The waves rock with cheers from the crowd and my stomach flips. The ferry attendant circles us with barf bags to the echoed sounds of their laughter. My nerves are uneasy as I close my eyes to tune out the distractions while reflecting on my journey. It has been a year since my last race when I attempted a marathon. I lost my motivation to train when I did not finish the race and quit running altogether for over six months. In late June I decided to set a goal and return to training for a half marathon. We picked the Great Turtle Run on Mackinac Island for the last weekend in October as a Fall weekend vacation. While it hadn’t been easy, I put in the hard work on many hot and humid summer days to attack my running comeback with renewed enthusiasm.
In the weeks leading up to race day, I could not have been more ready to run. Yet doubts clouded my mindset on the rough waters to Mackinac Island as I fixated on how many layers I should wear in 35-degree weather with rain and high winds. Setting foot on land with a couple hours to spare, I settled on picking up a $5.00 Great Turtle vintage sweatshirt as a peel-away layer in the cold and wet elements. This race signified my return to running and I was going to give it everything I had despite it all.
The race set off as many do in a herd of thundering feet scrambling to find their pace. I resisted the urge to take off on the straight-away along the water. Gusts of wind sprayed waves of Lake Huron ashore entertaining my thoughts for the first couple of miles. The runners made a left turn ahead into the woods and the landscape transitioned into a spectrum of fall colors. This is the part of the race where I made the realization that it was named the Great Turtle “Trail” Run for a reason. I simply was not accustomed to the ranging elevation on these trails. One small hill after another took a toll on my pacing and I struggled to regain my speed. The rain had also been battering the island long enough over the past 24 hours that I had to take caution not to slide in the mud.
I saw my time slipping by and took a check in on my mentality. I had worked too hard to let these obstacles overcome my attitude. I looked from side to side as I ran downhill appreciating where I was at that moment. I was running a half marathon and it was kicking my rear but I was so happy to be out here on these beautiful and brutal trails. Occasionally a horse-drawn carriage would make its presence known and I would chuckle as the runners merged into a single-file line giving the horses the right-of-way.
I was not cutting my mile marker splits so I made a promise to myself to try as hard as I could to finish this race with speed and purpose. I just had to hang on and keep moving forward on the hills. Whenever I felt my pace lag, I would initiate a fartlek speed burst to stay in the game. The course took us all around the trails of Mackinac Island State Park and the historic Fort Mackinac. I bumbled through a series of hills leading to the top of Arch Rock where the sky opened up and it seemed like I could see the whole world from this vantage point. Right before Mile 10, we paraded the neighborhood streets from the woods downhill to our final stretch. The straight-away on Lakeshore Drive that I had loved so much at the beginning of the race became my worst nightmare running into a wall of headwind coming off of the water. While the road was now completely flat, it felt like my feet were running in place as I pushed through the longest stretch of the day. The finish line never looked so good as I charged ahead with my husband’s cheers in a bright red jacket echoed through my peripheral vision.
I wasn’t anywhere close to my personal record but I had come to Mackinac Island and finished a half marathon in miserable conditions. I took pride in my return to running and celebrated the weekend with my husband on our mini-vacation. In the past few weeks following the Great Turtle Run, I have continued to run outside as the seasons merge from cool air to slick roads. My joy for running is fueled with a hunger to maintain the running base that I worked so hard to rebuild and take another stab at the half in the spring. I am thankful for my friends Jake, Ed, Jerry, and Derek for their loving support in my running comeback.
Derek and Ashley’s first run together in the snow for 2018!