Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon

It's race morning, six minutes to the start and I realize I urgently need to use the port-a-pot. I jog to the line of towering blue huts, only to find the ground surrounding them muddy from rain the night before. Rain water pours from their crisp white tops, blocking the doorway with drips and drops. I try to be quick and get inside but the door is too short and I cannot make it. There is enough brush coverage right behind them, I decide to just take a squat right there, after all everyone is already at the starting line and I am running out of time. But when I can't get into the right position, and I can't hold it any longer, the race is starting and pee is everywhere. Already I feel this is going to be a nightmare of a race but I pull myself together and off to the start line. I have taken so long that everyone is already off and running. Sensors beep as they register the chip in my shoe and I am off. Thankfully the course starts off with a easy downhill, but what goes down must go up and before I know it I am climbing a very unforgiving uphill. Or at least it started as a hill, it turned into a wall and I am literally climbing. My breath is fast, my lungs tight and I realize in all the rush to pee before the start I never took my inhaler. There is nothing I can do now but keep going or give up. I cannot give up, I worked so hard to get here. I must keep going. The wall ends and I am on a platform lined with tables wobbling back and forth. Must I really have to cross this obstacle that is ever reminiscent of Legends of the Hidden Temple. My brain was concentrating so hard on moving forward that it never stopped to wonder how my half marathon had turned into a Nickelodeon game show.

The hotel room is filled with the darkness of early morning, I check my phone and see I have two more hours of glorious sleep. It was all a dream, but it does not ease my mind at all. I get up to use the bathroom and then ease back in to the warmth of my bed. Across the room Boyfriend is sound asleep in his own bed. This was at my request. If you hadn't figured it out by now, I am extremely weird when it comes to pre-race rituals. Once such oddity is I don't like to get too comfortable the night before a race. Getting ready starts from the night before, I spend a lot of time inside my own head and I knew that if I had my own bed for the night I would be in a better place in the morning. Boyfriend does not understand this at all, and it's ok, I don't ever expect anyone to understand, but he lets me do what I need to do and I love him so much for that.

My alarm wakes me and I open my eyes, this time to daylight. I still cannot shake the bizarre feeling from my dreams. My body begs to be stretched so I oblige, munching on bites of peanut butter bagel that I had brought from home. I pop in my ear buds and turn my IPod on to my workout playlist to get me in the right mid-set. It works. I can start to feel myself getting pumped up. Although I have given myself a full hour to eat, dress, and be ready to leave, because everything is so organized from the night before I know it will only take me half that time. Bag packed with sweatpants, a banana, Chap-stick, my inhaler, and Shot Blocks I lay down on my bed and open up "Once a Runner". Even though I start from a random page in the center, I have been over these pages so many times the story always make sense no matter where I start. The words fill me with determination, and the story although fiction inspires me for the day ahead.

Proof of my OCD tendencies. Laying out my clothes the night before (note I did not end up wearing the hat as it did not rain.

I am more than obviously on edge on this morning, my mind can't get itself to a state of relaxation. The unknown of the city and course combined with the unknown of my ability combines in a lethal combination that results in snide remarks. Boyfriend does not enjoy this and tells me straight I need to calm down. He is right. The car is warm and perfect for people watching so we stay for a few minutes before heading out on the mile walk from the parking lot to the start. To my surprise when we get out of the car the sunshine on my back keeps me warm enough. Boyfriend and I are pretty much the only ones on the path, although every now and then we are passed by a runner doing a warm up lap to the start line.

It would only figure that as we approach the start line, I really DO have to use the port-a-pot. We have 30 minutes to the start so I jump in line, with dozens of other runners. One of my favorite things to do at a race is watch runners before the start. Some go old school and wear trash bags, others clad in old sweats and still others grin and bare it in shorts and short sleeves just waiting until the first few miles warm them up. 15 minutes to start, and I am still ten people away from the front of the line. My nightmare is coming true! I start having a mini panic attack. Do I stay in line and chance being late to the start? The line moves, I check my watch, and then I am at the front. I watch for the door to open and then make a mad dash, feeling so rushed that my jacket gets caught on the door latch. Ugh! I go through the motions as if someone outside the door is holding a stopwatch, and my life depends on peeing in a pre-determined amount of time!

