I was always told as a kid that Hell was “downward” and Heaven was “upward”. I don’t really know why I was told down=Hell and up=Heaven, but I just kind of ran with it as a kid. The funny thing is that those nuns that created such stigma’s had never participated in the Pier to Peak.
I love doing those things that society has told us we “should not” or “could not” do. As long as there are those people out there telling me I can’t do something, I will be happy. Why? Because shutting them up could not feel any better.
Some of the things I have done that I “should not” or “could not” do have led to the best feelings and experiences in my life. Two that come to mind are finding a secluded sunset beach through this clearly marked ‘Dangerous’ forest area of Australia in 2005 and another was sitting on the edge of Half Dome in Yosemite in 2006. Both of which were exhilarating and memorable.
Another activity that I have been told I “should not” and “could not” do has been the Pier to Peak World’s Toughest Half Marathon in Santa Barbara, California. It takes place every Labor Day weekend on Sunday and starts at the dolphins of the pier and goes to La Cumbre Peak sitting at about 3,996 feet. That’s 13.1 miles of continuous uphill torture.
My first Pier to Peak (P2P) was in the summer of 2007. I was in decent shape and did fairly well with a support group of one. There were and are some great views throughout the race as the sun rises from the East and when you get to the top, you have this beautiful view of Santa Barbara including the pier where you started. 2008 was also a great year as there was a cloud blanket sitting over Santa Barbara and we came out of it around mile 6, which I must say was pretty cool.
Well, this was my third year. I am definitely not in shape as my focus and energy since arriving home from Australia in July has been off and on. I am 15 pounds over my general training weight and I haven’t conditioned all that well. Those are what I call excuses for my laziness and lack of focus.
I decided to sit back and try not to kill myself in the first 2 miles. I wanted to run a 10 minute pace, but went out fast and had an 8:15 after the first mile. That was my first of many mistakes to come.
A great thing to do as a long distance runner is to put on Body Glide which is a Vaseline-like lubricant that comes in a deodorant-like tube. It prevents chaffing between the legs and armpits and can be put on your nipples to prevent them from bleeding. Doesn’t that ‘bleeding nipples’ part just make you want to jump up and become a long distance runner. If I would have known that such was the case 4 years ago when I started long distance running, I doubt I would have continued. Anyways, I obviously forgot to put it on in the rushed morning. Luckily, I had my girlfriend, who was part of my 4 person crew, give it to me around mile 3 and that probably saved a lot of pain or more pain I should say.
Unlike last year when there were wildfires and very hot temperatures, I could not blame my exhaustion on such uncontrollable events. The weather was beautiful and the sunrise was as gorgeous as ever. Damn you beautiful weather, dammmmmn you!
I continued skyward with the same hopes and dreams as every other year. I always think that it will get easier. But it never does and I am too stubborn to realize my idiocy. Every switchback reveals more pain to come. Sometimes during the race each year, I just laugh at how ridiculous we runners are at times. We always want to push our limits in good times and bad.
One of the best parts comes right after the 7 mile marker. There is a hair-point turn that everyone who is following the runners parks and cheers at. This can be extremely motivating as much of the tough climb is around this part. Just as in life, this is one point that I always look forward to seeing.
Much of this year included ‘The Shuffle’. Not so much walking and definitely shouldn’t be considered jogging, but I am more than certain it is a forward-minded shuffle. I implemented ‘The Shuffle’ numerous times. All I could think about was the quote from Dean Karnazes of, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” With each shuffle, I could sadly see my future of being that 80 year old finishing a marathon in a brisk 8 hours. But, hey, whatever works, now and then.
A true highlight this year was being shot. There was a family of 5, if my clairvoyant mind was clear at that moment remembers correctly, that included two little women shooting us runners with water guns. The spritz would have been much more appreciated had it not been for the steep climb we had just endured and were continuing forward. I apologize now two those two cute little girls for my grim-looking demeanor. Hopefully, their parents read this and reassure them that the scary, tall, lanky white guy with the frown really wasn’t a bad man.
The most deceiving part of the whole race is mile 11 dead on. At that point, the mountain appears to be kind. You are running downhill for a quarter mile and then flat for a half mile and then downhill for a quarter mile. It feels amazing and freeing and then reality hits. Mile marker 12 is at the bottom of stairs. Well, not really stairs, but think of how steep stairs are. Yeah, that’s sadly what I am talking about. Your hamstrings and thighs freeze up and cringe in pain and you are back to ‘The Shuffle’. If you thought jogging up hill was bad, try running uphill for 11 miles, then stop and go downhill for a mile then go straight uphill. Worst. Pain. Ever.
Thanks to the trusty old ‘Shuffle’ I just slowly made my way up the last 1.1 miles. The last .1 mile is this winding way of the peak with people cheering and a tremendous view. I, usually, run this. HA! Not this year. I jogged up towards the finish line and about 15 feet from the end my thighs cramped like never before. It literally felt like someone took a knife, was stabbing my leg and twisting each time I lifted and stretched my leg. Let me repeat that bit, knife…stabbing…leg. I continued across the finish line in agony and headed straight for the FREE Michelob Ultra and licorice along with other tasty treats.
This year, time was not my goal. Finishing, however, was. I did so in just over two and a half hours. Mind you, I am a one and a half hour half marathon runner in normal, you know non-suicidal instances. But, I finished with a great crew to see the beauty that is of a challenge. The view from the top is always sweeter when you know you worked as hard as possible to get there.
I love finishing this race each year. It just reminds me of what I can accomplish. Sometimes, mainly this experience, I do things that I am not prepared for and probably should reconsider. Every time I cross that finish line, it reassures me that I can do anything and everything. The “should not’s and “could not’s” are shown that anything can be done if you truly want that thing. Even if that thing includes a Sunday morning stroll through Hell.
If you want, you can check out a few more pictures from this year’s race here.
What has been your toughest physical challenge in life? What are the fitness and health benefits that came from accomplishing such? Click here to leave your thoughts and comments.
Challenge yourself today….