Well, I did it. I finished my first half-marathon. And there were so many amazing, wonderful things about it. Also, a few terrible things. Mainly miles ten through thirteen. But we'll get to that.
The morning went like clockwork. I was on the road by twenty to six, second half of my peanut butter bagel in tow, and found parking at the downtown mall with no trouble. It was cold outside--somewhere in the forties, and windy to boot--so I was donning a long-sleeved cotton tee with plans to discard it once I was good and warmed up. Katy and I communicated via cell phone a couple of times to report on parking and wish each other luck, and after a much-needed bathroom break I found my corral near the end of the pack, where I waited for more than an hour for the Mini to begin.
Standing there with runners of various shapes, sizes, and ages, I was no longer nervous about the race, just excited, feeling properly rested, dressed, and fueled to kick some Mini ass. I had no idea what to expect in regards to finish time, but the one ten-miler I did with Katy a couple of weeks back was managed in two hours and ten minutes, and that was with several walking breaks and a couple of torturous hills. Even though I'd been sharing my "under three hours" goal with anyone who would listen, secretly, I expected better. I wanted to hit 2:40:00.
Taken by a fellow racer while waiting for the Mini to start, Indianapolis Artsgarden looming in the background. Not bad for cell phone quality!
The gun went off around seven-thirty. By eight o'clock, I was officially en route, armed with my phone, car key, and a sandwich bag containing pretzels and gummy bears at the suggestion of Dawnie, a seasoned runner who also recommended my breakfast.
Man, it felt awesome.
I took my PT's "start SLOW" warning to heart and advanced along at a leisurely jog, content to study the crowds, enjoy the live music, take pictures with my cell phone, and overall just bide my time. Thanks to the long gap between joining my corral and actually starting the race, though, I already had to pee, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to go very long without making a pitstop to the bathroom. I saw the first string of porta-potties before the one-mile marker, but the line was longer than the run time for Dances with Wolves, and I was already plenty behind, clocking a dismal 15-minute mile pace. Even on my worst training days, I did better than that. Hell, my one-year-old son who likes to snack on his own SHOES is faster.
Chin up, Frema. You're just pacing yourself. You've got the whole race ahead of you to gain back some time.
When I passed mile two roughly fourteen minutes later, my concern grew. However, the size of my bladder did not, so barely a half-hour into the race, I was stepping in line for a porta-potty. Where I stood for SIX EFFING MINUTES before I could lock myself in a closet-sized stall and relieve myself so quickly that pee was still dripping down my leg when I hiked up my pants and hit the road again. (Not really.) (Well, maybe.) (Let's call it poetic license and leave it at that.)
I was closing in on mile three when the best part of the whole race happened and Jenn, a local blog reader, introduced herself. Jenn, your reaching out meant so much to me. I hope that first meet-up wasn't our last.
Unfortunately, my good spirits were dashed when I checked my cell phone at mile three. Forty minutes. At mile five, well over an hour.
This was not going according to plan. Physically I was still feeling good, but you wouldn't have known it from my time. I re-evaluated my random picture-taking strategy. Did I really need shots of every live band? Would anyone benefit from a low-grade image of senior citizens square dancing? This was a RACE, for cripe's sake, not a freaking city tour.
Mile five led us onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a welcome change of scenery compared to the dilapitated houses, grocery stores, and gas stations lining the streets moments before.
Entering the Speedway.
Once inside the Speedway, things started looking up. Something about the track's simplicity made it easier to keep pace, and the gummy bears were a perfect pick-me-up, so as I hit mile nine just outside the track, the face on my phone said 10:03--a little more than two hours after starting the race. For the first time that morning, my 2:40:00 goal seemed reachable, provided I kept at my current pace. Encouraged, I pushed on.
Then I reached mile ten.
It felt like I was the Energizer Bunny whose battery had up and died, because suddenly, my body...just stopped working. Puffy knees, sore ankles, throbbing feet, side stitch--the pain seemed to hit me all at once, to the point that I wasn't sure I could go on. For the rest of the race, I kept my lips pressed firmly together and eyes focused straight ahead, searching in vain for the next mile marker. With each walking break I took--and there were many by that point--I saw my precious 2:40:00 time slipping further and further away. I have no idea why that stupid number meant so much to me, but it so, so did.
Ignore the pain, I told myself. Pretend it's not there. Just a little ways to go.
But I couldn't get past it, and the end wasn't near. Those last three miles were tougher than the first ten, without a doubt, and with each step I took, the lump in my throat grew larger because holy crap, this was not what I signed up for. Luke called me just before mile twelve (I decided against using the stopwatch on my phone so he and I could stay in touch over the course of the race), and I could barely muster the strength to talk to him. He was waiting by the bleachers with the kids, he said. Watch out for us! But my vision was blurred with tears, and I couldn't see anyone.
Luckily, he saw me.
"Look! There's Mommy!" Luke shouted to my babies as they froze to their deaths in the stroller, and all I could do was throw up a hand and keep moving. No hello, no hugs or kisses, no thank you for braving the chaos of downtown to watch me sweat like a pig in cheap Target gear. But I was afraid that if I stopped, I might never make it to the finish line. Even that close, it seemed so far away.
I cried for the entire last mile, feeling so ridiculous and utterly alone. I didn't even realize I had crossed the finish line until I noticed that everyone around me had stopped running and volunteers were passing out bottled water. I'm surprised I still had the presence of mind to grab my finisher's medal.
I met up with Luke and the kids several minutes later, near a Prairie Farms truck that was distributing free bottles of milk to racers and their families. Once he was in arm's reach, I buried my face in his shoulder and totally lost it. My poor husband, he kept saying over and over how proud he was of me, what a good job I did, and I just kept crying. Because completing the Mini felt nothing like I thought it would. Instead of having a Rocky moment and reveling in my accomplishment, I was disappointed in my performance. Embarrassed over my finish time. Angry over my cavalier attitude for the first few miles. That's what stung more than anything--feeling like I hadn't done my best. Plus, while I achieved my "under three hours" goal, I just made it, with an official race time of 2:53:26.
I'm capable of more than this, I thought upon reading the results online yesterday. I should have done better.
No matter what bad feelings I may harbor towards my performance, though, I still have a medal for completing a half-marathon. That's still pretty bad-ass, right?
I think so.
Not quite two days later, I have adopted a more realistic perspective. First off, I'm not even a full year into this running business yet, and taking on a half is no joke (trademark Jillian Michaels). It's not like in high school where you can skip a few homework assignments and still ace a test. You can't trick your body into thinking it's done training that it just didn't do. At least, I can't trick mine. Did I prepare for this race? Hell yes. But did I follow my program to the letter? No. There were days of sleeping in when I should have dragged myself onto the 'mill or at least squeezed in Level 1 of the Shred. I attempted less than half of the allotted cross-training days. And I used my knee injuries as an excuse to take a three-week break from exercise when I should have been focusing on my upper body and core. But I didn't. And ultimately, I paid the price on race day.
But tomorrow is another day, and the Rock 'n Roll Chicago Half Marathon is another race, and this time, I will work harder. In the meantime, I'm going to forgive myself for missing the mark this time and embrace the fact that I finished. Like a wise runner once said, "13.1 miles isn't half of anything."