I ran a half marathon on Sunday. To be honest, I never had any intention or desire for that matter to do one. I’m a regular runner, but at my age, I know what feels good to me and what my limits are (and that’s not 13 miles by any stretch of the imagination). But, as it always seems to happen, a friend of mine planted the seed in my head about completing a half (which let's be honest, sounds much better than a full marathon) and well, long story short, I ended up by her side on race day in a throng of 16,000 people in 27 degree heat wondering what the heck I was thinking.
The run up to the race was a strategic mental position of denial. I did a bit of training which translated to, I just kept running when I was up to running, and otherwise told myself that I always had an out. I am a woman that’s all about the exit strategy even though I won’t necessarily use it. Call it a bit of a reverse psychology. Even on the morning of the race I woke up feeling dire. I told my husband that my energy was nonexistent and I wasn’t sure I could run the race. He of course smiled (half asleep) and said, ‘ok, don’t do it.’ Which of course meant, I know you’re going to do it, so I’ll see you at the finish line.
The lead up to the start of the race is an anxiety inducer at best. There were literally thousands of us suited up in running gear crammed onto an overground train heading to the runner’s village, as they call it. This is the time you find yourself looking around and what people are wearing, carrying, etc. and you can’t help but think, sh*t, am I prepared enough for this thing?! "She has a protein goo, should I have a protein goo? She looks rested? Am I rested enough?" Then it dawns on you that what is actually getting you over that finish line is sheer will and sheer will alone (ok, training matters, but at the end of the day, you have to want to get over that finish line). And some tell me I have that in spades (there are days I definitely doubt this fact, but hey), so I figured I'd somehow get through this.
So there I found myself, at the runner’s village, nervous and wanting this thing over with; which of course meant that I had to pee every two seconds. After a visit to the forest, ten minutes of stretching and a strategic think of where to stuff my protein bar (it went in my sports bra which was a big mistake as it had chocolate in it, unbeknownst to me, and melted all over the place once I opened it), we lined up in the pack of eager runners. We were realistic about our finishing time so headed far from those who were determined to finish the race in an hour! Then the wait began. I had obsessed over making the perfect playlist that would last me the entire run and of course as they left us standing there for ages, I had to keep starting it and restarting it in fear that my songs would run out during the run. It was so long in fact, that my friends and I ended up jumping the fence and hightailing it to the forest - looking like prisoners fleeing incarceration - to pee yet again before the race started.
Finally, when the heat had decided it was just HOT enough to be obnoxious, off we went, and at that point all I could think of was, ‘there is no turning back now.’ Now, any one that knows me is that I’m not a crowd person. So running with that many people around me, all jockeying for a spot is NOT something I’m comfortable with. But we were all determined to keep together, especially my friend and I that trained together, so I just told myself, keep her in your sights and pretend every one else is not here. And to be honest, after awhile people begin to find their pace and the fray weeds down to a comfortable pack. Then of course you find ‘those people’ that your eye always seems to go to and sticks with through the race. For me it was a woman dressed as a banana (you couldn't really miss her) and a man who had 13.1 printing in large letters on the back of his shirt. I deemed him my ‘mantra man.’ Coupled with that, I had written my inspirational people on my hand for those miles when I needed to be reminded of why the hell I was doing this.
For the first few miles you’re just trying to find a pace, not be in your head too much, and figure out how the hell to get rid of the side stitch that keeps reappearing. AND of course NOT stare at the mile boards when they appear. There is nothing more disconcerting than thinking you’ve gone pretty far, and you’re only at mile 3. The biggest obstacle, aside from my melting protein bar (which was soon abandoned upon opening it and getting chocolate everywhere) and the blistering heat that had us all running for the shade, were the medics on the side of the road tending to other runners. And we’re not talking a few sprained ankles. The heat had rendered many runners to utter pavement-eating zombies. One woman had thrown up, a few men looked to be in convulsions, others on oxygen, it ran the terrifying gamut. And of course every time you passed this you wanted to cover your eyes and run screaming away from the sight of what could potentially happen to you. This of course provoked me to literally take a sip of something every thirty seconds as I was determined not to dehydrate. At one point, I had a bottle in each hand. One to drink and one to pour over my head.
By the time I saw my husband and son at mile 10 (I told him strategically where I needed him) I literally wanted to lie down and bathe in a cold bath of ice cream. I think I shouted ‘foooood’ as I approached them, and my husband knowing me all too well, had a protein bar ripped open and waiting for me. I kissed the King, shoved the protein bar in my mouth and off I ran…or limped. I’m not sure at that point. The other thing that dawns on you during race other than why why why, is the power of the people shouting in your face as you run by. Half of them you don’t even see as you’re kind of in this runner’s fog, and the others you’re so thankful for as you truly feel like they’re pulling you forward with their funny signs and gifts of candy and water. One woman shone like a flipping beacon on the side of the road as she held out a bag of ice. I swear to you, I almost kissed her. My friend and I grabbed the ice and shoved it in our sports bras (or perhaps that was just me) and I have never been happier.
By mile 11 I truly thought I was going to have to crawl over the finish line. I just kept saying to my friend, “I’m not sure I can do this, can I do this? Where is the god d#*@()#m finish line?!!” And thank god for her, she just kept telling me to keep our pace and we’d get there. And well, get there we did. Seeing that finish line literally made me want to burst into tears. My friend and I held hands and ran right over that thing and I have to say, it felt pretty darn amazing…..for about three seconds, then I thought I might puke.
Needless to say, our cheering sections were waiting for us with supplies (the King tried to take most of the snacks in my goodie bag. Typical) and by the time I collapsed on the grass, I contemplated just spending the night there. Funny enough, with a few days have gone by, running 13.1 miles kind of feels like child labor. I know it hurt. I know it hurt a lot, but I have forgotten the pain. And I may just even be dumb enough to do it again. Then again…I could always stand on the side of the road next time with a bag of ice and make someone’s day next time. Somehow I think that might feel a helluva lot better.