Sunday’s Half-Marathon Race, the 5th Annual Armadillo Dash (3/06/11)
I’m feeling rather teary-eyed right now, but I’m also glowing with happiness. I ran the best long-distance race of my life today, and it was amazing. Amazing! It’s hard to know what to say when all my brain keeps repeating to itself is Happy! Happy! Happy! Rather than trying to be profound right now, I’m just going to rewind to the early hours of this morning and tell you my race story.
The race started at 7 AM, so Matt and I agreed we should leave my apartment at 6:30 AM. The start location is literally down the road from me, but we were concerned about the traffic and wanted to be safe, not sorry. I set my alarm for 5:45. After a night of light sleep (who can sleep well the night before a race? Not I!), I woke up, dressed, and ate a light breakfast of overnight oatmeal and hot green tea. I poured most of my tea into a to-go mug and sipped it while we were on the road.
It was very cold this morning. Our breath came out in steamy puffs, and the chill made it difficult to know what to wear. I decided to take a cue from my training runs where I learned that pants become too hot for me during a long run. I wore shorts, a tank top, and a cozy thermal long-sleeve shirt. To keep warm before arriving at the start site, I wore pants, which I stripped off in the car before hopping out. I shivered and moaned, my teeth chattering. During the drive, Matt had turned on the fancy seat-warmers in his car. Ironically, the cozy ride made it easier to face the cold. He kissed me good luck and dropped me off. Then I made my way to the start. After announcements, thank-yous to our awesome sponsors and volunteers, and the national anthem, we were off.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the first six miles. I took the first two or three miles slowly, as I did during my training runs, using them as my warm-up. And indeed, despite the cold, I did warm up and by the end of mile two, I felt fine. Shorts were a good choice after all, comfortable and not too warm. The sun finished rising during the first few miles, and we had very little wind, so the conditions were ideal. I did, however, start to wonder about exactly how fast I was running those first few miles. Slow is one thing, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t take it too easy for too long before settling into a faster race pace. My goal was to break two hours in the half, and that would require averaging roughly 9-minute miles.
It wasn’t until we passed the Mile 6 marker that I saw how perfect the pacing was. I looked at my watch, and it read 54:XX, which is right on target for 9-minute miles (plus a few seconds). I was so surprised by the time that I didn’t really believe we’d passed Mile 6. Nevertheless, I was pleased and felt much better about the pace. It felt good, neither too fast nor too slow.
Serendipitously, I fell into stride with a group of people who were obviously friends with one another and enjoying the race. I ran with them for a few miles, laughing at their jokes and enjoying the camaraderie, even though I was (of course) a stranger to them. Eventually, one of the guys said to me, “I think we’re going to be running the rest of this race together.”
I said, “Yes, I’ll pay you guys later for pacing me!”
And one of the women asked, “What about entertainment?”
I replied, “You’re right. You deserve good tips. I’ll get my wallet!”
And so it went. We continued to run solid 9-minute miles, which was amazing and perfect. More importantly, it was fun running this race with some friendly strangers who let me tag along with them, even letting me run with them as we passed other people and kept our racing spirits high.
We cruised our way into the final miles, and I felt the same way one of the women did: at some point you stop feeling pain and all you feel is the stride of your run. Miles 7-12 flew by so easily, and then all of a sudden we were in the home stretch with just 1.1 miles to go. At that point, my exhaustion became more visceral, but I wasn’t letting up when we were so close to the finish and had more than ten minutes still on the clock before we’d hit two hours. So we kept going, and as we closed in on the final half mile or so, I said something like, “Let’s do this! Let’s run it in!” And we started booking it, running with everything we had left in our tired legs. At the very end, I was racing right alongside one of the men, who started to pull ahead of me as I felt the wall lower itself on top of my determination. The man pulled ahead of me, but I held onto my own stride, crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and looked down.
1:55:50. One hour, fifty-five minutes, and fifty seconds. I had broken two hours in the half-marathon. I want to cry right now, typing those words. I can’t even believe it.
After I finished, I wanted to say thank you to my co-racers, who were just so terrific and kind to me. I tried to congratulate them all, though I think I missed one of the guys. And I was so happy for one of the women, who I knew was feeling the pain of a long race but held on for dear life until the end, when we could break two hours together. She was amazing.
Through the crowd of runners and spectators, Matt found me and hugged me and said sweet things to me. I was so happy to see him and hug him, especially because he was wearing this sweater that makes him feel like a teddy bear. But mostly I was thrilled to share this experience with him, this athletic part of my life. He has always been so supportive of me, and I think today was one of his finest moments, the way he generously gave me exactly what I needed. (Okay, now I am crying.) Matt teaches me how to love through his example, and I have no words to describe how he makes me feel. I feel loved. Let’s leave it at that.
I’ve had such a good time training for this race and writing about my adventures on this blog. I have found some kindred spirits who, like me, love running and writing and trying to find some balance in this crazy life. You have inspired me with your own race stories, especially you marathoners! Holy moley. You’ve made me smile with the scenes you share from your everyday lives, and you’ve made my day when you stop by to say hi to me here. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your stories and your lives in this space where we can find each other and blog our way to being our best selves. You are terrific, and I can’t wait to cheer you on in your next adventures.
PS For the sake of accuracy, I feel I should mention that my finishing time of 1:55:50 is the unofficial time from my watch. I’ll share the official time when the race results are available on-line.