Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Conquering the Half

I woke up early Sunday morning anticipating the upcoming 1/2 marathon start time of 8:10 am. I was up probably around 5:30 am...wanted to choke down some food and get myself in order.

The night before I had gathered most of my race essentials and laid them out on the kitchen table. I was planning to run with my MP3 player and I wanted to create a 'special' play list, so I didn't have to fuss with it during the actual race. I have a new MP3 player and it uses Rhapsody, so I installed the software on my crazy slow and old laptop...for the love of Nancy I couldn't get all the songs I wanted in the play list, so I went to bed pretty pissed off at everything.

Back to Sunday morning...I was up and full of nervous energy. I barely ate anything, but finished my huge mug of white tea w/ tangerine. DELICIOUS! I had to refrain from drinking too much...didn't want to literally run to every bathroom stop!

I packed my Target reusable bag with the 'essentials' and left the house 15 minutes earlier that I had planned...nervous energy. I put in a Motley Crue CD and blasted it all the way to the high school. It was so loud that at one point in my drive I was in 2nd gear going 40 mph...didn't even hear the engine screaming.

Being by myself was a bit of a stresser. I hate looking lost and clueless, so I pretended I knew exactly where I was going and started walking from my parking spot to the mob of people at the high school. Thankfully, I ran into one of the clinical administrators at the hospital and we both walked to the school talking the entire way. I was slowly expending that nervous energy.

We parted ways and I again felt helpless. PEOPLE WERE EVERYWHERE...spilling out of the high school, lined up the street waiting for a port-a-potty, and others just wandering aimlessly through the streets. I finally got some information about the bag check, but that was located in the stadium (where the finish line was), past my car. So, instead, I walked back down the hill to my car and finished preparing myself there. At the time it was in the mid-50's and overcast. I was okay in my short sleeved shirt and running skort. I put my hat on to shield me from the anticipated rain and headed back up the hill to the starting line. With 30 minutes to go I decided to join the port-a-potty wait line. It was a little gross that there was NO hand sanitizer in the john or anywhere around the john. Crap, something I didn't prepare for!

The half marathoners were separated into three groups, designated by colors, based on their estimated finish time. In addition to these corrals, there were also pace groups. I had signed up for the 2:30 pace group. Yes, that's 2 hours and 30 minutes. I found my blue corral and just waited...and waited...and waited with the 2:10 pace group. Finally, at 8:10 am sharp we were told to take our marks and not long after that the mass of thousands of people started to move forward down Linden Street...just like cattle running down the ranch. When I hit the top of the hill in front of the high school I could see all the people moving like a giant wave. What an amazing sight!

I was pumped up listening to the runners pound their soles on the pavement, while the surrounding spectators shouted and rang their cowbells ("gotta have more cowbell)! I focused on pacing myself down Linden Street towards Ott. I didn't want to race out of the gate and bonk too early in the game; I needed to focus on a steady, consistent pace that would carry me to the finish line.

At mile 1 we were just heading through Cedar Beach when a few sprinkles bounced off the brim of my hat. No worries, though, I had the hat and I had experience running in the rain. We crossed over Hamilton Street and headed up Yocco's Drive onto St. Elmo Street. There are some beautiful houses on St. Elmo so I was able to check 'em out better on foot than from my car. The sprinkles had graduated to a steady shower and I was suddenly feeling constricted by my hat. Not too soon after, the hat came off and it felt as if my head could breathe.

About 1/4 of the way into mile 2 we hit Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. It's practically a straight shoot so I was able to get into a steady rhythm. Somewhere at the end of the road was a turn around because not too long after I hit mile 3 I saw the 'headliners' running back. Before I knew it, there were masses of people running on both sides of the street...some heading east and some heading west. My attention immediately shifted to finding people that I knew heading west. I yelled at some people and they yelled back at me. It definitely pumped me up and it took my mind off of running.

After the water station was the turn around and then I hit mile 5. My left knee suddenly felt like it was going to explode. After mentally assessing the situation for about five minutes, I discovered that it wasn't my joint, but the muscle behind my knee. It was SO tight, but I kept on moving. I was excited to hit the parkway and run on some gravel to give my legs a bit of a break.

