When my alarm went off at 5:15am, the first thought that popped into my head was a half-prayer: “Oh Lord, I want to go back to sleep!” That’s when I knew that today would be tough.
I hadn’t slept well, which is not a surprise in itself- so far I have yet to sleep well on the night before a race. I rolled out of bed and, since I’m dog-sitting, headed to the back door to take the dog “out”. I had to wake the dog up and practically carry her outside- that’s how early it was. I sat on my back porch, holding the dog’s leash, and wondering what I’d gotten myself into.
Before my first half marathon, I wrote about the secret behind race fees- that half marathons and marathons cost so much because that’s the only thing that prevents us from backing out. Well, that played a big role on this day! In my head, I remembered the $40 race fee (I signed up early!). I had the tshirt (I’d gotten that at the expo), but I wanted the finisher’s medal. Honestly, if they’d given out the medals at the expo, I’m not sure I would’ve made it!
The anxiety didn’t do me any good. My stomach was in knots, and at one point I was pretty sure I could’ve vomited pretty easily. I forced down breakfast and dressed for the race.
My parents were my support team, and they were going to drive me to the race, but they overslept a bit more than me. We left a bit late and arrived at the race with only 10 minutes to spare. They dropped me off near the starting line and drove away to the parking lot.
I hurried to the cluster of Port-A-Potties. Between the anxiety and the upcoming race, let’s just say I wasn’t taking any chances! In line for the Port-A-Potties, I ran into Jeff- a friend and fellow runner who always puts his mat behind mine at our Tuesday morning yoga class. Small world!
Since the forecast called for heat and humidity, on this day I opted to wear a water bottle waist pack. Even with the generous number of aid stations, I was still worried about hydration.
After the horn blew at the starting line, I found my legs fighting my attempts to run. I stayed pretty close to the 3:00 pace group, but only a mile into the race I was struggling to keep up. I wasn’t hurting at all, but I just could not muster up the energy or enthusiasm to go fast(er). After being sick in May, followed by a week of burnout, I just did not feel adequately trained.
So after fighting myself for a couple of miles, I decided to cut myself some slack. Instead of running hard, I would do the thing that runners hate to do: walk. Today would be my “walking pr”.
Most of the race is a blur- seconds, minutes, hours of putting one foot in front of the other. I focused on that dumb medal- I could do this if I had to, if that’s what it meant to get the medal! I tried to put the distances out of my mind= how far I’d come and how far I had left to go.
Around mile 3, I chatted with two other runners who were running the 10k. We swapped stories about previous races and running experiences, and about the things that had brought us to running in general. I found myself opening up to them in a way that I NEVER do- there’s some kind of kinship in being out there together!
Actually I wound up talking to several other runners along the route, about everything and anything. I asked one girl about her running skirt- it was cute! Another group joked with me about the length of the race. None of it makes sense, in retrospect, but we all laughed out there quite gleefully.
I passed some gorgeous parts of the city. There was a really pretty park, with playgrounds and some kind of running trail. I ran past the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a really gorgeous piece of architecture, and their equally gorgeous sculpture garden. There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of houses, mostly older houses, and nearly all with beautifully manicured lawns. Plus of course there were spectators, lots of spectators and volunteers for the race.
A little over halfway through the race (I told you it was a blur!), there was a man who presumably lived in this home along the race route, and strung a hose with a sprayer from his house to the street. He gave us runners a little “shower”- much appreciated! Nearby was another man who was handing out Kirkland bottles of water. That helped a LOT in keeping me hydrated!
Maybe a mile later, there was a woman who had purchased several bags of ice, and was giving us ice. I grabbed a handful and slid ice cubes down the front and back of my sportsbra. That felt wonderful!
Around mile 10, a man had bought several bottles of Dasani water. Not only was he handing out bottles of water, but he’d FROZEN the bottles and was pulling them out of coolers and ice chests. GLORIOUS! I was able to take a couple of sips right away, then a little more by and by as the water melted. And it was COLD!
