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Chapter 3: The Climb


The gun fired. We jumped. The mass of 600 runners moved across the timing strips and through the giant On arch. The title sponsor of the Cirque Series races.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to walk quite a bit in this race, but I wanted to do my best to push that, so I started out running with the pack. I told myself that I was going to run at least the first mile before I started to walk. I didn't care about pace, just that I was running. I barely made it half a mile before I started to walk.

Holy shit, I thought as I gave my already burning quads a walk break, this is going to take me forever.

The last race I ran was the Austin Half Marathon, which had 13,379 participants between the full, half and 5k, in February of this year so the number of participants in this race was substantially smaller. It's kind of amazing how quickly you fall to the back of the pack when there are only 600 runners in a race that you are totally un-prepared for. Feeling myself rapidly move towards the back was a bit of a humbling experience for me.

The total vertical climb of the race was 2,411' up, and the real kicker is that you have to come back down that same amount of feet. They don't let you ride the ski lifts down the mountain. To be honest, until I started writing this piece, I really didn't have a clue as to how far up that is, so for those of you who are like me, and are at a loss for comparison, the One World Trade Center in NYC (tallest building in the US) stands at just 1,776' tall. My biggest fear wasn't the altitude. I could always just run slower or walk to keep my breath. It was hitting a wall and having nothing left to come back down the mountain because of my legs.

In order to avoid this, it would require me to be very smart about a few things; my race fuel, hydration, overall energy exertion, and my pace uphill.

My half time is 1 hour and 55 minutes, so I figured that with the climb and the altitude I would run the advertised 8.8 miles (my Garmin says I ran 9.5 miles) in that time. Usually if I'm running for more than two hours I know I'm going to want something to snack on. The morning before, I grabbed some Clif Bar Blok Chews from the store. Because I was afraid that my legs would cramp or give out on me I specifically grabbed some chews with extra sodium so help keep my muscles hydrated. You see salt actually helps to pull water to your muscles, so when the sodium is paired with adequate water intake you're far less likely to cramp during competition. I didn't have an exact plan for my race fueling, I just knew that after 45 minutes I would need to assess how my body was feeling.

After walking the rest of mile one I told myself that I would run another half mile before walking again. As my watch buzzed to let me know the mile was completed I picked up my feet and popped along for a total of 100 yards. My quads just couldn't do it. In that moment I knew I needed to back off, so I stopped bargaining with myself and just walked as fast as I could. I was just going to walk when I needed to and jog when I could. My first mile was 15 minutes and my second mile was 20 minutes.

Just before reaching mile 2 the trail crossed in front of the top of a ski lift where my husband and our friend stood cheering me on. My husband has been cheering me through competitions since freshman year at Emporia State and I have NEVER once in my life walked past my cheering husband in a race. I instantly felt compelled to start running, but I had to check my ego, and instead, kept speed walking. Another very humbling moment. The incline was so steep.

Finally, the trail took a sharp turn across an open ski run and we caught some downhill running for a bit. It was such an uplifting feeling! The downhill trot mixed with the view gave me a surge of positive energy. At that point, I'd been preparing myself to walk the entire uphill half of the race. The view was unreal. We were in a bowl surrounded by peaks. I think that one of the most magical attributes of the mountains is their ability to make you feel so small and insignificant. The earth is so wondrous.

From mile 2 to mile 4, the wide open spaces and high mountain walls however, disappeared. The trail naturally funneled all of us runners into a single file line where we trotted along a two foot wide trail on the sheer cliff side. For the next two miles if the person in front of you was walking you walked, and if the person behind you was running you ran. There was hardly any space for passing for fear of accidentally nudging someone off the mountain side.

Of course, this was one of the most breathtaking views of the entire race. We ran through short trees as we slowly rose above the tree line. It may have been the feeling of sudden danger combined with the scenery that maded me feel this way, but this was hands down my favorite stretch of the race. The trail rolled with smooth-short ups and downs along the mountain side and, although we were technically still climbing here, the undulations actually made it easy to stay running. I appreciated the opportunity to be able to run after nearly two miles of walking. It was a good energy boost.

At the one hour mark I decided it was time to eat a chew. When I came to a small uphill stretch where the runners in front of me were walking I quickly ate a chew and drank some water from my hydration pack. I'd been sipping on the water whenever my lips started to feel dry again, which happened to be about every 10 minutes or so, but for this instance I needed a few gulps to get the chew down.

I looked ahead and saw that the trail was taking a sharp switchback where the side of the mountain seemed to end. There was a bit of a line forming as the runners all slowed down to a walk. Another steep slow climb was literally, just around the corner. The last 2 miles to the top. It took me over 40 minutes.

Just before the final ascent to the peak the trail ran past the Zuma Ski Lift, which is the highest lift on the mountain. A group of about 6 people stood passing out water and electrolyte drinks. They looked cold standing in the shade of the mountain. This quarter mile area was relatively flat so I attempted to trot confidently past, however, my efforts were more like a grandpa shuffle.

Mile six was my slowest mile of the entire race. The steepest climb, the final ascent, was just a 400 meter stretch. I was practically crawling to the top. At this point the trail sort of ends and it's just a scramble to the top. All around me, people were stopping to catch their breath, take in the views or cheer on the people headed back down. People were gingerly walking downhill encouraging those of us still going up. A few others were starting to run down. I didn't want to look around until I'd made it to the top. I couldn't stop otherwise I might not start walking again. I was so ready to be done going up hill.

You will not stop walking. You will not stop moving. One foot in front of the other, Sonya.

Just as I felt like my legs couldn't take another uphill step it was over. The uphill climb was over. I'd done it. A very breathy, fuck yea, came out of my mouth.

I actually wanted to collapse to the ground, but there was no room. On the top of the peak there was only enough standing space for about 10 people including the 2 mountain rescue personnel who were there. I took a video, snapped a couple of picks of myself, then stepped over the edge to head back down.

Here we go, I thought, the fun part.


Thanks for reading! I've really loved writing this recap for all of you so far. I hope you are enjoying it too. If you've been enjoying this story, please take a moment to leave me a comment and let me know!

For more content from the race check out my Instagram: SoFast_Sonya

Stay tuned for chapter 4 dropping next week! If you have any questions about an upcoming race or a goal that you'd like to discuss shoot me a quick email HERE

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