Sunday, May 6, 2012

13.1 Reasons to Smile

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 8ish
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.

It has been an unforgettable ride over these last 12 weeks, and it feels amazing to culminate in such a special way.  Yet even after all the pain, struggle, sweat, and hard work that has gone into it, one thing above all else sticks out the most.  It's not the feeling I got when I crossed the finish line.  It's not the thrill and excitement of taking the first steps.  It's not placing the medal around my neck in triumph.  It's looking back on this journey and today and remembering all of kind words and support that I have constantly been all around me.  As much as I loved the race, what I will truly remember and cherish about today is all of the love that surrounds me.

Thank you for your love and support.

Thank you for being a part of the journey.

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