We did it!
My in-laws rolled into town on Friday night, and we spent a leisurely night eating a healthy dinner, talking, and watching TV. On Saturday Keith, my mother-in-law Karen, and I went for a short, easy 2-mile run around the neighborhood. After that we stopped into a sporting goods store for some supplies (sport beans and shot blocks for nutrition during the race, and a watch with splits for Keith). Then we wandered over to the hotel for the packet pick-up and pre-race pasta dinner.
I was surprised to find that I was more excited than nervous about the race. (aka the 2007 Inland Trail Half-Marathon). I knew that I had trained a lot. I knew that I should be able to go the distance. The only question in my mind was whether I would meet/beat my time goal of finishing in under 2 hours and 30 minutes. Granted, this was a big question. But I felt up to the challenge, and ready to meet it head on.
Even the morning of the race, I felt like I didn't have time to get nervous. We got up and dressed and out the door of my sister and brother-in-law's house, who graciously allowed us to crash there the night before the race and even watched Beckett during the race. Keith greatly enjoyed playing Guitar Hero the night before the race, to take his mind off things.
We showed up to the finish line, and were only there for a few minutes before we headed out to the buses to be shuttled to the half-marathon start. For the marathoners, it was an out and back race, so the half-marathoners were starting at the halfway point and running back to the finish.
Once off the buses, Keith and I shoved our pants and sweatshirts into a bag to leave on the bus. The morning air was cold and crisp, and we were chilled in our shorts and long-sleeved shirts. There were more runners than I had anticipated. At this point, I always look around and decide that everyone else is fitter than me, and had trained harder. Young or old, skinny or fat—they all look like formidable opponents to me in the pre-race jitters.
The night before, Keith and I had planned out my strategy of running 10:30min/mile. That should be a sustainable pace for me, but give me plenty of breathing room so that if I slowed down towards the end, I could still meet my time goal. But as usual, the first mile passed way too quickly, in 9:30. After that I slowed down and watched Karen and her friend Joni fade into the distance. It was hard to let them get so far ahead, but I knew I couldn't sustain that pace throughout the race.
From that point forward, it was just putting one foot in front of the other. My dad, mom, and younger sister joined Keith's dad in encouraging us at several points throughout the race, and it was great to have an enthusiastic cheering section. I decided to listen to a book on my MP3 player, to stick as close to my usual running routine as possible. I told myself I was just out for another training run ... except a lot of people happened to be running the trail at the same time. Wearing racing bibs.
I passed a few people; I got passed. I admired the beautiful fall foliage and expansive fields along the trail. I slowed down a little, and then I sped back up. By about mile 9, I knew that I was going to breeze by my original time goal. To finish in under 2:30, I needed to be running about 11:20/mile. Instead I was averaging about 10 minutes per mile, and still felt like it was a sustainable pace. Even better, I had Karen and Joni in my sights. I hoped I had enough time to catch up to them before the finish.
Toward the end, I started to lose track of the miles. As I came up to a mile-marker, I thought it should be mile 12, but then had a moment of doubt. I had passed mile 11, right? What if I thought I only had one mile left, but it was actually 2? At this point in the race, that would be a huge difference.
Luckily, I was right the first time and it was mile 12. A little further on we turned off the trail and onto a road to run the final few minutes to the finish. Turning onto the road, I mentally groaned. It was uphill! If you were driving in a car, you'd never notice this slight, short incline. But at the end of a race, it seemed like a mountain.
I passed Karen on the uphill, but Joni had already turned on the speed, and there was no catching her. In the end, the three of us finished less than a minute apart, all at 2 hours, 13 minutes, and some seconds.
Our cheering section was there to meet us and congratulate us. So was Keith, looking fresh as a daisy since he'd finished ages ago, in 1:49:27. I was tired, but elated.
In my experience, it's not often that a goal lives up to one's expectations. It also feels like, in day-to-day life, you don't have many opportunities to set a goal, train hard to meet it, and then have a definitive moment to prove whether you've succeeded or not. After finishing the half-marathon, I felt exhausted, and sore, and even a little queasy. But the most dominant feeling was of great accomplishment and pride in my efforts. My sister said that I inspired her, and that was a wonderful thing to hear. How often do you get the chance to inspire people?
So here I am, back on the futon, nearly 12 hours after finishing. I've polished off liters of Coke, countless Reese's peanut butter cups, and many gooey slices of pizza as my reward for the race. I mean, feeling of self-love and accomplishment are great and all, but I still wanted fabulous, calorie-laden treats, too. I'd earned them!
The soreness is starting to set in, and I think I'll be hobbling around for a couple of days. But it was definitely worth it. Congratulations to Keith, Karen, Joni ... and me!:)