I ran the Blenheim 7K for the second time today.
For those unfamiliar with this race it is, by all accounts, an exercise in pure pain where they put the majority of the course uphill and the rest on uneven and rocky trail paths. Provided you don’t twist your ankle or die of exhaustion as you limp your way upwards, you can be rewarded with a nice little medal and a cup of water.
In short, it’s a freaking amazingly awesome race. And I say this because I am completely delusional. You need the madness. It’s necessary, vital. Blenheim makes it possible. Hard races make it possible. Because then you have stories to tell yourself when the run gets hard.
For instance, I decided to join the Austin Half Marathon one month after running the Houston Half Marathon because I thought the medal was cute. It was silver with a cut out of a guitar in the middle and little blue and orange stripes. What I didn’t know at the time is that the Austin Half Marathon is ranked as one of the most difficult half marathons in Texas, primarily because mile 12 is entirely uphill. I remember distinctly the moment at which my leg and butt muscles turned to jelly. I remember being splayed in the back of the car, willing those muscles to engage long enough for me to sit.
So, when the steep climb upwards begins for the Blenheim 7K I remind myself that it only goes up steeply for 1K, not 1 mile. I remind myself that at least two times a week I push a bike up a steep and rocky incline in order to cut 10 minutes off my cycle home. I remind myself of the times early in running when I crossed the 5K marker at 47 minutes and thought I would never, ever be able to run faster or harder.
I also like to call up the fact that since my running problem started in Houston my whole race experience, until the moment I decided that I would try ice storms in England, consisted of a stretch of road called Memorial Drive. That I’m now stupid lucky to live so close to a palace and that I am running around a huge man-made lake with glorious views of Oxfordshire countryside. That tonnes of people never, ever will do this race, that I’ve got two legs and the ability to propel myself, and that if my legs ever fall off, get cut off, or have to be removed, I, in this one brief moment, accomplished something so few do.
When the calves started to really burn I think about the Disney World Half Marathon, where it was 85 degrees and marathoners where just giving up altogether for the duck medal instead of the mouse. (Back when you could do that, anyway.) When I encounter another runner who is struggling I know that you can speak of the food rewards you’ll give yourself, and suddenly you’ll start running again, because there is ice cream waiting for you.
And when I finally make it to the downhill and round the corner to the blow-up finish line, there is that moment when the head clears of stories, of pain, and of promises of sugar. It is that blissful realization that I have, in fact, made it through another race. That despite PRs or splits or whatever I will get my little medal and nice cup of water and nobody will take it away from me. Whatever delusions I experience as I race are worth it, because there will be a next race, and I’ll need that madness to get me through. The hard races make it easier to tap into that.
And that is why the Blenheim 7K is so freaking awesome. And necessary.