This morning’s race was so hard but so rewarding. I almost don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just start at the beginning.
My (AWESOME) parents were my “support team”, which was fantastic. They drove so that I would not have to worry about driving myself home. On the way to the race, I sat in the backseat of car, still a little bit tired and foggy, sending twitter messages from my phone, and doing my best to not think about what I would be doing.
We were a bit annoyed by the lack of signs around this race. This race was across town, in a part of town that we do not visit very often, and we only had a vague idea where we were going. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for the people who came from out of town.
When we finally parked, the first place I went was to the restroom. All those pent up nerves had affected my digestive system, to put it delicately, and besides I did not want to find myself in a position of needing to stop at one of the port-a-potties on the route.
I joined the mass of people milling around near the start/finish line. The race route was sorta lollipop-ish- we would run up Ward Parkway about five miles, then a little bit of a loop around a few blocks, down and back alongside a park, then back down Ward Parkway for another 5 miles. (click here to see a race map.)
This race had pacers from the Runner’s Edge Kansas City, which has a reputation for providing excellent pacers. The pacers were very easy to see, with green shirts and flags representing their times. Feeling optimistic and maybe just a bit crazy, I stood near the the 2:50 pacer. My parents stood nearby, keeping me company while we waited for the race to start.
Before the race- see the pacer behind me?
There wasn’t a very clear “start”, like an air horn, but around 7:30 (right on schedule), people started pressing forward. I gave my mom a kiss, and I was off.
In retrospect, I can say that I definitely started out way too fast. In the beginning of the race, with everyone crowded together, the distance between the pacers was minimal, and not far into the first mile, I found myself keeping step with the 2:45 pacer. I thought that was pretty neat and gee, wouldn’t it be neat to finish my first half marathon in 2:45.
Towards the end of the first mile, I saw my first “casualty”. Kansas City has notoriously bad potholes, and a teenage boy who wasn’t watching his step put his foot right down into a pothole, six to eight inches deep, causing him to take a hard fall. I suspect he also probably twisted his ankle.
But in mile two, I began to have trouble. This was a reasonably flat race, particularly for Kansas City, but mile two was when the first (and biggest!) hill began. It was a very long and gradual incline, and I was struggling to keep up with the 2:45 group. By mile 3 (I told you it was a LONG hill!), I had fallen behind the 2:45 group and was still struggling to keep up with the 2:50 group. Pretty soon after that, I had fallen behind the 2:50 group and was with the 2:55 group. When I fell behind the 2:55 group, I really dug down, and I was able to stay ahead of the 3:00 group for several more miles.
I was struggling so much on this stretch of the race, and this was the first time I started to get emotional. No one warned me to expect mood swings during the race! 🙂 I was pushing myself so hard, but getting so little out of myself. I was thinking, if I’m struggling this much and I’m only 3 or 4 miles into the race, how am I ever going to finish 13.1? With every fiber of my being, I wanted to lay down in the fetal position on the side of the road and just bawl my eyes out… except for that one teeny tiny fiber that told said, I am a runner. I can do this.
Ward Parkway, by the way, was a beautiful and scenic route to run. The road was four or six lanes wide, with a broad median that had been landscaped. At times, a fountain or another pleasant diversion appeared in the median. It was a mostly residential area, and many people came out onto their driveways to cheer us on. There were families with signs, dogs, all kinds of funny things that were very encouraging. Lots of people had signs that said something to the effect of, “I don’t know you but I’m proud of you!” I was already emotional, and seeing those signs made me cry!
Around mile 3, I also ran past a spectator who was dressed like a princess. She wore a pink formal dress, a fur shrug, and a tiara, and she stood in the median giving a “Miss America”-type wave to the runners. That made me laugh!
Late in mile 4, when I was just about convinced that the hill would never end, it did. Suddenly, instead of struggling to keep going uphill, I was going down. It wasn’t a steep downhill, but it was just enough, and powering down that hill gave me the confidence I needed to keep going.
We turned into an even more residential area in mile 5, with more people in their yard cheering us on. Throughout the race, lots of spectators had their dogs on a leash. During mile 5, one fairly large black Labrador turned his back to us, squatted, and pooped, with all his boy parts very visible to us. 🙂 Funny!
During miles six and seven, we ran past Loose Park, which is a reasonably famous park here in Kansas City. It was quite lovely, and I was impressed by the running paths in that park. We also ran past several significant locations from the Battle of Westport, a major Civil War battle that was fought in what is now Kansas City and considered by some to be one of the most important battles west of the Mississippi. I like history, so that was fun.
It was around mile 8, though, that the 3:00 pace group passed me. I had been trying very hard to stay ahead of them, but at this point I was just too empty to try to go beyond them. My goal changed from “finishing in less than 3 hours” to just “finishing”. To my knowledge, I’ve never “bonked” or “hit the wall” before, so I don’t really know what that feels like, but that might have been what happened. I was tired and had a severe case of “lead legs”.
