Missed Part One?
…And boy was I on the way up again.
Back up the highway for what seemed like forever in the blazing sun and stifling humidity. I was alone, again, the volunteers far behind me. It was here that I had to walk – for the first time. Even though I had only run about four miles up to this point, they felt like the longest four miles I had ever run. “Sure,” I thought, “I’ve said that before and I’ve made it through this before.” But, it was different. And harder. And I just wanted it to be over. To my right, I could see the banks of the Mississippi and the river itself. It was beautiful and I thought about how refreshing it would be to jump in. Maybe I should make the race a triathlon and just swim back to town.
I continued to walk briskly up Highway 79, my arms swinging fervently at my sides as I focused on lengthening my strides in an attempt to cover as much ground as possible. Along the way, I passed a police officer who clapped as I went by, a road crew worker who nodded, waiting patiently to re-open the road to traffic, and the race director herself (who I recognized from publicity photos) driving a golf cart who cut the engine to ask me how I was holding up. I was passed by a speed walker who left me in his dust as he trucked up the hill like he had done it a hundred times before, and probably had.
As I reached the top of the hill at a 15:28 pace and started down the other side again, I saw the 5K turnaround as it came into view complete with water stop and the entrance to Lover’s Leap. The trees at the gated entrance, open now on race day, created a well-shaded canopy over the roughly paved trail and I could just barely see the sharp incline that began almost immediately upon entering. The team of volunteers greeted me eagerly and we armed with water and more icy towels, which I gratefully accepted before turning off the road to climb Lover’s Leap. I couldn’t believe this hill was last and then reconsidered my astonishment – if it was first, no one would finish the race.
Lover’s Leap is located on the southeast edge of Hannibal. It is believed to have been named in 1840, this high bluff comprised primarily of limestone and shale inspired local legends involving an Indian maiden who commits suicide with her lover or jumps to her death to avoid marrying a warrior she despises. It is now a 5 acre city park and the stone cliff is fenced off to prevent modern lovers or others from jumping.
The incline begins almost immediately and is steep, and while I tackled it with a jogging start and every intention to run to the stop, I made it about 6 feet before I once again had to walk up the hill. The trees provided minimal shelter from the sun, but not did do anything to decrease heat and humidity that clung hung in the air. It was hard to breath and I was not amused at the time by the signs boasting words of “encouragement” that lined the pathway. They said, “For free oxygen, breathe deep” and “The hill didn’t look that bad from below – did it?” and “Did you see that kid pass you?” and “You really think you were going to medal?” and “All this for a T-shirt?” If my head, I answered each question – “I am breathing deep and I still can’t breath” and “Yes! The hill looked horrible from below.” Then, I started answering them out loud, “Yes I saw everyone pass me, even the kids, “and “Hell no, I was never going to medal,” and “I know, right? What some people will do for a T-Shirt.”
The hill wound up and up and up and eventually I head the chattering of volunteers and kids laughing and screaming as I rounded another corner. People were perched on the guardrails cheering me on and telling me what a great job I was doing. I thanked them and told them “in Ohio, where I’m from, we don’t have these kinds of hills.” They all laughed hysterically and I thought maybe I should try my luck and stand-up comedy instead of racing.
At a painfully slow pace, I passed one more sign that said, “Yes, there is a Cannibal,” and I was at the summit. The festivities there were grand; too bad it wasn’t the end of the race! Five and six year-olds came charging at me with ice cold misters and sprayed me down from every angle possible. People were clapping and cheering and they handed me a whole water bottle that was icy to the touch. I scanned the small turn-around and behind the water table, I saw the cliff that jetted out over the forest and appeared to hang right over the Mississippi itself. I didn’t see the Cannibal, of course, and I later found out he hitched a ride back to town for the awards ceremony.
This reminded me, I wasn’t even done with the race! I drank some water, got misted again and headed down the Lover’s Leap trail back the 79 and then into town to finish. Having just recovered from shin splints, the run down the hill was more than painful but I ran it nonetheless. I passed two others on my down – a walker and a runner – and I told both they were really “almost there” this time. I know that neither one believed me.
Back on the highway, the volunteers from before let up a grand “Harrah!” at seeing that I had made it not only up, but back down and sent me on my way back into town where I could hear cheering and music. I must be close. I was determined, I was running, and I was flying to the finish when I heard someone say, “Taking a shortcut here, miss?” My concentration shattered I looked up and almost plowed into a deputy sheriff who was standing in front of a road barricade directly behind him. I winced, out of breath to say the least and exclaimed, “No! I want to finish the race! I’m from Ohio so I don’t know which way to go! That’s the way we came from!” He laughed and said, “Oh, sorry, nope! You want to go that way to finish!” as he pointed away from the roadblock. I thanked him and away I went, using every last bit of energy I had to regain my focus.
Around one more corner and I entered the town, through the back way, running hard and fast to the Finish Line, which I could now see. My mind became a broken record of, “Don’t stop, you’re almost there. Just Run. Don’t Stop. Don’t think.” I was suddenly uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity of the street I was running on and I found myself scanning the crowd for a familiar face. From out of nowhere, my husband had found me and he leaped onto the course, camera in hand to capture the perfect shot, and started running beside me. “God job, hon,” he hollered above the music, “You’re almost there!” All I could say was, “I think I will throw up or just die now.” He ran beside me until I got to the line, whooping and hollering the whole way. I crossed the Finish Line, and then I crossed it again when I realized I hadn’t gone far enough. I stumbled around for a minute, people were grabbing my elbows and pushing water into my hands, and then my husband found me and lead me like an injured animal to another mister. “I got some good shots!” he said over and over again. “Right,” I thought, “I’m sure I look exceptional.”
I saw the two racers I passed on Lover’s Leap as they came down the street to the Finish Line and I cheered for them wholeheartedly, “See! See! I told you you’re almost there!” but I don’t think they heard me. I saw the Cannibal in all his glory, dancing on the podium stage as the winners were crowned with straw hats or bonnets according to gender. I saw Tom and Becky posing for pictures with the winners of the kids run, them being not much older themselves. And everywhere I looked, I saw the people of Hannibal talking about Lover’s Leap and all they had experienced running up that hill. I heard then talking about their accomplishments and disappointments, and their overwhelming sense of pride at finishing the Cannibal. I smiled, my eyes ever so slightly brimming with tears, as I thought how I was a part of the race and of Hannibal too.
And then, just as quickly as I had started the little race on the banks of the Mississippi during the hottest month of the year, I was finished. Away we went, my husband and me, back to our car, the air conditioning, and bug-free comfort.
So, did the Cannibal eat me up? Yes! But, I finished and finished running and for me, that’s just enough to say I survived.