“…this could change everything about everything.”
-LDB, April 7, 2012
On April 4, 2012 my good friend, LDB, casually called to my attention the Fall Colors Bridge Run, a footrace that begins on the UP of Michigan and spans the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge over the confluence of Lakes Michigan and Huron. With her dry humor, LDB asked our friend JB, “Have you ever done this? I think running across the Mackinaw Bridge would be awesome. It’s in October so we could train and stuff.” My initial response reveals my fear of heights and distaste for crossing that particular bridge by automobile, much less on foot: “we need to drink the wine first or there’s no way you’re getting me on the bridge.” Then, I voice my second concern: “The 12 minute-mile minimum part worries me.” By April 7th, this whim of a proposal took a serious turn, and LDB promised that “this could change everything about everything.” You had no idea, my friend. By April 8th, I was singing a new tune: “You can count me in. I’ll start putting in some time on the treadmill instead of the elliptical. Running is rough on my knees but I think I can do this if I ease into it.”
So began my running life. As much as I loved running that hill as a kid, that never translated into the more traditional form of recreation enjoyed by so many young adults. I ran track in middle school for exactly two practices before excruciating bursitis (yes, at age 13) ended that. I could sprint the basketball court in high school and found running suicides the best part of practice. None of this inspired me to head out for a jog, save one time I tried to run with a neighbor and realized anything further than the length of basketball court was long distance to me. I made a few more attempts in college, when I was dating a fabulously fit baseball player or when an old friend took it up as a hobby. It never stuck. Lungs burning and legs like lead after a quarter mile, I thought running, well, sucked.
Given this track record, I was anxious that training for the bridge race was destined to end in failure. The Couch 2 5k (C25K) program saved me. I think back now to those initial days (on the dreadmill!) that called for intervals of 90 seconds of running and 2 minutes of walking. Working up to two full minutes of running, then five, then double digits was difficult. I stuck with it, though, and remember when I graduated to road running. It seemed like an epic leap. These training runs took me through the neighborhoods of Greencastle, Indiana, my home at the time. Some days it was the “Alphabet City” run past the high school, others it was around Robe-Ann Park for some hill training. It was a new way of seeing the town and a move toward a more active lifestyle. I took immense pride in my ability to run several miles through the streets and even then looked back to laugh affectionately on those seemingly eternal two-minute interval runs on the treadmill. Heading into the bridge race, I had reached 4 miles but nothing longer. The race would be 5.6.
Running on 3-ish hours of sleep, we awoke at JB’s family cabin in Wolverine, Michigan to drive up for the early start of the race. Five of us toed the line that morning, only one of whom had ever run a race, all of us in various stages of preparation, and one of us negotiating a serious foot injury. A motley running crew if there ever was one. Regrettably, the instigator of this expedition, LDB, wasn’t able to join us. The car was quiet as we snaked through the evergreens, but I seem to recall a collective gasp as the bridge came into view, and you could feel the anticipation hovering in that space. We picked up our packets and hopped onto the school buses that transported us across the bridge to the starting line in the UP. Since it was chip-timed, there was no group start, and runners took off as they were ready. We wished each other well and were off, our pal MM dashing ahead with incredible speed and confidence. In my memory, I see him gliding up the incline of the bridge with such ease, then disappearing over the apex. I wouldn’t see him again until the finish line.
I remember almost every step of this race: the initial climb up the bridge; the fleet young man speeding past us in singlet and speed shorts and giving a thumbs up in support; the guy wearing those crazy toe shoes; the thrill of passing slower runners; the wind burning my cheeks; discovering the thumb holes in my running shirt, which served as much-needed gloves; seeing dawn break over Lake Huron; holding hands with Alexander at the top, and then waving goodbye as I bounded down the decline; that guy who told me there was only 1/2 a mile left to go (liar!); the volunteer sitting in his car at the one aid station, trying to stay warm; turning the final corner and running up to the finish line, the man announcing my name as I crossed, and MM waiting there fully recovered and apparently without having broken a sweat; nearly hyperventilating from the effort; and cheering my friends as they flew in. I was hooked.
The awards ceremony was truly inspiring. The real runners regally strode up to accept their medals, and I laughed in awe and humility when it became clear that, with my current pace, I wouldn’t medal until I reached the 75+ age group. Still, I was proud of my 9:29 pace, which was much faster than I had trained and not bad considering it was the first time I had run over 4 miles. The feeling of accomplishment, and the runner’s high that accompanied it, ensured that this would not go down as a one-off experience.
After the bridge, I sought out 5k races and made them a Saturday routine. I worked on distance, discovered trail running, and built up to my first half marathon in May 2014. Now here I sit, two marathons and a dozen half marathons under my belt, a 50 miler on the horizon, and the drive to conquer even longer distances propelling me forward.
Thank you, LDB. This has changed everything about everything for me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Just for fun, I offer here a few of my favorite lines from facebook posts and email exchanges leading up to my first footrace:
- Started week two of the couch to 5k today, plus kicked up my speed a bit. I hope you all won’t mind that one of us will be a sweaty mess during this event. (April 26, 2012)
- Starting week three and at a 12 minute mile speed. I agree with JB that I’m also getting addicted and find myself wanting to run longer than the couch to 5k program allows (but am sticking to the program, which they emphasize again and again.) (May 3, 2012)
- I’m finding that my endurance is really building up, but I worry what it will be like when I switch from treadmill to road. I’m going to transition out to the track at school as a way to ease into the more realistic conditions of running the bridge. I’m also looking at programs that get you from a 5k to an 8k. Hang in there everyone!
- 2.8 miles uphill, 2.8 miles down, spanning the border between Lakes Michigan and Superior. Hopefully my fear of bridges and heights won’t get in the way! *Make that lakes Michigan and Huron…. I just started running this summer and have never done anything like this before!
- I will be channeling my inner Crystal Wheatley tomorrow as I run my first race ever: an 8k across the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan!
- Thinking of Smith as I prepare for my first race tomorrow: “I knew what the loneliness of the long-distance runner running across country felt like, realizing that as far as I was concerned this feeling was the only honestly and realness there was in the world.”
- You know me well enough to know I didn’t cut class! Instead, I left campus after a full day, then we drove 8 hours to the bridge, had 3.5 hours of sleep, then ran 5.8 miles! I had a 9:29 pace, so not bad for being exhausted!
- JB, you were amazing! I was so excited when I saw you in the home stretch. I really needed this, too. I have been feeling like I’m getting too old for some things, and this has shown me I still have a lot left in me. The fact that the only medal winning woman I outran was the 75 year old lady tells me that I have some training to do for next year! I’m highly motivated to shave 8 minutes off my time for next year!
- It was great, and we all finished with decent times! It turned out to be 5.8 miles, and somehow we ran it faster than we had practiced. Next year, I’m shooting for top three in my age group…