A few years ago, I was getting divorced from Ex and I had this fantasy where I conquered all things hard. Part of that fantasy was that one day I would start AND FINISH a half marathon.
This is the story of the day that actually happened.
My alarm went off at 4:20 this morning. I was already awake. I had to meet Emily at the Walmart parking lot at the ungodly time of 4:45AM. We were following another car of marathoners downtown where we would park at the finish line (LP Field) and then car pool over to the starting line (Centennial Park). Already I was trying to figure out what to do with my stuff. I had a wallet, a jacket, my race bag, my phone, and my car keys. I decided to leave everything in Emily's car at the finish line except for my jacket, which I abandoned in Kim's car at the start.
Once we were at Centennial park, Emily began looking for the port a potties. She had stressed the importance of "emptying" before the race as she ran the entire thing last year with an overly full bladder. She talked about having zero modesty and holding nothing back. She made it very clear that although there were port a potties along the race route, we would not be stopping. GO NOW OR DON'T GO. I was panicking, because my Shakeology had kicked in and I REALLY HAD TO (ahem!) GO. I have spent 31 years thinking there are just certain things you NEVER do in a port a potty. Today was a day of many firsts.
After standing in line for 20 minutes to use the "bathrooms" we began making our way to our "corral." I'm going to write this like I'm talking to someone who has never run a race before, because until today, I had NO CLUE what to expect or what a race corral was. As it turns out, when the starting gun sounds, you don't all just go for broke like it looked in my fantasy. When you register you put down an estimated finish time. (I originally put 2 hours, 30 minutes.) Based on your estimated pace, they put you in a corral with other runners of a similar pace. I was originally put in corral #23. But I was planning to run with Emily who has a faster time than me, so I did a corral change to start with her. We started in Corral #17. This means there were 16 corrals of "faster" runners ahead of us. They start in waves, so even though the race started at 7AM, we didn't get to the starting line until about 25 minutes later. They give you a plastic, magnetic "chip" that you loop around your shoelace, and throughout the course there are sensors that record your time. So even though the race clock had been ticking away for a half hour, my chip was keeping my correct time.
We made our way to the starting line, and there are people stretching, popping energy shots and jelly beans, strapping water to water belts, spitting, and readying all of their gadgets, (stop watches, phones, ipods). I had nothing, not even a tube of chapstick or a stick of gum. So I just listened to the countdown of the corrals in front of me and watched as each group took off. Then it was our turn. A rush of adrenaline washed over me as I heard the lady shout 5,4,3,2,1! And then the people in front of me started running, so I did too.
I looked up and immediately got dizzy, as the entire horizon was FILLED with marathoners who were bobbing up and down, close together, but in no uniform fashion. The sounds of clip clopping shoes on pavement pounded my ears and the bobbing played with my inner ear a little bit, so I looked down at the ground. I focused on my breathing, and Kim, Emily, and I weaved around runners trying to find a comfortable pocket to run in. We found one, and before I knew it we had covered 3 miles. We skipped the water station at mile 3. Obviously that was for sissies. But regardless of whether or not you drank, you had to dodge a bazillion white and aqua dixie cups being thrown right onto the ground. People splash water on their faces and streams randomly pelt you in the face. Crazy.
Around mile 4 there was a pretty steep steady hill. We were looping around a college campus near downtown. The major difference between the race route and my standard running route was the lack of shade on the race route. When I run at home, the greenway is mostly shade with a couple of big hills. The race route was uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill THE ENTIRE TIME with NO SHADE. By the 5th mile I was looking for a water station and thanking God for every little breeze that blew across my face. This is where Kim took off to run faster. (FYI, there are only 50 p90x certified trainers in the entire country. I was very aware that I was running my very first half marathon with 2 of them!) I felt a little bad that Emily (who is in amazing shape and is sort of a BEAST) was running with me. She was obviously giving up a PR (personal record) opportunity to run with me. But I was so thankful for her. We hadn't walked any up to this point, and I probably would have taken a walking break had I been on my own.
Miles 6, 7, and 8 were about the same. I kept running with no breaks other than a quick walk through a water station (so I'm a bit of a sissy now), and I kept thanking God for the small breezes that I found along the way. I was enjoying the bursts of music from the sidelines and there were some great motivational signs being waved by supporters. Some of them were there for specific runners, but some of them were just there (sitting in lawn chairs and drinking beer and mimosas!) to watch the fun. In my mind, they were all cheering for me.
Some of my favorites were "Worst Parade EVER!" and "This isn't sweat, it's liquid AWESOME."
