Race starts are peculiar events to witness. Hundreds of people, in various states of dress and preparedness, are wandering, stretching, chatting, and waiting. Everyone has a story about the journey to the start line, and everyone will have a unique narrative about his or her experience en route to the finish. On Saturday night, this was mine.
The Start: I briefly wonder why I am about to run 13.1 miles 2 days before I start official marathon training but then my husband reminds me that I’m going to be running a marathon so I might as well get a long run in for the weekend. True. I vow to take it easy, no need to push for a personal record, no need to chase down the pack in front of me, it is enough that I am just getting it done. My music is plugged in, I’m rocking the 80s tonight, let’s go.
Mile 1 – The Scramble: People are jockeying for position. The fast runners are weaving around the slow runners and run/walkers, and everyone is trying to get around the group of best friends running four abreast blocking the entire path (side note: ladies, I love you, but let things sort out before you start running arm-in-arm). Everyone is trying to figure out where they belong, and then either fighting their way to get there or fighting to at least maintain their position. It is an absolute scramble, but eventually everyone finds his or her happy place.
Mile 4 – Settling in for the Long Haul: My pace the first three miles was a series of big, wide swings from impossibly fast to uncomfortably slow depending on the traffic around me. Finally, by the start of mile 4, I settle into a comfortable training run pace. This is where I will be, happily listening to Madonna and U2, as I plod along with My People – the group of about 10 other runners, strangers to me up to this point, who share this pace. Provided we all hang in there, we will keep each other company for the remaining 9.1 miles. This will be my pack for the duration.
Mile 6 – Almost Halfway: It is time to take stock (and have a snack). I am feeling good, feeling steady, and I am actually a little ahead of where I thought I would be. Hmmm. Interesting.
Mile 7 – Euphoria: The runner’s high set in full force – life is awesome, I am awesome, this race is awesome! (It is entirely possible that this is the caffeinated Gu at Mile 6 talking, but, whatever – this rocks!) I now am running on the heels of the 1:55 pacer. If I can stay on him, it will put me at the finish 4 minutes faster than my PR. To hell with just getting a training run in, let’s DO this.
Mile 10 – Reality: I am feeling my muscles now, and they are a little tight. Pacer Boy with his 1:55 sign is just out of my sight, but I still have some wiggle room. If I can hang in there with a steady run, I will have my PR (barely).
Mile 11 – Ouch: Left calf, what are you doing to me? No joke, this hurts. I pause for a minute to stretch it out, and shake my head in disbelief. This is a new one for me, and I do not like the challenge it presents.
Mile 12 – Dead Stop: Before, the term “stopped dead in her tracks” really did not hold much meaning. But just after 12 miles, two invisible vise grips clamp down on each of my calves and bring my run to a screeching halt. I did not plan for this. I did not sign up for this. I really do not know how I am going to coax these legs into getting me to the finish.
Mile 12.5 – A Little Help: As I round the corner (slowly) for the last stretch, my son is waiting for me and starts clapping when he sees me. As I pass him, he joins me on the course and falls into step by my side, and then quickly realizes that he would not be pacing me to finish at a sprint, but rather will be coaching me just to get me to the finish line. In an absolute role reversal, my son will talk me through the remainder of this race.
The Finish: I made it. It was not always pretty, I did not get my PR, but I accomplished what I set out to do. It feels good, and the reward is great.
I walked away from the race knowing that I accepted the challenge and overcome the obstacles with a confidence that comes with the knowledge that I had the support and encouragement of my family behind me every step of the way. Without that last bit, family, the race really would have meant nothing at all.