Ah! Out at last and on to the finish line. Off with my jacket, two puffs of my inhaler and I was hopping in line with the rest of the runners. It was a sea of red as everyone was dressed in Rutgers colors. Passing the 12 and 11 minute mile pacers I stopped just ahead of the 10 minute mile sign and then I heard my name being called from the side lines. Glancing to my left I was just in time to see Boyfriend bringing his camera up to his face. Click Click Click. I made a few faces at him and in mere seconds the gun went off and we were on our way. This race was so much smaller than any half marathon I have run yet, it look no more than one minute to cross the start line where as in past races it could take up to ten! I made sure to hit the start button on my watch as we ran over the sensors.
Waiting for the race to start, just observing the crowd around me.

Here was my plan. I knew that the last half marathon I did I went out with ten minute miles and was out of breath by mile 5 and slowing down. The one thing I didn't want to do was go out to fast and not have enough energy for a push at the end. The other thing I didn't want to do was have my asthma act up and slow me down at any point during the race. So I planned to start out with 10 minute miles until halfway through, and then if I felt good push a little harder. If I finished at or under 2:10:00 I would be happy. If I finished feeling good I would be happy. And If I could learn to run steady splits through the whole race and not just the first few miles, I would be happy. People all around me yelped and hollered. Groups of friends talked about how great this would be and I wondered if this was their first time or if they were experienced runners. The first mile is always crowded and exciting. There is nothing but optimism in the air as everyone is fresh and filled with energy. We wound around the skinny campus roads, and my attention was in every which direction. On people's outfits, their conversations, the scenery, my breathing, I just wanted to soak in everything I could.

Mile one. I saw the bright red diamond up ahead and checked my watch as we made our approach. I heard someone off to my right call out "Only 12 more to go!" My time was somewhere around 9:30. What? I felt great, like I was doing a nice easy pace but obviously I was faster than I wanted to. I tried to slow myself down and people passed me in waves. It was as if I was standing still and people were just running by me. But the course was not flat and on the uphill I forced by body to push, on the downhill I took advantage of the momentum of gravity.

Mile two. My watch showed I was approximately 9:18. Seriously? I thought I was slowing down and I was speeding up? Now some people would be excited about this, it was a decent speed, but I was not happy. I did not want to be running this fast. But I still felt good. My breathing was good, my body felt good, the sun was shinning keeping me warm and the occasional burst of wind kept me cool.

Mile three and my splits were starting to be closer to where I wanted. About 9:45. We pass our first water stop and I run through with out stopping. I have a plan, and that is water only around mile 6, two shot blocks and that is all. That is all I take in during my long runs and I know that drinking water in the last few miles may feel better short term but will not help me run any faster, in fact it will only slow me down. I stick to the side of the road I feel like it makes it easier to not get caught up in the crowd.

Mile four and five blend together as my splits start evening out between 9:30 and 9:45. I can't help but think that I have not followed my own advice on starting out slow but my body is telling me it is comfortable so I listen to it. When we hit mile five I am excited because Boyfriend should be somewhere on the sidelines at this point. And then I see him! This brightens my mood lot, it's incredible what seeing a loved one on the side of the road can do for your moral.

Mile six the only thing I remember is eating my shot blocks and drinking some water as planned, and then heading into a mile stretch of out and back where we pass the faster runners going in the opposite direction. The only thing I can think about is the philadelphia marathon where the second half is one giant out and back to Manayunk. The whole way out you pass everyone who is faster than you, and the whole way back you pass those who are slower. This stretch lasts for less than a mile but it feels just as torturous.

Mile seven is when I start to feel drained. I ask myself stupid questions like why I thought this would be a good idea in the first place. Oddly enough I am still keeping pretty even splits though so I am happy. I wonder how I am ever going to get through two more of these and a whole marathon later in the year. But at some point during this time I remember the post I wrote about my medals, and I picture that finishing moment getting my medal. That medal isn't earned easily I remind myself, it hurts to get there. It's worth it, but you have to push yourself. Somewhere along the course I must have missed mile eight. Although I swear I looked for it when my watch was around 9:30 and it just plain wasn't there. I thought maybe I was just running a slow mile, but the 8 mile marker never came.

