Some of you have heard, or read, a little bit about my running journey and others have heard about it a lot. I'm an external processor, so I talk, and talk more, about what's on my mind and this damn race has been on my mind for months. I began my training before the new year and, at that time, I had it all mapped out. When I first started, three miles was my average run and 13 was miles, and months, away. I slowly and steadily increased my overall mileage and my long run by a mile per week. Before I knew it, 4 miles turned to 6, and then to 8, 9 and 10. My confidence increased and I had some moments where I could feel myself running the half. I could envision my accomplishment. I even considered signing up for a pace group. I set my goal to finish in two hours and 30 minutes.
Part 2: Then, on the day I wrote my training inner thoughts post, I injured my hip. This was after I had already been dealing with a bum ankle and a pulled muscle in my foot. For weeks, I had been able to ignore the other injuries, which were mostly a nuisance. The hip was different, however, and it burned and hurt no matter what. As normal, I turned to the web to self diagnose and decided that, while not a fracture, it was still serious. Serious enough that I knew I had no choice but to give it a rest. Just three weeks before the race and I was injured. I was devastated. Really, because I am very dramatic, so this was crushing to me. I thought about it when I got out of bed every morning and felt the pinch at first step. I thought about it after getting out of the car and feeling stiff. I thought about it at work, over dinner,and before bed. You get the picture.
Part 3: I was a good girl and I did not run for a week and a half. I was terrified and sick on the morning I got on the treadmill to test my body. I did a slow and easy run. It didn't feel great but it wasn't terrible. I knew that, in order to take part in the half, I'd have to take it easy. I spiraled into a sorry state of depression for the next week or so. I felt like all of my hard work was for nothing. I contemplated telling my cousin that I couldn't do it; that I was going to change my registration to the 5k. I worried that my injury wouldn't let me even do that successfully. My mantra was "depressed, defeated, deflated." The icing on the cake was, the Sunday morning one week out from race day, when I walk/jogged alongside the girls during a bike ride in town and my left knee started screaming at me. I laughed at the pain, you know, like a person in a white straight jacket in a padded room.
"This is f'ing crazy!" I thought to myself, "I'm afraid to move. I'm afraid I'll injury myself while sleeping!" I was pissed, too, about the amount of time I had lost to this race and how, now, I wouldn't even get to enjoy the glory of my hard work. This neagtive attitude made me one angry lady. My apologies to anyone who crossed paths with me during those last few weeks, in particular Andy, who most directy felt my wrath.
Part 4: As the person-in-the-family-who-organizes-us, I had the added pressure of planning out the trip logistics, (oh, did I mention Andy and the kids made the drive to Pittsburgh with me?), pack us, get directions, get gas, and ensure I had 8+ hours of car-ride entertainment and ample snacks on hand? It was a long ride and Andy I filled the time with fighting. The closer we got to Pittsburgh, the more my nerves go the best of me, and the angrier I became at Andy,and he at me. There was a point, outside of the Erie toll booth, where there was some slapping and threats to get out of the car.
Part 5: The hours leading up to the race are a blur. The kids had a good time with their cousins, and we enjoyed the company of family and touring the area around Pittsburgh. I had sadly accepted my fate and decided that my new goal was to finish the half standing. My cousin, Megan, and I joked about being picked up by the sweep truck, which is the threat to those who don't finish the race in three and a half hours. It became a bit of a joke for me and, my coping mechanism. Then, Megan encouraged me to read an article in the race publication we had picked up at the Expo. In the article, the author, a seasoned runner, shared some helpful hints. All his points, from nutrition to walking at intervals, were great but it was his very last point that resonated with me the most. He wrote, "Enjoy the experience....Unless you figure on being one of the first ones to cross the finish line, the marathon is a happening, not a race." Thank you, Rich Emert, for writing that. It's exactly what I needed at that moment. I went to bed at peace, knowing no matter what was ahead of me the next day, it was mine to experience.
Part 6: We woke up around 4:30 the next morning. Andy and the kids snored happily while Megan, her husband, John, (driving us into the city) and I quietly got ready. Megan and I shoved food and drink in our mouths, packed our running bags with water, Gatorade, and food (yes, Skittles for me). We nervously laughed about the number of trips we'd already made to the bathroom. As the sun rose, we watched runners gather from the comfort of John's office. We also laughed about the poor souls who had to wait in line to use the Porta Potties while we made several fabulous trips to the bathroom ourselves. We watched the people at street level, mostly in silence, and I did my best to eat a bit more and drink as much as I could get down. It felt like an eternity, but it was finally time to line up.
Part 7: Megan and I made our way through the crowd to Corral E, the last group in the race lineup, reserved for the runners with the slowest pace. We inched our way to the front of the group, after all, who wants to be at the very end? I anxiously looked at all of the people gathered around us. Some, like us, looked pensive, serious, and introspective. Others were laughing, stretching, and generally looked like they were enjoying themselves. Fools, I thought. The 7:30 start time came and went and I wondered why the race hadn't started. I needed this to start so it could end. About 6 or 7 minutes later I realized the race had started but we were so far back, we had to wait for the tens of thousands of other runners to cross the start line before we could move forward. Finally, Corral E started to move. We started slow and then the crowd picked up its pace to a speed walk. Seventeen minutes after the official gun, we crossed the start line. And we're off!
Part 8: Megan, who runs a faster pace than me, wished me well and good bye, and she was quickly lost in a sea of runners. "Well, here I go." I said to myself. I turned up my ipod and let my feet do the work. The first mile cruised by. The course was flat and I spent my time adjusting to running with the crowd. I found another mom and paced myself with her. Lots of people passed me. A speed walker passed me. I passed a few people. I was so busy looking at all of the different people running, all shapes and sizes, some with funny costumes, some with shirts that said who they were running for, all with fanny packs and water bottles (I bought myself a killer fanny pack at the Expo. It was a-mazing.) The morning was perfect, not too warm or too cold, not a cloud in the sky. My feet carried me forward, slow and steady.