About 1/4 left of mile 6 and we hit the parkway. It was just beautiful. I turned off my MP3 player (which rocked me) and let the headphones rest around my neck. I listed to the sound of the runners hitting the trail, the steady shower of rain in the creek, coupled with the bubbling of the creek. The birds were chirping all around us and the rain was just pouring off my face. It was a picturesque moment...a time of reflection and meditation. Aside from all the sounds around me, it was oddly quiet. Because there were no spectators on the trail the 'hype' of the race died down, a lot, and it was as if I was on a solo run...with a lot of other people. After a while I felt like quitting; the parkway was such a mental obstacle...it was steeper than the highest hill, the biggest mountain. At that point I reigned my thoughts back in and reflected upon the reasons behind my running the race. I had something to prove to myself, but that something is still unknown.
There were other factors that pushed me to this day:
Family who have since left this Earth
Friends and family who have survived cancer and other terminal diseases/conditions
Jahna Foland, a young, beautiful and strong 26 year old woman, who lost her battle with cancer just last month
My Gus
My Ava

Well, no matter...I made it. About 1/4 left of mile 8 and I rounded a corner (still in the parkway) filled with spectators and I proceeded to run through the covered bridge. I've run through that bridge before and expected the uneven wooden boards, but I have no doubt that some poor unsuspecting runner tripped.  Just before the end of the covered bridge there were three string players playing the most beautiful music. It reverberated through the bridge and filled my heart; my entire body relaxed and I was able to continue on. Aside from the drummers who kicked us off at the start of the race, the strings were the best musical act along the route.

Mile 10 was monumental for me. It was double-digits and the race was almost over. I HAD to get out of the parkway and about 3/4 of a mile I was outta there. As I was nearing the end of the parkway I noticed that the 2:30 pace group was just coming up on my heels and eventually, they passed me. I needed to get a little more pumped up, so I put the headphones back on and cranked up the music. How interesting that a Motley Crue song was the next selection. Just wonderful. It gave me an extra kick and I picked up my pace a little...just a little. :) Once again people were on the streets cheering us on...I got a little insane and started yelling at the volunteers stationed at one of the road blocks. I wanted more noise, more yelling, more encouragement. On volunteer, caught off guard by my peppy nature this late in the race, got excited, started jumping up and down and cheering me on.  "You're almost there!"

Just before hitting mile 12 I came down the hill off of St. Elmo Street and could see the stadium...I could HEAR the drummers and I could HEAR the cowbells, air horns and crowd screaming...cheering. I started to get a little emotional. I wanted to see my family at the finish line. I just wanted to hug Gus and kiss Ava. I wanted to see their faces shining with pride as I crossed that finish line. That's all I wanted. But, I had to get through this last bit of road. I ran down Yocco Drive, which was a challenge. Not because of the terrain or my screaming knee, but because I could smell the french fry fryers and the hot dogs coming from Yocco's. I was HUNGRY. What a tease. I then crossed over Hamilton and hit mile 12 as I headed back into Cedar Beach.

God bless those spectators standing in the rain...shouting at people they didn't even know. Showing support and getting me to move my legs. Since I could no longer see into the stadium the sounds were a little muffled so it sounded farther away.  It was a little discouraging, but I knew the end was close. As I rounded the corner between the tennis and the basketball courts there was a woman holding up a "PEDICURES" sign with an arrow pointing to the finish. It put a smile on my face and encouraged me to keep going. It also reminded me that I had three stones in each shoe from running the the parkway and that I was going to be nursing a huge blister on the inside of my right foot.

Right before hitting mile 13 there was this crappy little hill that I had to run up to get back to Linden Street. It was uneven, cracked pavement which narrowed at the top and curved a little to the right. It was a potential bottleneck and a definite pitfall, but I made it. The spectators were lined up on the left side of Linden all the way to the stadium. The drummers that sent us on our way at the start were awaiting our arrival to the stadium with rhythmic beats. And again, another crappy little hill to run up and I would be on the stadium track. At this point I was scanning the crowd for my family. I hit the track and start running the loop. It was so neat to run in the stadium with all these people cheering. There was loud music playing...I believe that I heard 'Celebrate' by Kool and the Gang. I HATE that song, but I didn't care. I was celebrating!

I rounded the corner on the track and about 10 seconds later I saw Karen, Marcus and Ava. I started to cry...it was a wonderful moment. They were proud and so was I. I crossed that finish line at 2:31:06, with my pace group. I grabbed my medal, the foil wrap (to stay warm) and immediately sought out my cheering section.
Gus and Ava were walking towards me and I towards them. I immediately embraced them both and started sobbing. I was in so much pain, but felt like a million bucks. As I pulled away, Gus looked down at his shirt and said, "You run a 1/2 marathon in the rain and you wear mascara?!" There was a huge mascara smudge on his shirt. :) Of course I'm not going to leave home without a little mascara! Karen and I hugged...she said that she was so proud of me. And that I was nuts!
We took a few photos and headed to the car.

Walking, breathing, sitting...pretty much anything has been a bit of a challenge since yesterday, but it was worth it. I think of the people who aren't fortunate enough to move like I do or breathe like I do and it all seems so much easier. I'm nursing my left knee and trying to be gentle with the inside of my right foot. .
No matter what I'm faced with, I wouldn't change anything for the world.
And I'm definitely going to do it again.

This week I'll rest and allow my body to recover.
Next week...it's up at dawn to hit the pavement again.