the finish line – the third time is charmed
when i shared my personal half-marathon anti-training program last week, i was truly uncertain of how sunday’s event would turn out for me. i’m sure i wasn’t alone in my skepticism, although i knew maintaining a positive mental state was crucial to my success. my goal was to at least match my previous two finish times of around 2:05. knowing that many have achieved a personal best on this course, i set a stretch goal of shaving a minute or two off this year. here’s the blow-by-blow.
i absolutely could not sleep the night before. i headed to bed at 10pm, planning to get up at 5am to eat breakfast so i’d have plenty of time to digest, and then maybe lay back down for awhile before getting up and dressed. in the end i was so nervous and excited that i laid there awake until 2am then dozed for a couple of hours, waking on my own a few minutes before my alarm. lee sweetly pep-talked and check-listed me, then went back to bed to wait for graham to wake. i left with a good luck kiss and the promise of seeing my favorite boys at the finish line.
grateful for the 7 minute drive to the stadium rather than the 47 minute drive across the metro i had for my previous races, i arrived in plenty of time, but the parking lot was already packed. i boarded the race buses (the only way to the starting line) at 6:30 and waited while the other runners trickled on. i killed the time eavesdropping on others’ loud and giddy conversations while making sure my running app was set up to the right distance goal, the right music, and connected to my bluetooth headphones. we pulled out at 7:00 and were at the top of the course by 7:15. the full marathon was well under way, but the half didn’t start for another 45 minutes, so after a visit to the water station and the porta-john, i still had half an hour to kill. (a far cry from last year’s hectic start!)
the chilly wind chased everyone back onto the shelter of the buses until the last minute, so i chatted with the other runners and played around with the nike app. i decided to use the facebook linking feature to get “cheers” from my friends. i didn’t know what to expect from this function, but this seemed like a good time to try it out. i also made the mistake of browsing my running log while i waited. i was astonished to see that i had overestimated my training runs by more than 50% (both in number of runs and in distance)! not a good time to realize that i was less conditioned than i thought! i shook it off, turned on some motivating music, and headed outside to warm up.
i still had not seen any familiar faces by the time the gun went off, but i positioned myself in the middle of the pack and tried to get into a groove. the cheers from facebook started coming in almost immediately, and it was the most delightful surprise. every so often the music would fade slightly and give way to applause and whistles and hoorays. what a great idea for real-time support! the social aspect of the nike app is the reason i chose it over the myriad of other fitness apps or a separate gps device, so i was happy to find another fun feature executed well.
the first four miles flew by, my pace half a minute faster than my norm. i cautioned myself to take it easy, but i didn’t feel as if i was running any faster than usual. around mile 5 i came up on two girls from church, and ran with them for a bit before one outpaced me and the other dropped behind me. it can certainly be motivating to have a running partner, but i actually prefer the solitude and my music when racing. it’s enough to be surrounded by fellow runners without feeling tied to any one person.
the reported 531 ft elevation drop in the first three quarters of the course had me studying up on downhill running and worrying about my quads, but the grade was not nearly as steep as i imagined. in fact, it seemed more like rolling terrain with a few easy uphill sections as well. i carried on, glad i had injected some great new songs into my trusty playlist, and diligently sucking down energy gels at my predetermined intervals whether i felt like i was slumping or not.
seven miles were gone before i knew it. i was still maintaining an 8:40 mile, and was amazed that neither my lungs nor legs felt overtaxed. they don’t call it the “fast half” for nothing! if i continued at this pace, i would finish in under two hours!! i tried not to get sucked into chasing the sparkly goal of a sub 2:00 time, but my secret ambition had been stirred up. i wanted it.
at mile 8 i got a surprise hug as an old family friend fell into step beside me. i had been hoping to see mike, and so i was thrilled to run a mile or so with him before he steadily moved ahead of me (the big hill at mile 9 got me). i was running a nine-minute mile by then, and every mile after that was 10-15 seconds slower than the previous one. but tenacity was on my side, and i knew i could still make my secret goal as long as i didn’t “bonk” horribly.
by the time i reached mile 11, i was tired enough that two more miles may as well have been twenty in my mind. i felt my phone buzz and looked down to see an encouraging text from my friend candice, who had estimated that i would be in the home stretch by now. it was just what i needed to rally. i fortified my mental resolve, chanted “mind over body” to myself a few times, and mustered all my determination and grit.
this is the point in each race that i find my thoughts focused on my mom. she was the one with the most optimism, the most confidence, the most belief in the final mile. we were all in the race together, from the minute she was diagnosed, but it’s a lot easier to be positive and hopeful and energetic and ready to fight at the start of a battle. it’s when you’ve been beaten down repeatedly and your body and soul are weary that your bravery and perseverance are tested. she led the way with faith and a clear sense of purpose even when her troops were feeling worn-down and discouraged.
i carried this motivation with me for the last two miles, even though i ran them at a pitiful pace compared to the first eleven. as i ran into the stadium i heard “triiiish!” and my childhood friend (and now neighbor), amy, ran up and gave me a quick hug as i passed. perfect. i picked it up for the final lap around the track, not about to let my far-fetched wish slip through my fingers. as i crossed the finish line, i saw mike standing on the other side, arms outstretched toward me in a victorious whoop!
i found my boys, who had a series of mishaps on the way to the race, but made it just in time to see me run in the last quarter mile. (lee recounted his adventures with, “i nearly pulled a hamstring trying to hurry into the stadium with graham. it would be pretty bad if i injured myself walking from the parking lot.”)
on facebook i reported that i came in at 1:58 because i thought my chip time might match my app time of 1:58:55, but my official time was 1:59:05. either way, i cut six minutes off my previous times and beat the two-hour mark! we celebrated by driving directly to our church down the street, just in time for the service, and going out to eat afterward with my dad and micky. i recouped with a long shower and good nap that afternoon, and felt fantastic the next day. (although the first few trips up the stairs took longer than usual. 😉 )
i’m not sure if my triumphant race results can be attributed to good luck, willpower, genetics, prayer, or just a healthy lifestyle and daily cross-training with an energetic toddler in a two-story house, but i’ll take it! i’d like to say that i’ll actually train next year and try to see if i can attain another PR, but ya know, it’s not really my style.