sherpa support crew dropped me off near the starting line at about 6am, and almost immediately I ran into a friend. She had some friends staying at a nearby hotel, so we wandered over there–indoors, with nicer bathrooms! Around 6:30 I started to get anxious about getting to the start with enough time to settle my brain down and get ready to go, so I headed over to the starting area on my own. I ran into some more Rogue runners, and we walked over to the starting area. A few more Rogues joined us, and before we knew it, we were moving forward. Go time.
The first song my playlist chose was “The Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. I hoped it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The first 30 minutes of the race, it was still dark out. As the sun came up, I wondered if I had started off perhaps faster than I’d intended, and at some point after three miles I looked at my watch. I was running between a minute and 90 seconds faster than that goal pace. But I felt really good and just went with it. I’d set my Garmin to alert me if my pace fell below the average I needed to meet my goal, and so far it had only buzzed when I slowed through the water stops. I know conventional wisdom frowns upon “banking time,” running faster early in the hopes of offsetting later, slower miles. But I knew the later miles would be more challenging whether I slowed down at the front end or not, so through the first half of the race, I tried not to worry about whether I would hit a wall later and just kept going at whatever pace felt comfortable.
Somewhere after mile two I got my first text from K, cheering me on. I used my bluetooth headphones to ask Siri to read it to me: “Ok, two miles behind you! Yay, you don’t have to run them again!” I laughed. At mile five, her text reminded me that at mile five of the Cleveland half, she was dancing and singing out loud.
Four miles, five miles, six miles–no Garmin alerts other than mile counters. High fives from a friend on the sidelines though, which was unexpected and quite awesome!
At about 6.5 miles my sherpas waited at the bridge. I could see the bridge at least half a mile away, and I just focused on getting there. B had made a sign and was cheering like a madman. He’d drawn Steve from Minecraft being chased by one of the Minecraft bad guys to the finish line, and it said “Steve believes! GO MOM!”
I dropped off my discarded arm warmers and kept going. B ran with me for a few steps, and I carried on. M texted K to update her on my progress and send a picture of B’s sign, and I soon got a reply: “Now you are safe from the creepers and ghosts!”
Around mile 7, the Clif Shot people were handing out energy gel, but I had my own gummy gels and kept going. As I made the turn past the baseball fields, my stomach kind of lurched–bleah. But after a half-mile or so, it felt okay again and I put it out of my mind.
At this point, my memory played a trick on me. Even though I’ve lived here 30+ years and I knew better, I had it in my head that after I made the left turn, it wasn’t more than a couple of blocks to the turn onto 45th Street. Yeah. No. I still had about two miles to go before that intersection. But this area is largely residential and a lot of neighbors had come out to cheer. One young girl even had a table with bananas and apples–sadly the Free Cookies were all gone.
Finally, 45th Street. Where it kind of goes uphill. Yarg. K’s perfectly timed text said: “I know it hurts, but you worked too hard to slack off now!” It’s like she knew I was struggling.
Some of this section is kind of fuzzy in my mind. I remember my ipod playing a song J and I had laughed hysterically about (cheesy 1980s hair band) when we were in Huntsville together last summer, and in my head I imagined that scene and the one of K dancing, with that song as background music. It was like a TV sitcom montage in my head. By the time the song ended, I was past the hilly section and rolling again.
More cheering and high fives from a friend working the water stop near mile 10. And K’s text said: “Just fucking run!” which made me laugh again because it sounded funny in Siri’s voice.
This is a pretty busy road with several large intersections. Police directed traffic, and as I approached one of the intersections, the officer waved a car through. But the driver hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t move quickly. The officer actually held his hand up to ME to stop, but because that was completely alien to me, I didn’t register it and kept going. Whoops. But really, who asks runners–in a race of this size, in which streets are closed–to stop for some dumbass not quick enough to recognize his turn to move?
I didn’t fall into that “just a 5K to go!” thinking–I’d made that mistake last year and knew it would be the most difficult part of the race. Not “just” a 5K. Miles 11-12 involve some rolling hills, and my legs were tiring. I went back to that sitcom montage strategy in my head, which once again got me through the worst of it. At the highest point on Duval Road, I could see the University of Texas ahead, and I knew I was almost finished. Down the hill at Duval, onto San Jacinto. K said: “You worked hard for that damn medal–go get it!” And then: “Suck it up, buttercup. You can do this.”
I passed the football stadium. I’ve had season tickets for eighteen years, so this place is familiar to me. We just hired a new coach–his last name is Strong–and the back of my shirt (coincidentally) said Run Strong. It felt like a little tip of the hat to my football team. Then I realized that with under a mile to go, I was still well under my minimum pace and would definitely meet my ‘If I have a perfect race….” goal. In football terms: nearing the end of the fourth quarter, I had the ball and a lead the other team couldn’t catch.
But I was hurting.
I approached 19th Street where B was waiting. He ran up to me and fell in stride. There’s a little incline in the road here, between San Jacinto and Congress, and I needed every bit of help to get me through it. B chattered about something he’s building in Minecraft while I tried not to puke or die. Then he said, “You’re going to sprint the last of it, right?” Gah.
We turned onto Congress Avenue. The finish line was about two blocks down, the Capitol looming behind it. I sped up. Where I got that energy, I have no clue, but I gave it all I had. We finished together, and B asked if I’d come in under my goal. I knew I had, so I didn’t look at my watch right away. I got some water and my medal, then the photographers took a picture of us.
At this point, my phone was blowing up–K wanted to know my finishing time. “I’m having you chipped permanently. The suspense is killing me!” Only then did I look at my watch.
I absolutely destroyed last year’s time–by 19 minutes. NINETEEN. I’d beaten this year’s main goal by nine minutes and my rainbows-and-unicorns goal by four. K said: “You fucking nailed it!” and, well, I guess I did.
It took a while for the whole thing to sink in, though. We were on the highway headed home when it really hit me, the magnitude of a 19-minute PR. Tears, goosebumps, and immense gratitude for the people who helped me get there.
This medal is for you.
Symbolically, not literally. I’m not giving that sucker up.