It's taken me a while to get my thoughts together about the OUC Half Marathon last Saturday. It's still hard for me to believe I ran 13.1 miles, let alone process the information that I ran those miles in 2 hours 3 minutes.
I left for the race EXTREMELY early, knowing that I wanted to be at the race site no later than 6:15. I took my chances going toward streets I knew were going to be closed during the race, in order to find parking. I had absolutely no problem getting into the parking garage and found a spot on the third floor! So I braced the cold (it was right around 40 degrees outside!) and left my car, heading in the direction of the starting line. On my way out of the garage a very friendly gentleman from the West Volusia Runners asked me where Lake Eola (where the race was starting) was, and we struck up a conversation all the way to the port-o-potties. We separated there, and I didn't see him again, but I thought about him several times during the race--I hope he did well!
After the port-o-potty stop, I decided I needed to get warm, and praise the Lord...the Panera right by the lake was open! I found a little table, sat down, and just stared into space for a while. I was lucky--because I was there so early I was able to sneak into the bathroom with minimal wait. On my way out of the bathroom I was THRILLED to find my friends Claire and Jen, and Jen's husband Mark, sitting in Panera. I was so relieved--this was a group I wanted to run with, at least for the first several miles, because I knew they'd be going at a fairly quick pace. After a few extra minutes of warmth, we went outside and headed to the starting line. We picked the pace group between 9 and 8 minutes per mile to start out with.
Chatting with my friends kept me calm. That's the only way I can explain it. I am usually SO NERVOUS before a race. But this time, it was like the clock started, and I just casually started running. It was great! It was hard to get into a good pace because of all the people, and trying to stay with the group was a challenge, but we were able to stay together and get into a groove.
The first 1.5 miles was a piece of cake and went by so fast I didn't even realize it. And the miles just kept ticking by. When we passed 3, Claire turned to me and said "Well, now all you have to do is what you did on Thanksgiving, 10 miles." And I smiled, because even at that early stage in the race, I knew I could do it. I had set out with a game plan; I wanted to go at least five miles before taking any water or Gatorade. I had not been training with any water at all, but after last week's 10 miler where I was crazy thirsty by the end, I knew water was going to be necessary. When I hit five miles and realized I had reached my first goal, I was ecstatic. We were having a great time talking and joking around, and the consensus was that we all felt really good. There were many smiles and laughs, and I loved that.
I think it was at that point, or just a little bit before that, that I lost my group. Some of them had slowed down to take water, and I kept going, and just going and going. For a split second, I was scared. I didn't know if I could stay on pace without them, or if I would be able to stay mentally strong without the laughter to distract me. I was going it alone, and I was going fast. I turned up my music, and it felt great to open up on the road. I stuck to my gut feeling that I should take water, so I did. At each water stop starting after five miles, I took a cup of water, slowed down to a brisk walk for five steps and counted them off: one, two, three, four, five; tossed the cup and started running again. It was beautiful. I felt like a well-oiled machine.
The miles ticked by and I kept a mental tally of how many I had left. After five miles the time passed much more slowly. But each time I crossed a new mile, I was amazed that I had made it that far.
When I got to mile nine, and I mean literally as soon as I stepped past the sign, my stomach started to growl. I realized "Holy crap...I'm STARVING." I had to make a quick decision--should I stick with water or go to Gatorade? I hadn't trained with water, so even taking THAT was a risk. But I had no GU, no gels, no gummy snacks, because again, I hadn't trained with them. I decided to take the chance and made the decision to get Gatorade the next time it was offered, knowing that it could totally backfire. I took the cup, took my five steps and sips, threw it to the side, and went on my way. I was fine. The only thing that bothered me was that it seemed to dry my mouth out, but it quelled my hunger, so I just decided to go back to water at the next stop. And let's face it, I only had 4.1 miles to go, so I was almost there!!
At this point we began to run on more brick streets. I had been warned that the brick would be hard on my feet and knees, but I honestly didn't have a big problem with it. And there were sidewalks available that I used if I thought I could go faster.
As I was picking up my pace on one of the brick streets, I noticed two men running in bright neon yellow shirts. The two of them were holding a rope between them. I thought, "what a neat way to stay on pace--hold a rope and just don't let go!" But as I got closer I noticed that the man on the right was talking softly to the other: "Ok, we're on brick now, do you feel that? There's a little dip coming up..." The man on the left was blind. And he was running a half-marathon. He couldn't see the brick, the trees, the beautiful historic Orlando homes, or the other people around him. But he was running. That moment was such an inspiration to me and really kept me going through the rest of the race.
The last 3.1 miles were the longest. And to my knowledge, for at least the last two miles, there were no mile markers. I had been mentally and physically strong up to this point, and I had to fight just a little bit to keep it up and not let myself break down. Then I started to see the elite runners walking back to cheer us on. And I knew--it was almost over. As I rounded the corner onto the last street, "Awake My Soul" by Mumford and Sons came on my iPod. It's a song that means SO MUCH to me, and I had used it the day before to help tell my story in my final presentation for graduate school. I was flooded with emotion and adrenaline, and pushed my hardest. At this point I knew exactly where I was, because I am familiar with downtown Orlando, so I was talking my way through it as I passed buildings and streets.
I can't describe my feelings as I sped up and sprinted to the finish. There were tears in my eyes as I thanked the runners who had come back. I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air, partly out of triumph, partly out of praise to God for giving me a strong body and mind to get through the race. The tears were falling as I walked toward an open area to stretch and text message my husband, who was waiting for me somewhere at the crowded finish line. When he smiled and said "I'm proud of you," I BEAMED. I'm proud of me, too. I felt great. I felt great through the whole race. In just a couple of months I more than doubled the distance I was able to run, and ran a race, finishing in two hours and three minutes. Like I said, it's still hard for me to believe. My friends finished about a minute behind me, SMASHING Jen's goal to finish in 2:05, which would be a new PR for her.
Now I'm left wondering, what's next?! I feel like I can do ANYTHING.