Watch? Check. Biofreeze? Definitely. Shoes? Triple knotted.
And so it begins, 6:35 am and I along with several thousand runners am jumping up and down to warm up in this misty 35 degree Sunday morning.
It is race day. A day of resilience, adrenaline and post race indulgences. I can’t help but smile as I look down at my Carolina blue pullover and a customized bib that says “Go Heels” in all caps. Current moods- anxiety that my fractured tailbone will bring me to my knees, uncertainty of where the finish line is, and excitement because I am about to embark on my first half marathon. There is no hiding from the start line now and no doubting that this will not be a walk in the park. It is a run, without stops and little forgiveness. Surrounded by runners who probably all feel the same pressures, I wait and take several deep breaths.
“10, 9, 8, 7….,” yells the crowd, “3, 2, 1, and we’re off!” My feet jump to the sound of the firing gun.
It is mile one, and the darkness is broken by a looming sunrise and the reflective treads on shoes and clothes in front of me. Around the loop we go, rested and ready for the warmth of a blazing sun through the dark sky.
No pain? Praise the good Lord for Biofreeze and Ibuprofen.
I have found my pacer. A short, bullet proof woman who seems to be maintaining a 7:55 pace. Her dancing stride is motivating and I pretend her fans are cheering me on as well.
Let’s fast forward a few miles because who are we kidding, races like this are long and each step brings adventure, challenge and a good bit of problem solving.
It is mile 8 and I have managed to stay within 40 feet of my pacer as we parade along Military Cutoff and wind through the beautiful homes of Landfall. I am tired and just learned to never try to gulp down water while running. You will drop your first attempt to grab a cup and then you will practically choke on each sip. Scratch hydration.
I have never been so excited to see a familiar face. Dad has planned to find me along the course with a Cliff energy block. Oh my. There he is on a bike trying to wave me down. Now this is embarrassing, but I gladly find him and my other faithful fan, Andrew, for a quick baton-like exchange with an energy chew and a good photo.
And I’m back in the game. Now at mile 10 and almost out of the neighborhood, I reflect on the last several miles as the hardest part of the course, mentally.
“Half marathoners, turn right,”yell race officials as they direct us out to main road for the final stretch.
At this point in a race, you are in your own silent world and your legs are moving from muscle memory. There are really no excuses at this point and you can start counting down the minutes until you see the final bend.
“Go Heels,” exclaim spectators as I pass the wall of children, and adults who have devoted this early morning in support of us, a good cause and community.
Wait, this road is actually really long. A half mile left and I will be able to stop dead in my tracks under the finish line with 13.1 miles behind me.
Here we go. Pick it up. Don’t let him pass you. Stride.
Exhale. WE MADE IT.
Through the tunnel of cheers, cowbells and camaraderie, I look at the clock with surprise. I beat it. I didn’t just beat my expected time, but I beat all odds. A week in Jamaica with no exercise, a hurt tailbone from ignorantly cliff jumping, and the nerves of being a newbie in this long distance game didn’t define me. Aside from my minimal preparation these last few days, I worked hard. I pushed myself for 2 months to be the best I could be and there is nothing more rewarding than achieving a goal and surprising yourself along the way.
I have reassured myself today, that anything is possible with a little ambition and whole lot of heart.
It’s almost 8:40 am and I already have a cold beer in one hand and a medal around my neck. With the entire day ahead, the next race is to find somewhere equipped for the best celebratory brunch!