Part 9: The next few miles were a breeze. I was in a groove and felt great. I'd almost forgotten about my injuries. I promised myself I'd run 7 miles and then walk. That's all I needed to do. By this time, I started to have fun. People were all around me. It was wall-to-wall runners. Every time we went under an underpass, all of the runners whooped and cheered. There were race signs everywhere, reminding us to hydrate and pace. Crowds lined the streets with signs, snacks and smiles. There were bands at almost every mile. I didn't hear a word of what they sang or played because my ipod blared in my ears but still I clapped for every single band. I was so happy they were a part of this.
Part 10: I looked up and saw the big, yellow, 5 mile marker and I thought I was going to cry. Normally, at five miles I'd start to feel a bit fatigued, or bored, but I was still going strong. I knew I'd make it to my 7 mile goal. Not too long after, as I approcahed one of the many bridges, I looked over and saw Megan. She was starting to have cramps and had slowed her pace. I tapped her over the shoulder and continued on. A few steps later I decided to take a walk break and have my first Skittles. Megan caught up with me and she told me she was hurting a bit. Wanting, and hoping, we could really do this together, I walked and jogged with her for a mile and half or so (maybe a little less or more, I can't quite recall). My body wanted to keep moving and at some point I moved ahead, trying to look back for Megan but knowing that she was not far behind.
As the sun started to climb over the buildings, the road heated up fast but my feet kept me moving. So did my music. All of my old buddies- Fun, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Adele- they were all there to cheer me on. They were the soundtrack to what felt to me now like a wild party. I was high on adrenaline for sure. I slugged down as much Gatorade as possible, ate my Skittles, and pushed ahead. I'd move over to the side whenever there were crowds holding out their hands for high fives. I clapped when I saw funny signs like, You've Been Running Longer Than Kim Kardashian Was Married. I continued to find people to pace with like the super hot guy who was clearly helping a first time runner, the two old guys, or the woman with the words Cancer Survivor on the back of her shirt. Every time I passed another mile flag I wanted to shout: I JUST RAN 8 MILES! HEY- DID YOU KNOW THAT I JUST RAN 9 MILES!? I AM AWESOME! DUDE! I JUST RAN 10 MILES!!
Part 11: It was here, at mile 10ish that I hit a road block. There was no shade and I felt hotter than hell. I worried that my body was starting to get angry at me. I knew that if I had to walk, I'd be able to do it. But instead, I kept running. I let my legs move me forward, no matter how slowly. I could tell others were tired, too. Many around me were walking. Everyone was downing water or Gatorade. The tone felt more serious. Then three things happened for me that turned it all around again. First, somehere within the next mile or two, we hit a nice downhill, then I finally breaked for a Porta potty stop, God that felt good, and lastly, we broke off from the marathon runners whom we had all started with. As the course branched off and the halfers moved to the left and the marahoners to the right, those of us on the left gave a standing, mobile, ovation to our fellow runners. We clapped, we cheered and shouted, "Good luck! You're awesome!"
Part 12: As we climed the final big hill, I felt giddy, like straight-jacket, padded room silly. I felt like crying because this is what happens when I see people accomplishing their goals. I was overcome with emotion and pride. I hadn't thought about the kids, or Andy, or work, or anything else for that matter. For the last two or so hours, it was me, the crowd, and this moment.
Part 13: When I saw the 12 mile flag I gave out a huge whoop. I clapped and then, amazingly, I sped up. Now mind you, I sped up from an 11 minute mile to about a 10:45 but to me I felt like lightening. I weaved between people, picking up my pace as I went (10:40 I'm flying!) Then, the moment came, I saw the speed walker. I tapped the arm of the woman next to me, smiled and said, "I'm going to pass that I guy." I chugged by him happily. As I neared the finish line, the marathon course paralled ours again. Several runners on their side ran by us. We screamed for them as they blew by the halfers. At long last, I crossed the finish line. I looked at the clock, trying to estimate my time, which I later leared was 2:23. Not only did I cross the line running, I beat my goal time. A woman gave me a nice medal and said, "Congratulations! Move along!"
I stumbled around at the finish line for a little while, drinking water and eating a cookie and banana. The woman who has passed me on the marathon side walked by me. She looked like she'd just gone for a little jog. Soon, I caught up with Megan and we hugged. I'm forever grateful that she convinced me to do this with her.
The next 24 hours were surreal. Our long drive home gave me lots of time to soak up my accomplishment. There was no slapping or arguing for the entire 10 hour drive. I had no idea how much stress and anxiety had been building up in me and I'd finally let it all go. I allowed myself to accept that I could do this. I did it.
Part .1: There are 4 events in my life that I am most proud: birthing my two children, running the Boilermaker, and the Pittsburgh Half. I think it's obvious what they all have in common. Each event challenged me mentally, physically and spiritually. Each event scared the hell out of me, filled me with doubt and then with confidence. Each event was a rite of passage, an acceptance into a group of all those who have done it before me and who will do it after me. Of course, the best part about the races is that, at the end, I could take a long, hot shower and get a good night's sleep. We all know after having a baby neither of those happens, at least not right away! For any mom who is contemplating doing something they are afraid they can't do, do it. For those who are wondering if they can run a long distance race, you can. Strap on your shoes and get going. And, if you have birthed a baby, strap a boulder on your back as well. In comparison, this will be a piece of cake!