Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Monkey Business

From the moment you begin to consider a registration for the selection lottery for the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon, a process so tightly lipped that even the organizers can't tell you how it actually works, you begin to hear that this is probably the worst decision you will ever make in your running career.

And yet many return, year after year. Word on the street is that these folks have been hypnotized and their souls taken over by overprotective Flying Monkeys. Although this claim cannot be corroborated because as the story goes, no one has actually seen a real live Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey. It is said that the runners keep returning to look for vengeance. Or so they think.

But do these Monkeys really exist or is this simply a myth? Ask any one of the 300+ runners that venture into these sacred grounds each year and they'll tell you that they believe, otherwise why would they return once and again?

My first encounter with "the Monkey", as we lovingly refer to it around this neck of the woods, was last year. It happened two short weeks after running the New York City Marathon. I was in great running shape, but my legs were tired. From what I remember, It was a very cold and miserable November morning. The temperature at the start was a mere 17f and it appeared to be dropping. My time, not that it mattered, was just shy of forever.

During the weeks leading up to race day, we would receive very motivating emails from race director Trent (I will not use his real name to protect his identity), a person which by the way, we have learned to hate. These emails would leave the door open for anyone that wanted to pull out to do so. Not sure anyone did. Cannot imagine anyone, for any reason other than injury, taking the easy way out. These emails would also remind us in no uncertain terms that "Running Is Stupid". Well, not in any uncertain terms, he would actually come out and tell us this.

Oh yeah, we were indoctrinated with the idea that you in fact, cannot train for the Monkey. We would soon find out the truth in this statement.

The course boasts an elevation change of some 7,200 ft. Give or take a hundred or two. From experience, I would tell you that you could probably give instead of taking a hundred or two. Also from experience, I can positively tell you that there are no "flats" on this course, to speak of. Okay, maybe just one. Started at mile 16.001 and it went through to mile 16.010. At one point in the race I remember, but its somewhat blurry, hearing voices from what it appeared to be coming from up above. I looked there and some 3 to 4 stories high there were runners. I also remember thinking that somehow I had to get there. From here.

All week leading to the race this year, the weather forecast was not favorable. Not favorable I say if you think that rain and thunderstorms would put a damper on the run. But as luck would have it, it rained sporadically and when it did, it was not a big deal. We did get wet, but this just added to the story line of the day.

Photo Credit: Keith Steiner
I have to confess that if you look around at the race participants, you compare their experience and abilities to mine, you would scratch your head and wonder what in the world I'm doing there. After two completed Monkeys I still ask myself that question.

Perhaps is the fact that this race is run for the sake of running. No Age Groups, no records that mean anything, no qualifying for anything, nothing. You run because you love to run. You run because it's really and truly a personal challenge. You run because you get a cool tech tee shirt with a "monkey" on the sleeve for each "monkey" you have finished, you get a pretty cool medal and a finishers beverage cup. Oh yeah, you also get bragging rights; you entered, you ran, you survived and you finished the "Monkey". You lived to write about it.

Photo Credit: Elly Foster
My day went just as expected. It hurt. It hurt bad. Not most of the time... all of the time. There were no walls to hit, because the entire race was a huge wall. But as luck would have it, every time I saw a photographer, I managed to squeeze a smile. Miles 0-16 went without much consequence. Around mile 17 I kept thinking of my friends at the aid / water stop on mile 23. This kept me going. Knowing that they would be there waiting for me, (because everyone else from our group had already gone by) was a huge motivator. My wife Monica and daughter Juliana would be there as well. I couldn't let them see me hurting. So, I kept going.

Monica and my friend Skip were waiting for me about .5 mile before the station. Their presence was a God sent. It was awesome to see them there. Plus, it meant I was that close to mm 23, just 3.2 short miles to go. And just as expected the music, the yelling, screaming, hooting and hollering from the Hendersonville Running Club water stop was phenomenal. Juliana's high-five sent me over the top. I drank a flat cola. That's all I wanted.

Photo Credit: Keith Steiner
And I was on my way. To the finish line. 3.2 miles to go. That's all. 3.2 miles to go. Dang, they were long. They were tough and they hurt. But when it was all said and done, I entered the finishing area and all my friends were waiting. I wanted to walk because honestly I couldn't run any longer, but I didn't. I couldn't let them see me hurting.

I returned to normal walking about three days and three toe nails later. The pain and anguish of those hills are now a faded memory. So what about next year? Well, provided that I make it through the top secret selection committee, I will be back. For a third go at it. Hills? What Hills? Pain? What Pain? Train? You can't. Why? Because Running IS Stupid.