I don't hear the horn sound - probably because I am so far back - but suddenly a mass of close to 3000 bodies is moving and we are off. It's slow at first - something of a trot - and the first few minutes are awkward as everyone tries to navigate around one another and find their rhythm, find their stride.
I don't know why, but as soon as I leave the Conference Center and start to really run the first mile, I find myself overwhelmed with emotion and I begin to cry. Mom had warned me of this possibility at dinner the night before, but I don't think I truly heard her. My eyes well up, my breathing gets shallow and suddenly everything I've worked so hard for for the last 5 months is right in front of me. In fact, it's more than that. My decision to run to this Race, my commitment to training, doing it alone - it symbolizes So. Much. More. I have 2 hours and 13.1 miles to contemplate and reflect. I take a deep breath, and focus.
The first few miles feel easy. Usually they are the hardest but not today. I worry that all the Shake-A-Tailfeather-Really-Get-My-Ass-Moving songs on my iPod come on too early. These are the songs I need to hear at Mile 8 when I lose my steam, or Mile 12 when I need that final burst. I hope there's a few still left for when the time comes.
At one point I think I have to pee. This despite a prophy pee in my room, another prophy pee in the lobby of the hotel and still another prophy pee at the port-o-potties before the Race. And while there are port-o-potties throughout the course, I'll be damned if I stop.
Around Mile 3 I lose the gloves (prematurely as it turns out). My body is warming up and my hands feel tingly as the blood flows to them. I ball up the gloves and toss them into someone's yard on top of a sweatshirt that's also been shed.
Although the weather is shitty, there are spectators out and about cheering us on. Somewhere between Mile 3 and Mile 4 we turn and there's a reggae band playing. AWESOME.
I feel good about my pace. The crowd has thinned from that first awkward mile and I've got a good rhythm going. I'm not really passing anyone - not trying to - and I don't mind when people pass me.
We hit the turn around just after Mile 6. Not quite halfway and I feel GREAT. It has yet to rain, and I am in the zone. Usually during long runs every mile is an obstacle to get to the finish. Not today. Each mile I complete is an accomplishment. And while I always do the mental math in terms of "how many more to go" today it doesn't overwhelm me. Today I don't say: "Damn girl - why didn't you just do the 10K." Today I say: "Baby girl: You're running a half-marathon and you're going to do awesome. I am So. Proud. Of. You."
Me. This Race, this day - it means so much. This is about a long, hard year that has seen me face some incredible challenges and deal with some monumental pain. It's been a year of loss and change and fear...but it's also been a year of growth, and strength and yes...change. Sometimes, change is good.
I can't help but think about the comments and encouragement I've received in the days leading up to today. So many friends and relatives have wished me well in so many ways. I've received numerous emails and texts, Tweets and comments on Facebook, calls and in person congratulations. Two stand out the most and I play them through my head.
Two days before the Race, The Artist wrote the following in a message to me:
Stop for a moment to reflect on how far you've come since setting your goal! Wow! In my book, you've already won your race. Saturday is just your celebratory run, so enjoy!
I remember reading it the first time and my eyes welling up with tears. She is so right. I've already accomplished so much. Today is about having fun.
And then this morning I got a final message from The Kaiser:
"Life is either a great adventure or nothing at all." I wish you the best of luck in meeting your goal. You've worked hard and kept focused on your goal - now go kick its ass. You know you can - remember that you're the only one you have to impress. Go impress yourself. Be a badass. TODAY IS YOUR DAY.
That hit home. For someone who needs to perpetually be validated by others, I paused and thought that he was actually right: this was really ALL ABOUT ME. And as many congratulations as I hoped to receive when I crossed the finish line, the only pat on the back that mattered was the one I was going to give myself.
Somewhere after the halfway point, the pain sets in. There's that familiar dull ache in my left knee and a tightness running up from my right ankle through my inner right calf. Run. Through. The. Pain. I can. I will. I must.