And then mile 9 happened. I have no clue what it was about this mile that got me. Maybe it was the uphill, downhill, uphill, part. Maybe it was the steady sun, no shade part. But I was feeling every inch of my body by mile 9, and I began craving water stations like they were crack. I took my first walking break in this mile, maybe a tenth of a mile or 2. I'm not sure how long, but I started running again.
Every mile from mile 9 to the finish line was tough. Call me a sissy if you want, but my butt ran through EVERY water station after that. I was looking for any way to cool off and sneak in a walking break. Emily was a champ and stayed with me. I apologized every time I slowed down, because I'm sure she was ready to pick me up and carry me at that point! I was so thankful she was there. It was during this mile that she nudged me and said, "Look at that sign!" Some guy was waving a piece of white poster board with the words, "YOU ARE A BIG DEAL" on it. Next to him a sign said, "If it was easy everyone would do it." Emily looked at me and said, "See, you are a BIG DEAL! Keep going!" So I did. We made it to mile 10, then 11, then 12. I was losing my grip at that point, so ready to be done. The most I've run up to the race was 10 miles, and I pretty much walked every 5th minute of that. I had never RUN this far. And holy cow, my body was reminding me of that.
This is where I should remind you of my little running a marathon fantasy. I used to imagine myself conquering the race, only I'm obviously delusional. You see, in my fantasy, I'm running (effortlessly, of course) and approaching the finish line. Things are nice and calm, and I look ahead to see my entire family cheering me on. They are standing in the middle of a nice quiet road, a few spectators standing on the sidelines, and my family is waving a banner wildly that says my name. My husband and son are waiting for me at the end. "YAY MOMMY!" they shout. They are so proud. Then, I run faster, straight to them, scoop up my son in my arms, (swell of soundtrack here) and my husband bear hugs us happily.
Obviously, I'm nuts.
I spent the hard miles trying to wrap my brain around the finish line. It still seemed SO FAR away, and I knew my husband would be there, but in all of the craziness, I had ZERO expectation of actually being able to find him. I tried not to worry about how I would get in touch with him after the race as I had no phone. And because neither of us knew what to expect, we had no game plan to find each other. This wasn't my calm little "Sara is the only runner in the world" fantasy. This was the Country Music Marathon and THOUSANDS of people run it each year. Thousands more come downtown to watch it, and thousands more are associated with assisting. I just knew there was no was he would actually see me finish. I expected it would take me a good solid hour afterwards to even find him. And I was sort of afraid he would have driven all the way downtown for nothing.
Then, we rounded a curve and I was pulled back into the moment. The full marathoners (crazies) ran left. The halfers ran right. We were SO CLOSE. We ran over the bridge leading to the stadium. I was losing every ounce of will power I had to keep going.
But God knows exactly what I need. Throughout the whole race, whenever I was too hot, He would send a stiff breeze to cool my face. Whenever I was parched, He sent a water station. Whenever I wanted to quit, I looked up and saw that He had sent Emily.
And as I crossed the bridge, just in sight of the 13th mile marker, He sent me The Champ. I looked over at the sideline, and there he was, just smiling. Our eyes met, he yelled something encouraging (I don't even know what) and I started crying. And running faster. And then hyperventilating a bit. I needed to see his face so badly in that moment, and God loves me, so he parted the thousands to let me see it.
We rounded one last curve, I got a grip on my breathing, and I could see the FINISH LINE. At that point, I UNLEASHED some hidden burst of energy and RAN across that finish line like an African Olympian!
I DID IT!!!!
I got my medal, and they started handing us water and gatorade. It took a LONG time to find Jonathan after that, and a LONG TIME to get to the car to come home. I was pretty discouraged by my finish time at first. I glanced at the race clock as I sprinted across the finish line and it said 2:53:39. I was upset that it took me nearly 3 hours to finish. But I reminded myself that finishing was my ultimate goal. Then, after I got home, showered, and napped, I looked at my results. I had forgotten that the CLOCK time and the CHIP time are different. The clock started with that first corral, so my ACTUAL RACE TIME was 2:26:38!!!!! My goal was to finish in under 2:30, and I DID IT!!!
I ran the race with a pace of 11:12 minute miles.
I am SO thankful that Emily ran with me. If ever you need to know what a great friend is, just look to the person who is sacrificing her race time to see you cross the finish line. LOVE HER.
When I got home, I had a BabyCakes order to fill. There are some leftovers, so this is probably true.
God always knows just what I need.