Imagine you have signed up for an intimidating race and practiced seven months for it. You know you haven’t been as disciplined as you should have been. You’re not even sure you can finish the whole distance. Still, you love running, and the atmosphere of race day. You know you have grit.
You low-grade obsess about it the whole week before. It’s finally here and there’s no time to improve any more. Still you manage to be positive even when you find out it will be non-stop raining. (At least it’s not hot!) You know it’s a privilege to race. Race day is a collection of people who are brave enough to test their limits. There is an energy of excitement. To me, it feels like a buzzing hum of optimism.
You feel important too. They’ve closed roads and bridges, and there are volunteers all over who are smiling and happy to see you test yourself.
The race began on Market Street bridge headed in the direction of Wormleysburg. I tried to get to the back of the pack so I wouldn’t be tempted to go out faster than I intended. To keep myself relaxed I decided to smile at anyone who made eye contact. My shoes were already soaked because my “primo” parking spot happened to be in the middle of a four inch puddle. Oops, didn’t notice. I’m just going to go ahead and mention that it was raining and I will not be mentioning that fact in future because it rained the whole damn time.
I started my first podcast episode, WTF with Marc Maron. The episode was an interview with Anthony Bourdain from 2011. I like listening to Marc because even if the conversation isn’t a particularly funny one, I’m still entertained by trying to picture his accompanying cranky facial expression. I left one ear bud out so that I could hear the sounds of the race. How I kept my heart rate down, I’m not sure, because I was just ready to go.
I occasionally turned my head to reassure myself that I was not the slowest runner in the whole damn race. Insecurities much? I thought to myself, “Hold up. These ladies next to me are doing a run/walk method and they are sticking with me. That’s not fair.” Fair or not, going slow to start was what I was supposed to do, so mission accomplished.
We ran with the Susquehanna River to our right and I took in the view. The river was brownish grey and roiling because of the rain. The Capitol was covered in fog. It was cold and I thought of my husband and son who would be waiting for me once I crossed the Harvey Taylor bridge. Knowing they would be waiting for me in this terrible weather made me feel so grateful and I started to cry. Mile two and I was already overwhelmed with gratitude.
I felt like it took forever to get to them. I usually run a loop in training and a linear route with a landmark you’re straining towards makes the distance go so slowly. Tyler made fun of me because each of the photos he snapped of me had me making goofy faces. I couldn’t help it. I was so happy to see them and wanted Camden to know that Mommy was excited he was there. I waved and smiled and yelled, “Hey baby!!!!!” He gave me the sweetest smile when I got close enough that he could recognize me.
Once I passed the boys I knew I had about an hour until I’d see them again and so I could just relax into the pace and enjoy the view. From the Harvey Taylor bridge we turned onto Front Street and ran in a coned off lane. There were a lot of people to cheer and smiling at them helped me feel grateful. My raincoat was keeping me warm and my visor was keeping the rain off of my face. Marc and Anthony weren’t talking about anything I hadn’t already heard before, so I was ok half listening. A man handed me a beverage which I expected to be water or Gatorade, but turned to be beer. Not my thing. I saw it was frothy and tossed it.
Our route diverted down to the lower level, only five feet or so above the river at it’s current height. There were puddles galore. Even though my feet were already wet, it doesn’t feel the greatest to have a sloshing on your shoe’s foot-bed or a splashing onto your calves, so I tried to avoid them. Maneuvering gave you something to occupy your mind with and maybe helped the miles go a bit faster, but I would prefer to get in a steady pace of course. The leaders of the race passed us going in the opposite direction and we were able to cheer for them.
We ran what felt like a huge square around the PENNDOT building and then entered a “Green Belt” section. At first it was no different from the river front, but soon it became mud and there were puddles that were unavoidable. At parts we had to climb a knee high wall to avoid pretty deep puddles or dangerous mud. I was getting close to that point where it stops being such a struggle and it feels like your muscles just loosen up and you can run so much faster. I wanted to get going and RACE so I was starting to get impatient with the puddles. The green belt led us back to the river front and I decided to give up on avoiding puddles. I was ready to go “fast” and I managed to get in a good rhythm. I dropped a lot of the ladies who had been running with me. Everyone was very happy and supportive, but I liked that it was not very crowded and I could look at the water and the fog and the bridges. In the quiet moment I let myself think of Adam and gave myself a chance to tell him how much I love him. I dedicated my run to him and felt determined to make him proud…Cry #2.
