feeling sick to my stomach and trying not to let the spins get the best of me. I drink a little bit, but my nauseas stomach feels distended and weird and I don’t want to drink, but I do it anyway. Somehow, I don’t die. I can’t believe I finished that S.O.B. If I had known ahead of time that I was going to run like a dog on fire and it was going to hurt so much, I might have stayed home…okay, probably not ‘cause I’m stupid that way, but still. I made it.
After three years, I was able to put a check mark next to the SOB 15k on my bucket list, but somehow I still feel like it’s not over. The SOB has a 50k and a 50 miler too…how dumb am I?