Pre-race (7.11.2014) :
When I opened that email with a subject line "Updates on Kevin Childs," the first word that caught my eyes was "thankful." For a brief moment I was ready to believe that it'd be good news, but that was not to be. Pastor Kevin is with our Heavenly Father. Two days later, I'm still trying to comprehend the fact that he's gone.
Sometimes life is full of pieces that don't fit together but string together by time. Because after reading that email, I went about my work day as usual. Replied emails. Incorporated some design changes. Modeled. Then, I picked up my bags and left for a trip that I had been looking forward to: spending a few days in Boone with running friends and leaving for a family trip in Quebec after that.
Thursday evening was the Bear, a five-mile run up Grandfather Mountain. At the end of the race, Mark Rostan came to me and handed me a piece of printed tile. It took me a few seconds to make out what it was: a partial picture of the Rock Van, which I had sent Derek earlier the day in an email about the passing of my Pastor friend, Kevin. He used to drive around this lime green van with big letters that read, "Love God. Love People. Do Something about it." The piece that Mark gave me was part of a four-piece "puzzle." Derek later gave me another piece; but I am still missing two.
Today, when I was getting my stuff together for tomorrow's marathon, I pinned one of the pieces to my singlet. I want to run tomorrow's race remembering Kevin and the best way to do it so to give it my best. At the end of tomorrow's race, regardless of time or even a DNF, I want to be able to say that I am a good steward of what has been bestowed upon me like Pastor Kevin.
I could sum up my race in one word: steady. I went out conservatively, knowing what's ahead (unlike the Bear). Runners diverge on the opinion whether the first or second half is harder. First half has more climb than second; but also more downs. Second half is more rolling, but you are now running on tired legs. The lack of longer descent also means, at least for me, less recovery. This would play out differently for people who bomb the downhills. Rather than dividing the race right in the middle, I think I ended up looking at the race in thirds - though not equal thirds. The first third (0 to ~Mile 10) has long climbs and descents. From mile 10 - 18 (?) is rolling, then the last third is after the gravel road climb to the finish. The first section was fun. Climb is tough, but I was yoyo-ing a lot with Annette, which made this section interesting. She's a lot quicker than me in running the downs. I knew she was running very easy, but I'd pass her on the up, just to hear her quick feet coming from behind me as soon as the down came. Eventually, she took off after about 12-13 miles and I never saw her again till she carried the torch around the track for her victory lap. Mentally, 10-18 was the hardest for me. I knew I still have a long way to go, I wished time would go faster (as well as my legs), there wasn't much change in turns, scenery, and elevation, and I just had to focus on the moment and get through it. This is also the portion of the race during which I thought about Pastor Kevin the most. When I was tired both mentally and physically, I would tap on the little tile on me, reminding myself that Pastor Kevin would have pushed through even when things get difficult. It helped me a lot and I just kept on trucking. It also gave me peace knowing that I was not in the race to beat anyone or time, but to give what I could and to use what I have been given.
Around mile 18(?) came the gravel section, which was a welcomed change. There was a steep but short uphill that I was looking forward to because I had made up my mind to walk up it. (Break!) Compare to last year, though, I didn't walk much aside from stopping at aid stations. After the gravel road is the home stretch... a pretty long home stretch where rolling terrains continue and continue up. For much of the second half, I was running alone. Sometimes there was one or two that came in sight. Some I caught up to and passed, some I did not. In the last mile or two, I saw a ginger in a blue singlet - it was Brian Trotter. Him, I did not catch up. However, an orange singlet came up behind me and it was Stan Austin. I thought he was in front of me the whole time! He out-kicked me in the last half mile before turning onto the track and I saw him turned around and checked on me once. That was a fun finish.
Between mile 12 to finish, Annette put a four-minute lead on me and finished in 3:28. Alisha little, who ran a 38-minute at the Bear finished second. Jackie from Delaware finished behind me. My third place finish was helped, unintentionally, by Alan, who psyhed Jackie into thinking the course would be much, much harder. She ran so easy the whole time till mile 20 that she was able to put in 7-min miles during the last six. I have no doubt in my mind that she would have caught me if the course went on for another mile or two. Wendy Norvell and Beth Frye both finish within a few minutes after us. I am both humbled and thankful to share and finish this journey with this great group of ladies. Grandfather Mountain Marathon is special - it's a celebration of athletic endeavors, the mountains, and friends. And I like to keep it that way.
Special shout-out to Derek. Thank you for your thoughtful gesture that gave the marathon another layer of meaning and purpose.