Part 2 of my first half marathon attempt, at the Denver Rock & Roll Half and Full Marathon
(Part 1 can be found here)
Four days before the race, I had an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist for my elbow. The surgeon released me, saying I was two months ahead of recovery schedule and he gave me his “blessing” to run, saying there would be no consequences to my elbow. The physical therapist said I was ahead of schedule as well, and with another month, she was confident we could work out the last of the resistance in my elbow to it being fully extended.
I was so excited- it felt like a giant weight had been lifted, and I now had the confirmation I was going to be OK- I wasn’t going to be limited to one arm, in pain, for the rest of my life. That was it- there was no reason medically I could not run. The next day, Thursday, I did a light workout, just to get the legs moving, and I felt a shin splint pain, when I was done. It was in the same place it had been over the summer. I rolled it out on the foam roller, and tried not to freak out. I told myself it still had two full days of rest, and it would be fine. I took it easy with rest until Sunday- race day. I could barely sleep the night before, but managed to get a few hours in, until my alarm woke me up at 4:30AM. Today was the day I had been working for, for four years- I would know in a few hours, if I could do this!
I arrived at the race at 6:15AM- an hour before race time. I had to park a mile away and walked in. It was about 45 degrees out- much warmer than I had thought it would be. I had brought my warmer running jacket, because it had lots of pockets to hold all my race stuff, but realized it would be way to warm to wear. So I was mentally trying to figure out if my running shirt and running capris would hold my 2 GU fuel packets, a packet of sport jelly beans, tissues, and lip balm. I figured I would just have to make them fit in my two pockets. The walk was a good warm up and I was happy I had no shin pain whatsoever.
The race site was already buzzing and energetic. The sun was coming up. I saw lots of people together, and a lot of solo runners as well- young and old- it was nice to see such a variety of runners. I drank a little water, ate a small bagel, and figured out where the bag check was. I warmed up and stretched for about half an hour. I took one of the GU energy packs. I had to walk back to the starting corrals, and my friend texted me- he was in a different starting corral than I, but we wished each other well. I took off the last of my warm clothes, checked my bag, and headed to my starting corral.
By now the sun was up, and the first wave of runners were off. I was in starting group 9, and I think there were are 16 or 17 starting waves. It was so crowded, I couldn’t make it into the corral, with the crowd on the street, so I just crawled through an opening, and waited. I actually had no nerves- no butterflies. I was concentrating on not starting too fast. Much easier said than done. I started getting some adrenaline as our group started walking towards the starting line. I was here, really here. It hit me. I was really, really, about to start off on my 13.1 mile dream. This wasn’t a 5K, or a fast 3K. 13 miles- it was going to be long- it would probably be painful at some point, but I got tears in my eyes. I was here for ME. This was 100% me- no one else. If I could do this- I could do anything.
“5-4-3-2-1!” I hit the start on my Garmin and ran over the starting line. My only thought was not to go too fast. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were blowing by me. I felt a little wimpy when the 50 and 60-year old runners were passing me, but it quickly passed. I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t running for anyone else- just for me. I was going to run my race- all 13.1 miles, exactly as I had planned.
I settled into a nice pace for the first mile, despite hundreds of people passing me. I smiled and was thankful this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew some of the people were running way too fast. It made me keep looking at my Garmin though, and I was nervous. I was running a consistent 11:30 pace. That was too fast. I had to slow down. In training I was running 12 and 13 minute miles. I wanted to run at least 12 minute miles for several of the first miles.
Miles 1 and 2: The first two miles were easy for me. I was trying to get on a 12 minute pace but couldn’t. It felt too slow, and not how I wanted to run this day. I was feeling very strong, not tired at all. All the running I have done- whether it was a half mile run, or a 10 mile one, trained me for this. I knew I could run consistently 11 something miles, and while I wanted to run smart, I certainly didn’t want to feel like I held back. This was my race- my time- to run exactly how I wanted to. I made the mental switch at about 2.5 miles. I was going to run by how I felt. I could always slow way down to 12 or 13 minute miles if I needed to. I stopped looking at my Garmin, and just tuned into my breathing, and pacing.
Mile 3: I hit the 5K mark, 3.10 miles, at 35 minutes. It felt perfect. I had 10 miles to go, and I wasn’t tired at all. I noticed I started passing people that had blown by me in the first few miles.
