The first year, I hadn't planned to run a race at all that day. I signed up spontaneously and had a great time... but the hills kicked my butt.
The second year, I slacked off on my training and suffered for it. Despite a tough race, I came home with a second place trophy for my age group and promised myself that in year three, I'd be prepared.
That brings us to that third year. Thanks to the injury in my shin, I was lucky to be able to run at all, much less train hard on hills and rock it out like I'd planned to.
Still, I took the line feeling excited. I had a new plan: run a smart, tough race. Four miles would be the longest I'd run since my ill-fated
The first mile featured a few giant downhills, which I used to build up momentum and zip up some uphills. It was one of the easier miles of the course, so I ran the whole thing in a surprisingly fast 9:05.
Shortly after the first mile marker was one of those gradual uphills. I did a brisk walk in the middle for 9:36. It must have been a short break.
By the third mile, the course was getting tougher and I was getting more tired. A couple of walk breaks slowed me to 10:06.
Mile four is the toughest of the course and was also my slowest at 10:15. With half a mile to go, runners head up a very steep hill, and just when you think it's over, the trail turns and you're confronted with yet more trail. I leapfrogged back and forth with several other runners, all of us trying to find a sustainable pace.
When we were finally (and literally) out of the woods, I told myself that with just a short amount left - and all of it flat - it was time to reel in and pass some runners. My first target was a woman in a black jacket who had been in my bubble for the entire race. I passed her and worked hard to keep up my pace so she'd stay behind me. Then I went after a young woman whose purple shirt had been ahead of me for the entire race. Passed!
I crossed the finish line in 39:02. It was the slowest I've ever run the Hawk Hustle - and the proudest I've been. While I was injured, one of the things I missed most was being able to challenge myself physically. To do something that I knew would be hard, and to tackle it. Finally, I was able to do that again, to dig deep and to push through.
That feeling was a victory for me. As icing on the cake, my efforts were good enough for a second place age group trophy. That trophy will remind me of how good hard work feels.