Week of March 4, 2012:
Sunday: The Sixth Annual Armadillo Dash Half-Marathon!
The long-awaited Armadillo Dash was this morning, and readers, it was good.
May I back up for a moment? I enjoy hearing what other people do to prepare for their races, so I thought I’d share a few details from the night before the race. As a vegetarian, I feel like I’m always carbo-loading—what can I say? I love bread and potatoes and pasta. On Saturday night, my carb of choice was oven fries, made from Russet potatoes and seasoned with garlic oil, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. I have always loved fries (who doesn’t?), and oven fries always make me happy. Alongside my oven fries I ate some kale cooked with onions and tomatoes and a few shavings of cheese. For dessert, I made a shake out of chocolate milk and some frozen dark cherries. Altogether, the meal was a nod toward healthier, made-at-home junk food, but it was made from mostly whole foods and packed a decent amount of protein and fat into my carb fest.
This morning was quite chilly, hovering in the 40-something degree range. I woke up at 5:30 AM without too much trouble, dressed, and ate breakfast (more carbs! overnight oatmeal this time). I also made some green tea to take with me on the road, which is apparently my favorite pre-race drink. Because of the cold, I had a tough time deciding whether or not to wear a jacket. I’d already decided on running tights, but did I want the extra warmth (and sweatiness) on top? I said yes and wore my black running pullover/jacket, and it was the right decision. Even though I did get a bit warm and sweaty during the race, it was almost painfully cold before we started running, so I was grateful for the extra layer.
The only real bummer of the morning was my grumpy cab driver. Well, him and the number of beef-related things in my race packet. Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer my cows alive and grazing in pastures! Anyway, the cab driver annoyed me several times. First, he didn’t know where Veterans Park was. I thought, Shouldn’t you know this, considering you drive around this town professionally? Then when we hit traffic before the park, which was totally predictable, he started getting pissy. I suppose it’s a pet peeve of mine when people complain excessively about traffic. Traffic is a part of life, and I feel like people make it seem worse by bitching about it. And if you are a cab driver, I especially don’t want to hear you bitching about traffic. Keep it to yourself, buddy! I am paying you to deal with traffic!
We got close to the park, and I was so annoyed with him that I asked him to drop me off. I gave him a generous tip, to which he replied ever so graciously, “Thank you!” He didn’t deserve a good tip, but I was grateful to get rid of him.
I lined up with all the other runners, and after the usual pre-race announcements, national anthem, and prayer, we were off!
Because I felt like my training for this race was not terrific, I focused on running a steady pace without going out too hard. The first six miles were easy enough—my breathing was slow and smooth, my legs felt fine, and my energy level was good. For this race, I didn’t even run with a watch or timer, mostly because I didn’t have a chance to buy a new watch this weekend. But I did have my phone on me, so periodically I used it to gauge my pace. I think at the seven-mile mark, I saw that I was running 9:30 or 10:00 miles, so that made me happy. Slow, even miles, from start to finish!
But something funny crept up on me during the race: I actually started to race. Really, from the start, I began passing people, not out of a sense of competition, but rather because I wanted to run the right pace for me. As the race progressed, however, I started realizing that I could use my ability to pass people to keep up a good pace, to stop myself from mentally slowing down. I began spotting people to pass, and I gave them funny names: Pink, Orange Shorts, Blue Pants, the Reds. I just picked them off, one by one. And if I happened to pass a cluster of people, I felt a surge of giddiness: in one fell swoop, I can pass all these people! See you at the finish line!
I anticipated that things would get really, really hard around Mile 9 or 10 because at that point, I would be surpassing the mileage of my longest long run, which was two weeks ago. (Last weekend was such a disaster that I don’t really count it.) My legs started to feel fatigued during Mile 7, but it was between Miles 10 and 11 that the wall started coming down. I could feel the exhaustion, but I was so close to the finish that I had to hang onto my race. I continued to pass people as they fell into close proximity.
As I was running the second half of the race, I started thinking about strength. I thought about how blessedly simple running is compared to the other big commitments of my life, particularly my work and my romantic relationship. Both have presented immense challenges in recent months; both have brought me to tears and the stubborn belief that I can’t do this. As I ran this morning, I felt so grateful for running, which has become my rock lately, something reliable and calming amidst all the turmoil. (Again, last weekend was an exception to this.) As I ran, I thought to myself, I am strong. I will not be broken by failure or sadness. I will not be broken by frustration or uncertainty. I am whole. And I am strong in ways that surprise people, even me.
It was with that determination that I finished my race. Miles 10-13 hurt, and I was tired, but I would not be stopped. And when I came into the final, final stretch of the race, I saw 2:00:XX on the clock, and I realized that today, of all days, I could even run a sub-2-hour half-marathon, which was ridiculous, but there it was. (The clock had read 2:30-ish when I crossed the starting line.) I ran those final yards with everything left in my body and my heart, remembering the sign that read, “Leave it all on the course.” Yes. I would. And I did.
I finished in 1:58:33.* Again, ridiculous! I worked so much harder last year to break two hours, but maybe the universe took pity on me after all the bad stuff that’s happened in recent months. Or maybe it was just a particularly good running day for me. Either way, I’ll take it.
* My bib number was 632, for those of you who doubt my self-reported finishing time! Check it yourself by clicking this link and entering 632.