Miles 4 and 5: I just ran. There were some hills, no big deal. My treadmill hills had been longer than these. The crowds cheering on the streets were awesome. I saw lots of signs, smiling and waving people. One man had a little baby strapped to his chest, holding a sign that said, “Becky, you are my hero.” It was so sweet- it just made me smile.
I slowed down a lot going through the water stations- I didn’t want to spill water on me, and I figured slowing down that extra little bit during the stations, might help me in the end. I actually had to use the restroom quick, but every time I passed one, there were such long lines. I didn’t want to stop, get out of sync, so I just pushed it out of my mind, and kept running.
Mile 6: I hit the 10K mark, 6.2 miles, at 1:10, and I had seen I just had a 10:58 mile, and I was feeling fine. I actually teared up at the 10K mark, because this was the longest distance in a race I had ever ran. Lots of 5K’s,a 5 mile race, a 9K, but I have actually never ran a 10K race distance before. I was starting to feel a little tired half way into this mile. I had planned to refuel with a GU energy, and did so at the half way mark. I started to feel a little pain in my shin, but I told myself to push past it- it was temporary, and I didn’t notice it anymore for the entire race.
Mile 7: I was starting to get tired, but I think at the end of it some of the energy pack kicked in. I had taken some of the sport jelly beans, as well. I had been taking water and Gatorade at the stations, so I figured I was doing all I could to make sure my body had enough energy and was hydrated. But, I was really having to pee- the lines were just still too long, and I was running so well, I didn’t want to stop- even for 5 minutes, and risk not being able to get back in sync.
Mile 8: I felt good. This was what I had run just 6 days earlier and still felt like I had a lot more I could do. It was only 5 more miles. I was loving this run- I didn’t want to think too much ahead, but I was starting to think this was shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable runs I have ever had.
Mile 9: My “slow” start started to pay off. I was passing a lot of people. I was still running to how I was feeling, but felt like I was slowing down. Plus it was about a half mile stretch of consistently uphill. I looked at my Garmin and it didn’t look like it was running correctly. I pushed stop and start on it, quickly, and then realized it was running. But I had gotten the lap time off. But I was running 11/12 mile pace. At the end of mile 9, I just felt my body take over. I felt like I had just started running, and ran faster. There was no pain- my elbow didn’t even hurt. I was starting to run more assertively. Everything was in sync.
Mile 10: I arrived at mile 10 at 1:56. It hit me I only had a 5K left to do- 3.10 miles, and I knew I could run that! I started to tear up, but made myself stop. I was running the strongest I had yet, and I didn’t want tears to mess it up. I realized no matter what- I was going to finish, and I was on pace to finish far faster than I had ever let myself think I could. I was running in the high 10 low 11 minute miles, and it was getting towards the end. I reminded myself not to push it too much. I wanted to finish strong.
Mile 11: Someone threw a very long (or so it seemed) hill in there. It was tough. It slowed me down. But, I noticed I was the person doing the passing. Not one person passed me uphill. I wasn’t competing against anyone else, but it made me feel strong, and I realized I AM strong. I finished the hill a little tired, but not beaten or worn out, and felt 100% in control- this was my race, I was having the perfect run, and it wasn’t over yet.
Mile 12: I started running faster, and I was smiling. This is what I had worked 4 years for. I heard people cheering. I heard people say, “look at her running so fast, how is she doing that?” I think they were talking about me, because everyone I was running by was pretty much walking, or running very slowly. I was picking up the pace! I was confident I had run smart. I may not have had months to train, but I know how I run, and in this mile, I was running with my heart and my spirit. I had this, and I wasn’t going to be walking to the finish line. Hell no! I was going to dig deep and bring everything I had to the last mile.
Mile 13: I told myself to just go, and enjoy- this was it! The last mile, was the single most, empowering, exciting and great thing I have ever done just for myself! All my obstacles, all my health issues, all my difficulties in life, all my fears, all my doubts- for this small sliver of time, had disappeared. I was this close to doing the impossible for me. From lying in a hospital bed with my neck sliced open with an organ gone from, having cancer in my cells, to taking radioactive drugs to kill cancer, to having parts of my body burned off to prevent cancer, from losing my mom, to being cancer free to having been in a cast on my arm just weeks before, from losing one of the most important relationships to me weeks before, to knowing I’m not perfect, but I don’t give up. When most people would quit- I don’t. I am strong when I am meant to be weak.
