The first punishing hill has already sucked some of the energy from the legs of hundreds of runners as they begin to descend into the cheers of the Strathmore neighborhood. This classic Syracuse neighborhood rings around the picturesque Hiawatha Lake in Onondaga Park. This fourth mile of the demanding 10 mile Mountain Goat course may be the most enjoyable. It's a multi-generational event for families that line streets named Stinard, Strathmore and Roberts.
I had been anticipating this exhilarating portion of the race as I felt a stiff westerly wind in my face during the mile long ascent up Stolp Avenue in mile two. Running the Goat demands proper training just to have the strength and stamina to finish. My training had only started five weeks before the race. Weekly group training runs gave me the confidence that I could finish, but it wouldn't be fast. It would not be easy.
That's why I took advantage of every show of support I could. I waved to the rock band playing on West Onondaga Street wrapped up in gloves, hats and winter coats. I smiled at the chalked notes etched on each hill encouraging runners to forge ahead. I sipped from the cups of Gatorade offered by volunteers at key mile markers.
Then there was Strathmore. That's where my parents had perched themselves along with my aunt and uncle and the rest of the group. I saw them before they saw me. My burst of speed must have fooled them into thinking I was someone else. Their smiles were broad and welcome. I high fived the whole group and petted a couple of dogs. My mother told me I better get going so I wouldn't lose time. I could feel the adrenalin replacing the fatigue.
There were more high fives closer to Onondaga Park from children who wanted to be part of the action. I took every bit of life from them that they could offer. There was still a long way to go. The hill descending out of the park. The flat mile and a half past Kirk Park. Then another mile long ascent up Colvin Street.
Colvin can sap the soul of a runner. I focus on keeping my legs moving and my eyes looking just a few feet ahead. My mind keeps track of the bigger picture without being overwhelmed by the site of the never ending climb. Two-thirds of the way up the hill there is salvation in the form of the Theme from Rocky.
At first I heard a woman singing "Gonna Fly Now". As I drew closer the drum beats grew louder. As I reached the band and passed it I realized there were loaded with seven drum sets all pounding out the beat. I had to resist the urge to break into mimicking Rocky climbing the stairs in Philly as a full third of the Colvin Street hill remained. My emotions simmered under the surface as I realized the joy of being able to run the race.
The final major hill is the Thornden Park water tower. Irish dancers bounced through their routines as I made that approach. The steep, but fairly brief climb was eased again by words of encouragement chalked on the pavement below. Once we reached the top we were just two miles away from the downtown finish line.
One mile down hill, then the final mile on flat ground along Genesee Street, Jefferson and then Salina. Just before the turn form Jefferson to Salina I saw a woman cheering at the top of her lungs waving people around the corner. It was my wife Jamie fully utilizing her cheer leading experience from a few years back. She shouted out to runners of all shape, sizes and ages to keep it going we were near the finish.
She offered me the same boost as I trotted into the final half mile past the Landmark Theatre. The home stretch is only a few blocks. My spirit was strong. My breathing steady. My legs felt - like molten lead. I kept that steady pace going step after step.
One block from the finish race announcer Dan Cummings spotted my bib number and announced I was nearly to the finish line. As soon as I heard my name and knew I was less than 100 yards away I picked up the tempo with whatever energy was left. The finish line cheers gave me yet one more chill.
Familiar faces greeted me on the other side of the finish line. A few high fives, a finisher medal draped around my neck and a fresh bottle of water. I sipped from the bottle then poured the rest on my overheated head. Ahhhhh... I made it. I survived the Mountain Goat.
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