There was a ginormous hill which took us back up to street level. I knew I would be seeing my boys again. Despite the cold, I was starting to get nice and warmed up so I took off my rain jacket to throw to Tyler. Camden was clearly not having fun and pretty cold. I felt simultaneously bad for them and also really proud that my husband understood how much it meant to me to have them there.
Next was a looooooong portion of running on Front Street. I switched my podcast to Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard. It was probably one of the most boring episodes he’s done, but the familiar voices provided me with white noise that helped to drown out any doubts or thoughts of pain or discomfort. (It’s one of my favorite podcasts)
All the runners ahead of me were headed back in the direction of the walking bridge and most of them looked tired. I needed not to look forward at how much farther it was until I could turn around. (That turn was a big deal for me mentally because it signaled my last portion!) I made eye contact with as many runners as I could to tell them “Good Job” or give them a thumbs up. I got so many smiles and they really helped me.
We had some water stations on this portion which were manned by a local cross country team and they were phenomenal with their encouragement. I think I’ve mastered the drinking from a cup without stopping. Tyler pointed out I’m probably just better at it because I was going much slower in this race than I was in the 10k.
Once we were turned in our final direction we ran about 2.5 miles on street level and then had to take that same huge hill down to river front. I walked most large hills and definitely did for this steep downhill. Even if I wasn’t trying to save my quads and keep my heart rate down, the river front section was getting much more dangerous. The puddles were getting even deeper. I ran through a puddle that ended up being 5 inches deeper than I anticipated and muddy on the bottom so my foot made a scary little twist. There were sections that were completely covered in water and we had to walk as if on a balance beam on the outer portion of the sidewalk. If you toppled to the left you’d fall down the steps and roll right into the river. It was a bit scary when I was that close. Another section had a man from the race staff directing us where to put our feet since the puddle was deep and muddy. Definitely an adventure.
In miles 11 and 12 I started to wonder how I should proceed. My longest run had only been 11 miles so this was all new territory. I didn’t know if I was going to blow up at any minute and feel like I had nothing left. For our Turkey Trot 5k the final portion of the half course was also the end of our 5k. I was running MUCH faster then, but when I took the hill that leads up to the walking bridge I felt completely sapped and had to push REALLY hard to get a final kick of speed. I didn’t want to have to try too hard for the final sprint because I wanted to be fast in order to cut off some time but also to finish strong.
There were two women whose pace was pretty close to mine. I just took their cue pace wise, but I felt like I could maybe push it a bit more, especially when we entered mile 12! I was anxious to get up that hill and sprint. Instead I played it a bit safe. I walked the hill since running it in the 5k felt so foolish, then I took off. I was proud of all the energy I still had left, but half way across started to get scared again that I’d use it all and feel like I had to walk. I DID NOT WANT TO WALK IN TO FINISH. I pulled back just a bit and finished still sprinting. Tyler and Camden were there waiting for me.
I was shocked to see the gun time. It said 2:33:43! I had no idea what I could do since I had never run this distance before, but I had a window of times I would be proud to have achieved. I thought I could get a 2:45, but if I pushed maybe a 2:40. A time of 2:30 was the pie in the sky dream, and here I was so close!!
I got my blanket, a water, and my medal and I just kept thinking, “I did it.”
Tyler moved to the side so I could meet him and Camden there and as I walked towards them I started to bawl. I told Tyler “Babe, I did it” and he said, “YOU DID IT BABY!” with tears running down his face. He told me he was proud of me. I asked him if he could believe how fast I had done it. I was too afraid to even tell him about my time goal, and what’s great is it didn’t matter to him whether I did it fast or slow. He knew that I set this goal for myself and then he watched me work steadily towards it for all these months. He would ask me how many miles I did in my workouts and say “Wow! Babe, 9 miles!” He knew that sometimes it was really hard to just do shorter distances. Because he raced in Charleston with me, he knows how a course can surprise you and race day can throw you curve balls. He really understood what it meant for me to do this. How lucky am I to share that with him and have him get it? What better feeling is there than to make yourself and your loved ones proud? I love it that Camden will see that he has always been there to see Mom race. He will know I have grit because I have been working all these years on becoming a stronger person. He will be inspired to be strong and he will have the very thing I want most to give him: a belief that he can be strong and take on this world.
Man, what a gift it is to race and to achieve your goals!