So Thursday night, during J’s soccer practice, I ran outside for the first time in three weeks. It was perfect evening weather, and the sun was out just long enough for me to get in a 5 mile run and still catch the last 15 minutes of practice. After putting the kids to bed, I got a text from my friend L (who happens to also be my boss) about running a half marathon relay with her on Sunday (today) because her friend who’d signed up with her couldn’t do it. I didn’t even really think about it before I said “sure.”
Then I did the math. Half of a half is 6.6 miles. Literally the exact mileage of my longest training run thus far – in AUGUST. I’ve done two 5 mile runs and a whole bunch of runs between 3 and 4. And let’s not forget I’ve only ever done one race. My friend, on the other hand, has been running for 7 years and paces about a full minute faster than I do. Cue anxiety.
I spent last night pretty much not sleeping, and finally got up around 5am to eat and let my stomach calm itself before I headed out the door. H pulled into the driveway with about 30 seconds to spare before I had to head to L’s house to pick her up. It was still dark when L hopped in the car, coffee in hand, and we drove the few miles to the race starting point.
L was taking the first leg, which was totally fine with me because it gave me a chance to settle my nerves and warm up a little before I had to run. I figured she’d finish in about an hour, maybe a touch over, and I took my spot with the other relay runners to wait for her after being dropped off by the squeakiest shuttle bus on the planet. I knew she was wearing black capris and a white hat. Sure enough, right about the 1 hour 15 minute mark, I saw her scanning the relay runners for me. I called her over and then I was off and running.
My plan was to stick with my training intervals – 3 min running/1 min walking – along with a 5 minute warm up. The first part of the second leg of the race was a fairly narrow trail, which made it hard for me to figure out my bearings in terms of pace. I let a couple of intervals go by before I really checked on my average pace and I was off much faster than I had planned. I really wanted to try and slow things down off the bat so that I didn’t burn out by the end. No such luck. When I do 5k training runs I average around 11:15/per mile. My first mile was about 10:20. As I approached the three mile mark, my pace had fallen off, but only slightly. I started to realize I might actually be able to maintain a sub-11 min mile average for the whole thing. I knew I needed to slow down because I could tell I would burn out, but every time I tried, my pace seemed to only slow ever so slightly, so I just decided to go with it.
At about the same point I realized my pace was sub-11, I came up on a runner who was wearing a pink shirt with writing on the back. It said, “I wear pink for the fighters, the survivors, and the taken.” I almost completely lost it right there. There were a few points where I almost started to cry, and I couldn’t even tell you completely why. The only other one I was conscious of the reasoning was at the .25 mile left mark, because the race organizers had put a big “almost there” arch and a TON of people were parked there cheering all the runners on. It was at that point I pulled my headphones out of my ears and just took the end of it in.
I knew our friend was going to try to bring the kids to the finish, and it was about this .25 mile point that I started scanning for them. I wasn’t sure where they’d be. I was also starting to run out of steam. Because I’d pulled my headphones out I had no idea where I was supposed to be interval-wise, but I knew I needed to slow it down for a few minutes because I really wanted to be running through the finish. I could see how the course curved around to the end so I figured I’d hold off on taking off again until I rounded the corner. As I approached mile 13 (or mile 6.5 for me) I was in full run as I passed by T and my kids. T was yelling for me and N was looking for me and J was waving at me. I waved until I could tell N registered it was me and then pushed the last .10.
I’m not even sure how I ran the last .10. As soon as I was given a finisher medal (a cowbell!) and some water I walked to the gathering area to look for L and T and the kids. I ended up walking back to the mile 13 marker to be with the kids and L met us over there. The kids handed me notes they’d written for me telling me how proud they were of me, and they almost made me cry. I hadn’t planned on them being there and it really meant a lot that T brought them. It was really awesome to see familiar faces at the finish and to know they were cheering for me.
Apparently the lead bike with the first wave, the one that L was in, did an extra loop and added about .64 miles to the course. We weren’t running to win any awards or anything, and our times weren’t super important to us. But it did mess with her head a little when her watch was way off of what the course was telling her. The funny thing was we both ran our legs of the race in an hour and 12 minutes. The awesome thing was she was worried she wouldn’t be able to finish and she more than finished! And I blew through some of my best times. I managed to hit 5k in 33:07, more than a full minute faster than my 5k race, and I hit 10k in 1:06. Plus I had my fastest mile at 10:33. I’m not ready yet for the full thing, but I feel better knowing I can do half of it and I’ve only been running since June.
So there you have it. Maybe doing a race last minute is a good thing sometimes – there wasn’t much time to have a ton of anxiety over it. I just went out and did it. I’m definitely paying for it. My legs and my feet are hurting and I’m completely wiped out. But what better reason for being sore than from running my best!