I’d bombed down the hill and picked up my speed for the last quarter-mile of my latest race, high-tailing it across the finish line with an impressive kick I hadn’t had in a competition in quite some time. I was feeling pretty good about myself.
The race, the 5-mile Escape From Turkey Mountain trail run, was on my home turf in Tulsa. It was overcast and unseasonably cool that Labor Day morning, which made pushing my pace a little easier than was typical during my training days in 90-degree temps over the summer.
I crossed the finish in 56:16. Not fast, but for me and on highly technical trails, I thought I did OK.
Then I looked at the time sheets that were posted on the side of a van near the finish line. Ninth place out of 12 people in my age division. And 69th out of 96 men overall. Bottom third.
I haven’t been that low on a chart in quite some time, maybe since the 2012 Tulsa Run, where I was happy to just finish. The winner in my group was 18 minutes faster. Eighteen minutes!
I’m no speedster, but it would have been really easy to get down in the dumps about such a pedestrian showing. In the end, however, I didn’t feel bad at all. Here are a few reasons why:
My training over the spring and summer has been abysmal, but it’s getting better. When you get a $2,000 tax bill and a $4,000 car repair tab, you have to do something. And that means working more to earn more. So working a full-time job at nights and doing some part-time work a couple days a week means that many training days just flew away like frightened birds. That loss of mileage comes with a price. I haven’t run more than 8 miles since the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon (where I did the half), and many weeks I was lucky to get 13 miles total. Last fall, that was a mid-sized long-run day!
It showed up in my workouts and on the trail. I dragged a bit on Wetterhorn Peak, and really suffered in my backpacking trip to Chicago Basin. My lack of conditioning is the reason why I bagged two peaks instead of four on that latter trip. So when I got back from Colorado, I resolved to buckle down and get things moving again.
I’ve had three straight weeks of pretty good training, sometimes in brutal heat. But I’m finally starting to get my legs and lungs back. Which leads me to the second reason why I feel fine with that so-so finish…
For the first time in months, I had an extra gear at the end of a race. Three weeks of good training and a blessedly mild and cloudy race day meant I could push hard without feeling like I was going to keel over. I was familiar with these trails and I knew when to turn it on for one last burst. It’s too bad I didn’t have that gear available the whole race. That would have been awesome. But it was there at the end as I bounded down the hill, over rocks and tree roots and scooted quickly across the flats.
I finished winded and a little tired, but feeling good. Compared to most of my runs over the past six months, I felt like Usain Bolt.
Even with my relatively lackluster time, I got pretty much the same thing as everyone else — a T-shirt, a burger and a beer. So unless you were a top winner or top 3 in your group, I got exactly the same thing you did when I crossed the finish. But that’s pretty selfish of me. More importantly is this…
At a time when people are fighting to prevent an outlet mall from eating up precious woodlands and trails on Turkey Mountain’s west side (and the bummer feelings that go with that prospect), it was nice to see a few hundred runners out there busting their butts, having fun and enjoying the trails.
I saw all ages and sizes. Some were fast. Some were walkers. Some were kids while others were well past retirement age. Men and women. Friends running as a group. More than a few had never run a race on trails. And several were from out-of-state.
That says a lot about the value of Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness. On a day when most people were sleeping in, overdosing on Netflix or bumming out at the lake, a few hundred people got up early, gathered at the park and ran their tails off. There’s something beautiful and amazing about that, and it wonderfully illustrates what a gem Turkey Mountain is to Tulsa. I can only hope more people will see and recognize that.
Lastly, and most important to me, I had fun! It feels great to run without injury or pain, to chug along, to turn on the jets, to be outside and to test yourself. Scored on all fronts. I’m three weeks into getting back into form, and everything indicates that I’m on the right track.
If this keeps up, I’ll be a whole different runner come November, and hopefully next spring.