Holy cow it’s been a busy couple of days! I promised a race report, and here we go.
The race started and finished at the local Triple A ballpark. Luckily, it’s very close by my house. Unluckily for H, she had to work the night before, so she got drafted to drive me to the starting point after her 10 hour shift (at 6am mind you). She pulled up to the stadium only for us to find a huge line of cars. I told her to let me go ahead and walk the rest of the way so she could go home and get some rest.
I made my way to the stadium gates as the sun was just beginning to come up. It was cold (for this California girl anway), and I hung out on the concourse waiting to hear from my friend and former boss. She was running the race with her daughter. I made small talk with another woman waiting alone and we discovered that we had friends in common. While this wouldn’t normally be unusual in our town, we actually discovered we had friends in common from 500 miles away where we both went to high school and college! Crazy small world.
My friend and her daughter arrived and we made our way to the outside of the stadium where the actual starting line was. They were beginning in an earlier wave than I was, so we only got to hang out for about 15 minutes before their wave was getting set to go. I was alone again with my nerves and fears.
I’d checked my running jacket at the sweat check because I knew it was going to warm up and I didn’t want to run with it around my waist. But it was still really chilly. They called the last wave to the corral and we all started to push forward. I had my headphone (I only wear it in one ear so I can hear what’s going on around me) and my GPS watch ready to go as we watched the timer countdown. The first wave of racers had been on the course now for 45 minutes. 10 minutes almost to the minute before my wave was set to go, I received a text from my friend J, who had completed her first half marathon across the country. “Tag, you’re it” she said.
The first leg of the course was crowded. We all had to go over the bridge before we really could spread out and separate from one another. I was running 2/1 intervals and on every running interval I was fighting with my capris. I’d committed the cardinal sin of racing – wearing something new on race day. But I’d had good reason. I’d originally intended to wear my running skirt. But after three weeks of waiting and waiting for the period that never came after the cycle that never was, I had started literally less than 12 hours before race time. I was certain that wearing my skirt or even any of my shorts would be a recipe for a potentially embarrassing incident so I opted for my new capris. For almost 3 miles I spent every walk interval tugging at my waistband, willing my pants to stay put. Finally I think I sweat enough that they just stuck where they were.
At about mile 4 I was starting to feel like this was do-able. I was settling in. From behind me another runner about my height and pace approached me on one of my walking intervals and said “Are you running intervals?” I said I was, and she told me how her training partner had gone off in one of the earlier waves and she hadn’t realized how strict they were going to be about not letting you switch waves on race day. So she’d been left to her own devices after training with someone for the last 8 weeks. She asked what intervals I was running and I said 2/1. “Oh,” she said, “I’m running 1/1’s.” I’m not normally one who likes to run with someone else, but for some reason, I said, “I’ll run 1/1 with you for a bit.” She looked surprised and said “Are you sure?” “Yes,” I said, and we took off on the next beep of her timer.
By this point I was ignoring my interval cues but still had my running playlist on in my right ear while she ran on my left side and we chatted off and on. We talked about why we’d started running and our careers and our families. I’m not used to talking when I train, so the extra exertion was really starting to tire me out sooner than I expected. We both agreed to stop talking for a bit, especially since around mile 6 both of our knees started to give us trouble. I’d never really had many issues with my knees in training but for some reason I recognized the pain as what I’d read IT band pain was like. It started to get to a point on the running intervals where I was limping while I ran and I was becoming scared I wouldn’t finish. We stopped to stretch for a minute, and stretched out a couple of our walk intervals to rest things. The “mostly flat” course was really not, and some of the bigger inclines really caused pain.
At about mile 8 we were both lamenting our knees but celebrating being over halfway finished. I told her about my brother’s friend’s wife – a 27 year old young woman battling advanced melanoma. I said, “If she can get up every morning with a smile on her face, we can finish this.” She agreed. “We got this,” I said. “Ready?” And off we ran again, through Old Town, by a crowd of supporters cheering us on.
Midway through mile 11, I could feel my hands swelling. This had never happened to me before. I’d been fueling along the way with Gu, and was getting close to being out of water, but I didn’t really feel dehydrated. My new friend told me this happened to her on her longer runs. As we approached the mile 11’s mile marker, I told her, “I think I’m going to walk for a bit, you go ahead.” She asked if I was sure, and I said I was. As I wiped my hand across my mouth, I tasted salt. I could tell I was getting dehydrated, despite continually drinking and fueling. As she ran, I thought I may be able to catch up to her, but I watched her get further and further away from me. As I hit mile 12, I texted H to let her know I was close, but that I was walking. (Mind you, I was still walking fast – in the 14 minute per mile pace). She responded but I was struggling with the extra effort it was taking to text and focus on finishing, plus my battery on my phone was dying.
I looked at my GPS watch, and I calculated my pace plus the amount of distance I had left and figured out I could still make my goal of finishing in under three hours. As I rounded the last corner before going into the stadium, I saw my best friend and her daughter. I half smiled, and silently cursed myself for not having been running when I saw them. But I knew I was spent, and I wanted to run across the finish line. As I came around the corner onto the track on the field I started scanning the seats for H and the kids. As I got closer to the finish I could see H holding N waving at me. I started running and I caught sight of J (who I later learned was feeling really under the weather) who half smiled and half waved at me.
I realized as I crossed the finish that they were corralling all the runners up an aisle in the stands, which meant a decent flight of stairs before meeting up with my family and friends. I joked to whoever was around me that having to walk stairs after finishing 13.1 seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. I looked for my running buddy, but she was nowhere to be found.
I bought my silver finisher’s necklace (the one I promised I’d buy if I finished the race, but not before as I didn’t want to jinx it) and met up with my group outside the gate. Then I finally sat down and started to cry. All the pain started to catch up with me, and my feet and my knee and my hip all started to scream. I realized, in that moment, I’d done it. I’d actually gone from non-runner to half marathoner in less than a year. 355 miles of training and racing in 9 months had led me across that finish line. And my official time?
2 hours, 56 minutes, 34 seconds.
I wasn’t last, not even in my age group.
As the next couple of days settled down, I did admit to being disappointed with having to walk the last two miles. I felt like I should have been able to keep my pace better. But I finished, and under my time goal, and I managed to do something I’d never done before and was so far outside my comfort zone I am not sure I’m really able to process it yet.
Will I do another? Maybe. Right now I’m glad it’s behind me and that I can focus on some of the other things going on in our life right now. But I have to say I’m so incredibly grateful for the support of my family and friends, and everyone in this space. The texts I got on race day made me feel so loved. My family and best friend being there to cheer me on meant more than I could ever express.
Postscript: I found the woman I ran with on face.book and thanked her for getting me through the race. We’ve promised to stay in touch and hopefully run together once in awhile.