Around this time, on one of the stretches where we’d run down a road and back up it (thus passing the people before/after us), two people who were BEHIND me hollered at me that I was doing great. Again, more tears- I couldn’t believe that these total strangers, who were BEHIND me, were cheering for me!
Another racer wore a t-shirt with a quote from some famous runner that said something like, “The question we all must ask ourselves is, can I dig a little bit deeper? The answer is usually yes.” That gave me the push I needed to keep going a little farther.
My parents had planned to meet me about halfway into the race. The weather has been fickle lately, though it seemed to be fairly nice today, so I wore a pair of shorts and a tank top, with a long sleeved t-shirt on top of the tank top. I pinned my bib to the tank top, expecting that about halfway through the race I would ditch the t-shirt and finish the race in shorts and a tank top. I knew, though, that we were not too familiar with this part of town, and that the race route was a little strange, so I wasn’t too surprised when I didn’t see them during miles 5, 6, or 7. I took off my t-shirt and tied it around my shoulders.
During mile 8, I turned a corner and was DELIGHTED to see my parents a block ahead, cheering for me. I ran up to them and gave them my t-shirt. Mom asked me if I wanted to go back the “easy” way- to DNF and get in the car. I won’t lie- that was VERY tempting, and the thought had already crossed my mind more than once. But I told her, no, it was harder than I had expected but I was going to cross the finish line, even if I had to walk the rest of the way.
Still alive. Still upright. Barely!!
The next few miles are a bit of a blur. I had fallen far behind most of the runners. In my head, though, I focused on a story that my sister had told me about a friend of hers. This friend is also a runner, and recently ran in a smallish 10k race- probably something similar to my Pilgrim Pacer run last November. In this race, she was the last one to finish, but she still set a personal record. I thought, if she can be the last person to finish a race and still set a record, then it’s okay if I’m the last person to finish this race, as long as I FINISH. I wasn’t the last person to finish the race, but I got a lot of encouragement from that.
Throughout miles 9, 10, and 11, my legs were struggling, but I forced myself to run for short bursts- running one block, for example, or running to a particular tree/sign/car up ahead. I tried to thank all of the police officers who were stopping and directing traffic as I passed- I know they are paid to be there, but I still appreciated their skill in directing the traffic and protecting us.
Mile 9 was when I first started to notice some chafing in my armpits. That was new- I’d never experienced chafing there before, probably because I did most of my training when the weather was cool enough for long sleeves. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad. I was also experiencing a little bit of chafing between my legs, which was expected- because I’ve had that problem before, I had slathered some “udder cream” on my thighs which largely took care of the problem, although by the end of the race it was starting to wear off. Thankfully none of the chafing ever got severe enough to really interfere with my race.
During mile 10, I was almost run down by a car. If I wasn’t so tired, it would’ve been funny- this particular driver was totally clueless to the directions she was getting from several police officers, and I was very nearly tackled by a police officer who was trying to protect me. 🙂
In mile 11, I saw the Princess again- the woman who had dressed in the pink formal, fur shrug, and tiara. This time, the runners were far more stretched out, and she was talking on a cell phone as I passed. She seemed to remember me, though- something in her face and the way she waved to me. Every little bit helped.
Once I hit mile 12, I took off. My feet were screaming and everything in my body told me to slow down, but my head pushed me forward. There were two runners ahead of me, and I decided to see if I could pass them. One by one, I did. As I neared the finish line, again I saw my parents, cheering me on. My dad came out onto the track and ran alongside me for a distance.
When I hit the mile 13 sign, with only a tenth of a mile left, I forced myself to not only run, but to run fast- to run as fast as I could all the way to the finish line. Even with just a few feet before I reached the finish line, my feet and legs were just screaming at me to slow down.
To my surprise, as I crossed the finish line, an announcer called out my name. I powered across the finish line and then just stopped. I was very glad that they had not taken down the finish line- prior to the race, I was not sure if I would be able to get my chip time if my race ran longer than 3 hours. The official timer was above the finish line and I was pleased to see that it read something like 3:20. I knew I’d crossed the start line about four or five minutes after the “gun time”, so I figured that meant I’d managed a good time.
Across the finish line
A finisher’s medal was thrust into my hands, followed by a bottle of water. A man asked if he could take the chip timer off of my shoe, to which I could only nod. My father, and then my mother, caught up with me and gave me big sweaty hugs. I was honestly surprised that I wasn’t bursting into tears, given how emotional the race had been, and I was so pleased that I’d fought through so many moments when I was so tempted to quit.
With my hard-earned medal. Trying to be enthusiastic but mostly not succeeding!
We walked a bit farther up the road, where a small post-race festival was taking place. I got a banana, then I (well, all of us) got free samples of pizza from a Papa Murphy’s tent and free cups of fruit from a Chick Fil A tent. We took a few more photos, then walked back towards the finish line, where I was able to get my chip time: 3:16:04.3. Definitely a good time for a first half marathon!
I was physically exhausted, but emotionally I’m just over the moon. I’m so pleased that I finished and that I fought through it all the way. I definitely still have more to learn- namely, the issue of mid-race fuel- but that doesn’t take away from this accomplishment!