It helps to have people cheering us on. Also? They have posted inspirational quotes throughout the course. These motivate me as well:
"The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man's determination." - Tommy LaSorda
"Set your goals high, and don't stop till you get there." - Bo Jackson
"Champions keep playing until they get it right." - Billie Jean King
For the next few miles, I continue as is. The only benchmark I have in terms of other runners is M. She was standing next to me when we started and she's been near me for most of the race. She occasionally stops to walk and then I pass her. But then she resumes running and usually passes me. I wonder if there's something to the theory of actually resting at the water stations to gain more energy on the back end. I figure I'll give it a try. Also? I am determined to beat her. (Hey - what can I say - I am ultra competitive!)
My hands are numb. Literally. I can barely feel my fingers. I regret tossing my "throwaway" gloves so early. Lesson learned if I ever race again.
When I hit Mile 10, it feels awesome. This is the longest and farthest I have ever run. I check my time: even at this pace, I can bring it in under 2 hours if I stay focused. The next aid station comes up quickly and I slow to a walk, grab a cup of Gatorade, drink it in full (as opposed to tossing it in my face and hoping some of it makes it in my mouth), and then resume running.
Suddenly we turn left onto the bike path. OMG. I know where I am. This is part of the run I did over the summer when I was at Kiawah. I. Can. Do. This.
I pick up my pace. Significantly.
The path is narrow and there are signs that stay "Stay Right Unless Passing." Just like driving. I am on the Left. Passing. Alot. At times I have to veer off the concrete to get around people. My strides feel long and strong. Suddenly I am grateful for all the time and effort I have put into training. For every session with my trainer. For every Saturday at the gym. For the squats I do 3 - 4 times a week. For the 2-minute planks I endure at the end of every session. I. Can. Do. This.
At Mile 12, I can almost taste success. I can run 1.1 miles in my sleep. And although my body is tired and aching, I feel a surge of energy. And then the tailfeather-shakingest song on my iPod comes on (For Your Entertainment by Adam Lambert) and I get another burst of speed.
And then I get a cramp. An "OMG-I-Want-To-Die-Right-Now-Because-I-Can't-Fucking-Breathe" Cramp. FUCK.
I slow down my pace and begin to exhale rapidly. I know that cramps are nothing more than a build up of carbon dioxide. If can exhale enough, it should release the pressure. I check my watch and gauge my ability to make my Mountaintop goal. It's gonna be close.
Adam Lambert ends and Hotstepper comes on. Another Move-Your-Ass-Girlfriend song. The cramp subsides and I push forward. I have less than a mile to go. This is the point where I know I can push myself. Where I can call on every ounce of reserved strength and then some. This is where it all pays off. Every single thing I have done over the last 5 months - this is what it comes down to. As we round the corner to turn back into the Conference Center, I back-up to For Your Entertainment again. This song will carry me across the finish line.
I start to sprint as much as my body will allow me. My feet pound the pavement. My lungs heave as I literally huff and puff. I am overwhelmed as I see the actual finish line. I am about to accomplish a HUGE MASSIVE goal that I set for myself on something of a whim. I scan the crowds briefly for mom and dad and don't see them but I am not really looking. I am looking at the finish line. I am looking in my own beat-up, banged up body for the last burst of energy to make it across the finish line in under 2 hours. And even though the clock at the top says 2:00:43 I know I had about a minute lag time from when the race clock started and when I actually crossed the starting line. Fuck the official results - I am going off of my Garmin.
I power forward with the last remaining bit of strength I have and cross the finish line. 1:59:48. According to my Garmin, I've run 13.27 miles in 1:59:48.
I've done it. I've achieved my Mountaintop goal. I didn't think I would. I really didn't. And here I am. It's so overwhelming I can't even process it. I want to cry. I want to hug someone. I want to climb into the whirlpool. I want to throw myself on the massage table. Instead, I catch my breath. I let a volunteer wrap me in silver Mylar. I accept a plastic "You Finished" medal from another volunteer. And then I go off in search of the beer truck.
2 days ago