For this last mile, I had extra to give, and I knew it would be the fastest I ran, in the final mile of a half marathon. It all came together- as much as my mind, body, and spirit, had been distraught in the months before, they were strong all working together, as one. All the interval training I have ever done, all the sprints, all the running came to the surface, and I had no more thoughts. I just ran. I was free. I held nothing back. I ran that last mile (it helped it was downhill!) like I was running for the gold in the Olympics, because for me it was- it was my gold medal to my dream.
Mile 13.1: I saw the finish line. I saw myself passing person after person, I heard the crowd just cheering, and I knew I had done it. I crossed the finish line, and in that moment my dream for “someday” wasn’t a dream anymore. It was reality. It was today, in that moment. Nothing held back, no regrets. I had just run the race of my life. I had ran 100% from my heart, and I could never ask for anything more. I got my dream- I got my moment of something wonderful!
I remembered to hit stop on my Garmin, and saw I had just run the last third of the mile at an 8:51 pace. My final time was 2:29. I had been hoping for 2:45, and the time was just the icing on the cake. My final mile had been my fastest: 10:21. My Garmin said I ran 13.31 miles, but official race says 13.10, but our times were the same.
I got wrapped in a heat blanket, drank some chocolate milk, given a smoothie, and just let it soak in. More thoughts and feelings hit me- I cried a little. This- the race- this is what it is all about. Falling down and getting back up, over, and over, and over, no matter how many times. If you want to finish, you have to start. Giving your best, after life hands you its worst. I have failed at many things in life, I have gotten very sick in life, I have made huge mistakes in life, I have regrets, I wish I could have done many things differently, but all these things- just like all the miles added up to get me to the finish line, these mistakes, imperfections, these less than ideal situations in life, make me who I am. Without these, I doubt I ever would have run one mile, let alone 13.1.
Life takes its toll, but running teaches me, despite my imperfections, my mind, body, and spirit do work together. It teaches me my failures and fears will NEVER be stronger than my determination and spirit. And in that last mile it taught me, if you are lucky, follow your dreams, sometimes your fears and failures will intersect with your dreams and successes and make it all worthwhile- more than you can possibly imagine!
Thank you to all my friends, family, and everyone who has supported, and believed in me and my running over the years. I can’t possibly thank everyone individually, but I need to mention some specific people, who if not for them, I would never have been able to achieve my health and my running dreams.
To my sons, Ryan and Cole: Thank You!! You guys are my biggest fans, and my biggest helpers. I love you both with all my heart. If you were not so awesome and flexible to work Mom’s running in with your play schedules, I would have never had enough time to devote to running. You guys helped Mom run her half marathon!!
To Mara, Jeff, Vanessa, Kat, and my dad: My family, I know you are always there when I need you, and thank you for always believing in me.
To Amy: I could tell you I was running to the moon, and you’d support me. From cancer help, to running encouragement- thank you for being a true friend, in every sense of the word. To Aaron: Thank you for talking me into it. To Sarah: Thank you for pushing me into it, and To Debra: Thank you for helping me when I had cancer, and for your always positive attitude!
To all the cancer patients who write me every day: I know how lonely, discouraging, and frightening cancer is. Don’t give up, and continue to fight. When you are able, pursue your dreams. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Envision your dreams on your hard days. Take it one day at a time, and you will get there. Focus on what you do have- not what this disease takes- and draw your strength from your loved ones and friends who are fighting along with you.
And to John: Thank you for providing your love, and support to me, and to my dream. You’ve been there from the beginning, starting with the first run I ever took. Your advice over the years has helped me become the best runner I can, and your encouragement has assisted me in following my dream- more than you know. I love you.
1-11:24 2-11:10 3-11:38 4-11:03 5-11:31 6-10:58 7-11:30 8-11:41 9-12:18 10-11:19 11-10:56 12-11:07 13- 10:21 .31-2:45
Finishing Time: 2:29
Average Pace: 11:15
13.1 Miles! I’m an official half marathoner, with my medal! 10/20/13