Just after mile 7 I can still manage to flash a thumbs up to the camera. Still going strong!

Mile nine, ten, and eleven were pure torture and all I remember is convincing myself to keep going, you have to keep going, you have to keep pushing, push as hard as you can until you can't breathe and then you can back off. I have no idea what kept me going during that time, I have no idea how I didn't slow down during that time, because I sure as hell felt like I have been beaten up and spit back out. But I kept thinking about my hard workout from Wednesday and how hard I had pushed myself for three miles I pushed through burning lungs and gasping for breath.

When we hit the marker at the end of 11 I could not put into perspective the two miles we had left, and then we headed into an uphill. It was awful but short, I guess everything is short after running up Schoolhouse Lane so many times and we banked off to the right and into a park.
"Looking strong on the hill, good job runners, the park is all flat from here" Called out one of the volunteers. No hills? A flat loop? I now recognized where we were because we had parked our car near the finish earlier in the morning. I knew how close we were to that finish so the bulk of the remainder of the race would be in this park. Only this volunteer lied, or was maybe just misinformed because the park was not flat. Music blared from speakers at the side of the road and a water stop came into view. I was so tempted to stop and let the cool refreshing taste of gatorade quench my dry mouth but I stayed strong. I knew I could finish with out it. Up another tiny hill, down another tiny hill, and a large loop through the park revealed the second most glorious sight of the day. "MILE 12"

This was it. One mile to go. I had done it. The last mile was just a formality in my mind. All I had to do was not change a thing and I was home free. Before I knew it we were out of the park and onto College Ave, heading back uphill and then coasting downwards to the finish. I could hear the blaring music of the finish line and spectators lined both sides of the street. I could see it! Oh my goodness I could see the finish. This was the best I had felt since mile 5! School age children held out their hands for high fives and I bounced from side to side of the street to bend down and tap my hand to theirs. Did that slow me down by a few seconds? Yes it probably did but I didn't care. I was having the time of my life. "MILE 13" is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I turned left and into the final stretch almost not noticing when Boyfriend called out my name. I threw my arms up in triumph and pushed with all I had to the finish line. That is until I felt the all too familiar stomach tightening nauseating feeling that came right at the finish of Hartford. I held back my pace and let the sensation lessen, noticing the clock said 2:05 and some change I was happy enough, I didn't need to push myself to the point of vomiting anymore.

Seeing the finish line made me the happiest girl in the world at that very moment

I had done it. I had really truly finished the race. So caught up in the excitement and the emotion I almost forgot to hit 'stop' on my watch and so my last mile split is somewhat off. I get my finisher medal, and am handed two bottles of water as I try and hold it together. I am almost in tears that is how happy I am to be finished. I part ways with Boyfriend momentarily to wait in line for the typical grab bag of food. Water, bagel, soft pretzel, orange, granola bar. I don't care what is in the bag, I just want to grab it and get out of this crowd. Once I am back with Boyfriend I crouch in the grass eager to break into my orange. He says how proud he is of me and I say thank you.

And I truly am thankful, that he came out to spend the whole weekend with me in all my weirdness and with all my strange habits, and stood out in the cold and ran from spectator point to point trying to see me as many times as he could before the finish. We stop and buy coffee and breakfast for him at a nearby coffee shop before heading back to the car. All I can think about is, now that this is over there is so much ahead. This was only the beginning, only a start on a long path to staying in good running shape for as long as I possibly can. No more winters off, no more excuses, and hopefully no more injuries for a while. Finishing this race, I proved to myself I can do anything I set my mind to. I am stronger than I give myself credit for, I always have been I just have to learn to tap into it.

Never felt so good to be finished with a race - and another medal to hang on the wall!

xx Sara


jashikcrib said...

Great job!

Denise said...

YEA!!! congrats! you did great!

Emily said...

Congratulations to you!

Traci said...

Congratulations, just looking up reviews on Rutgers Half and your post popped up! Good job on all the running. Cheers! - Traci

FDIleague said...

Great job!! I heard the race was cut short due to the flooding. At what mile was the cut?? Great blog, love the details!