The day I have been working toward for 12 weeks is finally here.
Today, I ran my first half marathon.
After what has been a grueling and exhausting 12 week training program, I had mixed feelings. Some days I felt ready. Some days I felt so unprepared. Last night I kept going through streaks of excitement followed by nervousness. I wasn't sure how it was going to go, but no matter what, I was going to give it my best shot.
Last night, we headed up to Fort Collins, the location of the race. The closer I got to the city, the more nervous I was getting for the upcoming challenge. So the first thing we did was to do the best thing I could think of to calm myself - drive the course. I was able to see the roads, the paths, and the hills. I tried to visualize running the course, making note of the obstacles, trying to put into mind what I could expect in the morning. Then came the expo and packet pickup. After a quick loop inside, it was off to dinner. We found a fun little Italian restaurant and ate on their rooftop - a cozy pre-race dinner. It was starting to get a little late, so a quick trip to the grocery store was the last thing on our agenda - I grabbed my typical pre-race breakfast of Clif Bars and fruit (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries), and a couple snacks and drinks for after the race. After that, we settled into the hotel. I laid out my clothes and gear, took a shower to calm my nerves, and called it a night.
At 4:55AM the alarm sounded. I packed up everything, put on my race gear, and got ready to go. Hopped in the car and headed to the buses. For this race, since it was down a mountain highway and the roads were closed, a bus had to take all the runners to the start lines. When I stepped on the bus, here's what I posted:
I was so unbelievably nervous at this point. Literally shaking.
We got to the starting area about 45 mins before the race started, so it was a whole lot of time killing. A little stretching, a little music, a little hoping I wouldn't die in the next few hours.
We received the announcement to walk to the starting line. Here we go.
Mile 1-3 - I started out feeling really strong. The gentle downhill helped, and it was an absolutely beautiful morning for a run. Adrenaline was pumping, and it just felt so good for this day to finally be here.
Mile 4 - As I hit the mile 4 marker, I was in the zone. But I heard my name along with a bunch of cheers, and I looked up to see my girlfriend standing there with a group of our friends cheering me on - with a cowbell! I was beyond shocked at this point. She was going to meet me at the finish line, and I had NO idea any of the others were going to come. What an amazing surprise! I couldn't even squeeze out any words because I was in such shock, but I heard the expression on my face was pretty priceless. So for the next mile, I had this super giddy spring in my step, and 4-5 ended up being my fastest mile of the entire race.
Mile 5-7 - I was still feeling REALLY good during this stretch. During long runs, this is generally when I start seeing signs of fatigue. But not today! I was still keeping a good pace, and I was getting excited. At the halfway point, I was on pace for about a 2:07 finish. I heard this and I think I got a little greedy. I knew I would slow a little bit, so I had 2:10 in my sights.
Mile 8-9 - I was starting to get a little tired, but still was feeling pretty good. Just before mile 8, my fan club was there waiting for me again - such an amazing feeling! I still felt good, and looked considerably good too!
Mile 9 was my first mile to go above 10:00, which usually happens around mile 5. I still felt pretty solid, and I was getting close to double digits, it was looking promising. I was still on pace for sub-2:10, and I was getting excited.
Mile 10-12 - Just before I hit mile 10, I was drained. I was starting to crash, so it became just about finishing. I finally had to stop and walk. I caught my breath, got plenty of water, and set myself up for the last 5K. I told myself that this would be my one and only stop, and 2:10 was still a possibility, but I'd be close. When I hit the 10 mile mark, I started the run again. Right when I started running, I saw my friends again for the 3rd time! It was super uplifting, yet I knew I was declining. All I could get out was "I'm dying." Just before 11, I had to stop and walk again. My calf had started cramping a bit, and I spent the last 3 miles of the race in pain. I would run long chunks and take short walking breaks. I would dump water on my head and guzzle Gatorade. But I was fading. Fast. With any chance at 2:10 gone, 2:15 became the new number.
Mile 13 - With only 1.1 miles left to go, I vowed that I would finish strong and run the entire thing. But my body had other plans. This was the mile that I walked the most. I could only run for chunks at a time, but I was doing it. I was getting so close. I rounded the final corner as I was walking, and there I saw it ahead of me. The literal and metaphorical end of this journey sat there staring at me. So I started running. And faster.
Final .1 - I pass a lady as the crowd is cheering everyone along down the home stretch. I feel/hear a presence behind me. I look over my shoulder and see this guy barreling down on me, going for a strong finish. I shout "Oh no!" as I speed up to match his stride. We make eye contact, give each other a nod, and shout "Let's go!" So the two of us start an all-out sprint to the finish line - flying by several other people in the process. I am yelling to this guy "Let's go!" "Come on!" "Let's do this!" The announcer sees us and gives us a huge shoutout for the great race to the finish line. The crowd is going absolutely nuts at this point. I beat the guy by about 2 steps, turn around, we hug it out, and we go our separate ways. Without that guy, I would have probably ended on a mediocre note, but we pushed each other all the way to the end.
The letter that I wrote myself on Feb. 14 has now officially come true.
I met up with our group as they congratulated me over and over for my accomplishment. They helped me get more water and food since I could barely walk at this point.
We all went out to breakfast, and I finally had a chance to check my phone. I was floored by the responses that I got - the calls, the texts, the messages on facebook. All of the emotions from the moment really hit me at that point. As I sat there reading what seemed like an endless string of messages and well-wishes (literally hundreds over the past few days), surrounded by a group of people who drove way out of their way to be there to support me - this is when I realized how truly lucky I am.
Thank you for your love and support.
Thank you for being a part of the journey.