It’s 3AM and today will either be a PR (Personal Record) or a long walk. The Revel Canyon City Half Marathon has over 900 feet of net descent promising fast times. However, my history of IT band problems warns me that I may be watching others race for their best times instead of creating one of my own.
I chose to run this race with my friend from college and his running group. The extra early wake up time is filled with introductions and endurance race small talk instead of silent anticipation. How much do you run? What’s your pace? What are your expectations? Have you run this race before?
The warmth of my new friends is contrasted by the cold mountain air. To get 900 feet of net descent, I am bused up a mountain to the start line in the Angeles National Forest. The car thermostat registers 55 degrees at the base. At altitude, it feels closer to 45 degrees. I now understand why the race organizers inserted the space blankets in the race check-in bag. Everyone looks cold, and I’m shivering.
After an hour on the mountain, the race starts. It’s downhill and fast. The pre-race chatter quickly fades into silence broken only by the rhythmic beating of footfalls speeding through the mountain pass. My mind floats between “I’m still cold” and “this is beautiful.”
Miles 1 through 6 are fast and mostly in the shadow of the mountains. In spite of a porto-potty stop at mile 1 (I guess I didn’t need all those early morning fluids with the cold weather), I run the fasted 10K of my life (unofficial 55 minutes). I feel a PR coming today.
At mile 7, I feel the first tinge of discomfort outside my left knee. Instantly, I recognize the murmurs of my IT band rebelling against the downhill road and banking turns. At mile 8, my IT band raises its voice speaking of discomfort. I begin interspersing walking breaks trying to silence its voice. With each break, I consider whether my race is over and resign myself to a consolation prize of beautiful pictures of the course and mountains.
While slowly running through mile 11, I realize that my IT band is returning to a mild murmur. And then, I hear loud chatting and joking behind me. Over the course of the mile, the volume increases until I’m caught. Unlike me, it’s the 2:10 pacers enjoying their run without pain.
In an instant, I realize I’m still ahead of my pace goal in spite of my IT band problem. Slowly, I increase my speed and pull away from the 2:10s while testing my pain tolerance. At mile 12, I no longer hear the 2:10s and I’m racing. My heart rate is up, my breathing is heavy, and I’m passing people for the first time since mile 7. As I approach the mile 13 marker, I speed up again and close in on my red line limit.
I’m not sure which is the best reward — the medal, the post-run pie, or the PR.