By this time I was hurting. My hips and lower back were definitely sore, and I even some soreness in my lats. Plus my feet were exhausted. It wasn’t long before the “sweepers” caught up to me- you know, the people who are the last ones to finish the course, to make sure no one gets left behind. Now I’ll admit that was a slight blow to my ego, but it was pretty slight- I was too tired to feel bad.
The “sweepers” made good company, though, and were very encouraging. Except for when one gal mentioned that the race was handing out metals for this year and the next two years that “go together” somehow to celebrate the race’s 40th anniversary (in 2 years). In other words you have to do all 3 races to get the complete set. What a cruel, cruel marketing trick!
With the sweepers, all the police that we passed were very encouraging! In the beginning, the police had mostly ignored us. I’ve seen that in races before and I assume that’s because they have to focus on what they’re doing- directing traffic and keeping us safe. But at the end of the race, they “broke” and they would tell us, it’s so great that you guys are out here this morning! Keep going, you’re doing great, keep up the good work!
If any part of the race was a blur, these miles were hopelessly impossible. My body was fighting me more and more, and I was just focusing all my energy on moving forward. I’m sure I must’ve gotten a few strange looks, because I was literally talking to myself: “You can do this. Just a little farther. Keep going. Focus. Remember the medal. Focus. You can do this.” I didn’t care. Just had to keep moving forward.
The last three-tenths of a mile were arguably the hardest. We came upon this hill that the sweepers said was “the worst hill of the course”, although honestly I was a little disappointed. I’ve heard about this hill, but for all the lore surrounding this hill, it struck me as… not that bad. Not that it was an easy hill, but not nearly as bad as I’d expected.
But when I crested that hill, ahead of me, the last bit of the race twisted and turned, and I could not see the finish line. The sweepers began pushing us to run, but it was so hard to push myself when I couldn’t see how much farther I had left! Kudos to the sweepers, though, because they were SO encouraging! I am sure I could not have done it if they hadn’t been right there pushing me! (or, in some moments- PULLING me!)
Finally I could see the finish line ahead of me- although in a way that didn’t help. Every ounce of my body was tired and sore. My feet felt awful. By this time I was not sure if I even had the will to make it the last hundred yards or so!
But I did, and I stumbled across the finish line! I knew I was one of the last to finish, and I didn’t care. I didn’t clearly see the “chute” or where I was supposed to go. I was walking forward when I was overwhelmed by a wave of nausea and I became totally aware of how thoroughly exhausted my legs were. I couldn’t go much farther. I didn’t see any chairs nearby, so I did the next best thing- I sat down on the ground.
In a split-second, there was a medic at my side asking me if I was okay. She handed me a bottle of water and told me to close my eyes while she poured another bottle over my head. My mother, who had been a hundred yards or so from the finish line when I crossed it, caught up to us. I reassured both of them that I was fine, just exhausted. The medic told my mom where the first aid tent was located, and told her to bring me over there if I got dizzy. In retrospect I think she was worried about heat stroke. All I knew in that moment was that her bottles of water were COLD and wonderful.
I stood up and kept walking down the chute, which I saw more clearly after I’d had a moment of rest. There were bananas, water bottles, all the typical post-race trappings, plus one amazing thing- Edy’s frozen fruit bars! I seriously love those. I found a seat a little farther down, and that popsicle bar was just wonderful!
I went a little farther out through the “festival” area. I walked past several runners who I recognized, and who recognized me, from out on the racecourse. We gave each other big sweaty hugs of congratulations- total strangers! Like I said, there’s some kind of kinship on the racecourse! I can’t explain it!
When I got home, I peeled off my shoes and discovered one monstrous blister on my right foot, covering a pretty large amount of the ball of the foot, and reaching up between my toes. Ick! Though honestly, my feet felt so awful that I was surprised that I “only” had that one large blister on one foot.
I found out later that I was not the last one to finish- but I WAS second to last! My time was 3:46:16. Honestly? I’m happy with that. I probably won’t be out there telling everyone “I ran the race in 3:46!” but I WILL be telling everyone that “I ran the race!” That’s what counts. This was a hard race for me, both physically and mentally, and I made it all the way across. I did it.
Oh, and yes, I got my medal!