corral K inched ever closer to the start, i decided pretty much at that moment that i was going to run sans run/walk prompts from runkeeper. i had been mulling over this idea most of the night - would i be able to hear the prompts (i don't wear earbuds or listen to music when training), would my phone battery last the morning, would my gps be strong enough to get an accurate reading throughout the course, etc. any one of those issues could have been easily solved, but i think, in that moment, i really felt that the best way to run "my race" was to experience the "whole race" by trusting that my body was ready and my mind was willing. i will never, ever regret this decision.
and with that, and an awestruck glance into the marathon line up happening to my left, we were over the starting line and headed down Broad Street! i love the beginning moments of a race, with everyone jockeying for position and pace, friends and strangers cheering, no thought of the miles (and miles, and miles) that lie ahead... i honestly believe that i know within the first four minutes of a race how that race is going to go for me. and here i was, jogging through a city i'd never visited before, with the silliest grin on my face. i knew, i knew right then that i would run and smile my way through richmond, and i sure as hell didn't need runkeeper to tell me how to do it!
the first half of the race is a little bit of a blur for me, but there are some definite highlights:
- passing the first band, and silently groaning when they messed up the intro to "Sweet Child of Mine"
- hearing "Eye of the Tiger" from speakers on a random building
- marveling as the elite marathoners passed by
- seeing my mom and my aunts cheering for me shortly after mile 2
- singing along (loudly) to "Fat Bottom Girls"
- smiling at the boy who was obviously handing out his Halloween candy as we ran by
before long, i was rounding the u-turn between miles 4 and 5, and found myself in conversation with a young woman who was running this half for the second time. we stayed together for a bit, as she filled me in on what was yet to come. i shared my concerns about the hills (i live in coastal North Carolina, and there's not much opportunity to train on hills in my neck of the woods). she shared that the "worst of the hills" would be through Bryan Park and cautioned that many people hit the wall shortly thereafter because they push it too hard in that section.
and after a few more turns, there i was, on the slow decent into the park. (the park is a loop, with an in/out entrance. i don't think anyone missed the fact that, while we were enjoying this easy-ish downhill into the park, thousands of runners were making their way back UP, just on the other side of the caution tape. for me, this was a little added incentive to keep it cool through the next few miles.)
and then i found myself alongside a training team. training teams are a Very Big Deal for this race. Sports Backers alone had thousands or runners participate in their half training program. (is it like this in all bigger races? i was fascinated!) this particular team and i were running at about the same pace, and i absolutely let them pace me through the park. see them there in the blue tank tops? i loved this little squad and their chipper chit-chat. i loved the woman who called their cadences by the timer on her watch. i loved the woman who asked if anyone wanted a pretzel, or Skittles. i loved the guy who reminded them to turn their knees out on the downhills (who knew?). seriously, I LOVED THESE GUYS!!
before i knew it, we were across the 10K mark, and nearing the last of the bryan park hills. i was still running and smiling, taking water at every stop, and eating my gatorade chews about every three miles. coming up one of the final hills, i came across the sweetest grandmotherly type offering a "peppermint patty for a pick me up." how sweet!! i ran with that peppermint patty in my hand for a few minutes, debating what to do with it. as it started to get a little bit melty, and with one last thought about the fact that "you shouldn't eat it if you haven't trained with it," i popped that little sucker right into my mouth.
oh.my.word. within minutes i was nauseous! i don't know if it was the candy, or the two cups of water i'd just had, or a combination, but for the first time in over two years of running, i actually felt like i might throw up! thankfully, the moment passed, and the lesson learned? don't take candy from strangers :)
who knew that a peppermint patty was just the beginning of the crazy things that i would be offered throughout the second half of the race?!? coming out of the park, we slogged through the sticky block were kids were passing out Accel gels. (again, i took one. and i carried that sucker with me for five miles before chucking it in a trash can!!) what is it with me? apparently i will accept any gift that is offered to me on the race course!! where were the people with sparkly headbands, i ask you? now THAT'S a gift i would have loved!!
i was NOT tempted by the liquor shots, or the dixie cups of beer, though. i know my body well enough to know that either of those would have been a very.bad.idea. the gummy bears just before mile 10 seemed innocuous enough, and i actually did enjoy those.
i knew from my 12 mile training run that miles 9-11 could be tough for me. i was, in fact, having a nagging ache in my left hip/lower back. (twenty five year old back injuries never really let you forget about them, do they?) i played around with my stride and pace, and took some advil. it was either the pain reliever or the Lady Gaga played by the college age DJ, but they symptoms disappeared quickly.
my adopted training team was still nearby, and shortly before mile 10, i came upon them at a standstill. in fact, the police were stopping all of us for a moment as the first marathoner came flying by! this was the point where the two courses came together, and i'll tell you what: there is nothing more humbling than chugging along at a thirteen plus minute mile and hearing a five minute miler sneaking up on your left!
at some point in a long run, you realize that you're "only" this many more miles from the finish. one of my favorite parts of this race had to have been the Endurance 5K "starting line" at mile 10. there was a fresh energy at this point, and it was really fun to run under that banner and pretend (even for a moment) that we were just starting an easy little 5K.
the final three miles were a little challenging to me, physically. i was definitely tired, but glad to have staved off the nagging back ache. we had to run through some areas where spectators had already packed up and headed home. it was warm. a few times i expected to see a mile marker well before i actually did. but i was still running! and smiling! i know i was slower than i had been, and was getting a little frustrated that people i hadn't noticed earlier in the race, were now starting to pass me. or, at least, that's what i assumed was happening when all of a sudden i would see different shirts around me. looking back, i know that i was actually passing some people who had been ahead of me the entire race. i was actually able to "reel in" a few people, and for me, this close to the finish, it was a HUGE feeling of accomplishment!
and then? then i rounded that final corner onto 5th, and the street literally swept down towards the river and the finish line. it was breathtaking! and steep. when they advertise a downhill finish, they mean business! i was very emotional and wondering how i was going to breathe and run and cross the finish line while fighting back the CRYING. (does anyone else suffer from this?) thank goodness someone from my adopted training team showed up at my side at just that moment. we fell into easy and inspirational conversation all the way to the finish. most importantly, she distracted my from CRYING. (seriously, adopted training team, I LOVE YOU GUYS!)
and then, and then i crossed the finish line! three months and so many miles past, and i remembered to throw my arms up and enjoy the moment!!
and even though the official clock was showing the finish times for those insane marathoners, i knew immediately that i finished in under three hours!! and listen, when you are a slow runner who is (let's get real) a bit afraid to set finish time goals, small victories like finishing a half marathon in under three hours is a really big freaking deal!! like, "i could have signed up for an earlier wave" kinda big deal!!
the finish area in richmond was beautiful! within minutes i had received high fives and a medal and was on the lookout for my cousin, my bag, and a beer. my adopted training team had dispersed, and for a moment, i was just one finisher among thousands, feeling a little lost in the crowd. it's a good thing i still had a #runchat tweetup to look forward to...