As I try to think of the words to describe how I feel tonight, I’m somewhat at a loss. (But I apparently found them because this post has turned out longer than I intended.)
After months of training and anticipation, my first half marathon is over. It’s a very strange feeling, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I feel a mixture of pain and pride, exhaustion and joy. I’ve been through a lot in the last year and a half — losing 100 pounds, losing an important relationship and (most importantly) learning how to make my own joy. Crossing the finish line was a culmination of so many things, and I was overcome with emotions of all kinds. It was a cathartic release of everything I’ve had going on in my head and in my heart. It felt amazing, but all I wanted when I crossed the finish line was a hug from my mom. Thankfully, she was happy to oblige.
While most stories start from the beginning, I thought it was fitting for this one to start from the end. Because, for me, the end of this race really is only the beginning.
But enough of this sappy stuff … let’s get into the meat of this race recap. Surprisingly, I was able to get a pretty decent night’s sleep last night of about six hours or so. That doesn’t mean my 4:15 alarm was a welcome sound. It still came awfully early. But, I wanted to get up and eat some oatmeal pancakes and get some water in me before heading to town to catch the bus to the half marathon start. (The full marathon was an out-and-back, and the half started at the turnaround point. That means they had to bus 2,000 runners about 15 miles in the span of about an hour and a half.)
After my traditional pre-race breakfast, Rosebud drove me in to town to catch the bus. We hugged good-bye and wished each other luck. Her 10k started at the same point as the marathon and also was an out-and-back, so I wouldn’t be seeing her again until after our races were over. That’s when the tears started. Tears of nerves, tears of joy, tears of pride, tears of excitement. You name the emotion, and we probably cried its tears.
On the bus ride out, I chatted with my seatmate about the race, which he’d run three times before. We also got to listen to the woman behind us talk about how she runs at a 7-minute-mile pace and she “doesn’t understand why people make such a big deal about the half marathon because it’s only 13 miles …. It’s not like it’s a real marathon.” It was early, and I was trying to keep my emotions under control, or I would have given her my speech about how to her it may “only be 13 miles” but to someone else, it’s an achievement of a lifetime and no one should ever put anyone down for that. People should be able to feel pride when finishing a 5k or a 10k or a half marathon or a walk around the block. Everyone’s goals are different, and no one really has a right to judge that.
The bus dropped us off at the open field we’d call home for the next hour until the race started. It was chilly, and the threat of rain loomed on the horizon. There was one tent in the middle of the field with some protection from the rain, and some tables with cups of water. I made my way over to one of the two dozen porta potties for the first of my three pre-race bathroom stops (I have a nervous bladder). When I stepped out, the clouds opened and it started raining. Like really cold, misty, icky rain. I was not happy, but I was running that race regardless. While my long-sleeved jacket and pants got soaked through, my race clothes were dry. By the time the race started, the rain was a very light mist, and the air was cool. Not bad for running at all.
We lined up, all 2,000 of us, and headed out for our run. I stayed toward the back, knowing that the starting line would be a mess. It was. But it was OK because I could start in the back at my pace and really make this my race. I started off good and strong. I felt great, and the first mile and a half went by really quickly. And I settled in for my run.
Kept up a good pace, between 9:45 and 11:25 for the first few miles. I stopped around mile 2.5 for a bathroom break because the porta potties were free. My plan was to stop at any bathroom I could that didn’t have a line because I didn’t know when I’d need one and it’d have a line. (I made a total of four bathroom stops along the course — nervous bladder, I guess). Good plan, until some lady literally broke the sliding lock off the door trying to force it open (even though it was clearly locked, and the little circle was red, indicating “occupied”). At least a dozen passing runners got to see my skivvies (aka runderwear). Lucky them.
At mile 4(ish), two of my aunts were there to cheer me on. I stopped for hugs. Because, really, sometimes 15 or 30 seconds isn’t worth missing out on a hug when you need it.
Since I ran this course last week and spent my entire childhood and growing-up life on these roads, I knew the race and I knew what was coming next. So, no surprises. I just ran and enjoyed being in the race, with the other runners and my fantabulous playlist. At mile 6.5 or 7, my parents were waiting for me with signs and cheers and hugs and coconut water. My coworker and her daughter were there with a sign and cheers, too. My dad actually picked me up and spun me around, or at least attempted to. It was awkward yet exactly what I needed.
And it put an extra skip in my step. Mile 7 was the fastest mile of the whole race. But, I lost my GPS at this point, too, because Dad’s hug involved the bumping of my watch and it accidentally got messed up. I didn’t realize it until I was about a half-mile down the road. So, it basically was a pace-keeping tool rather than any kind of help during the race.
I really felt great, energized and in a zone I don’t think I’ve ever experienced during a run before. As I watched the mile markers tick down, I couldn’t believe how quickly time was going. But I still felt as if my time was slower than it really was. The whole time I was thinking I’d cross the finish line at about 2:30.
When we were about 5 miles out, the marathon runners started passing us. A lady near me said, “This is when it gets depressing, you know, when the marathoners start passing us.” I turned to her and I said: “Not for me. I think it’s really energizing. It inspires me.” She gave me a look of death and backed off so she didn’t have to run by me anymore. But, it’s legitimately how I feel. It’s so very inspiring and motivating to see them run. And every time one of them passed us, I clapped and cheered with some of the other half marathoners.
When we got to the point where we had three miles left, I started smiling. “Holy crap, girl, you are about to finish a half marathon!” I took a swig of my coconut water and stepped it up just a smidge. The energy of the crowds lining the course (rainy mist be damned) was enough to make me pull my headphones out and finish the race music-less. It was an amazing feeling. And, I’ll admit, I started getting a little misty myself. These tears, though? Purely joy.
With a mile to go, I picked up the speed and started passing the people who had passed me earlier in the race. And I kept it up until I stepped across the finish line. I felt good; my legs were strong as I heard my family cheering for me as I finished.
To see my sister standing there as I picked up my medal was too much, and the tears started flowing. We had both just accomplished something so wonderful, and we’d done it (somewhat) together.
The clock said 2:18 and some change. Un. Believe. Able. That was 12 minutes under my “secret goal” for this race. I was so proud! And amazed, I guess? I knew that was just the clock time and that my chip time would be under that (official chip time: 2:16:14). I was (once again) overwhelmed and cried some more tears. And then there were Mom and Dad, cheering, clapping and (you guessed it) crying right along with me.
Yep, those are cry-eyes. But they’re also proud eyes and happy eyes and astonished eyes. They’re the eyes of someone who still can’t believe the woman they see in the mirror every morning. And they’re the eyes that have watched that woman shrink in size but grow in strength and confidence.
This race was so much more than that for me. It was cathartic and symbolic. And it was a race I will never, ever forget.