over the last year or two i’ve surprised myself with an enjoyment of running, even continuing to run up through the final days of pregnancy. after giving birth, waiting six weeks to return to vigorous physical activity was hard. then, when i got the green light, finding time to fit it in was harder. i needed a goal to make sure i didn’t let myself neglect the movement that makes me feel alive and energized.
so last sunday i repeated a feat that was a proud first for me last year, and ran 13.1 miles without stopping. it wasn’t the fairy-tale trip around the lake that i experienced the first time, but i finished!
it seems to be my m.o. to impair my race efforts with poor preparation. last year i set myself up by training too little, working on my feet the entire day before, sleeping only a few hours, and carrying an energy-zapping fetus inside me. since that race went so well (really), i suppose my confidence was a bit inflated, and i shrugged off my lack of conditioning this year. not that i felt invincible, but my body had recently impressed me with its stamina, and i trusted it to get me across the finish line again.
so, having run a total of eight times since giving birth (only one of which was longer than half the distance of the race), and carrying a sleep deficit that had been accruing over five months, i signed up to run the Strides of March Half Marathon a second time. the race was scheduled on my mom‘s birthday again this year (saint patti’s day), and so i set out to honor her with my commitment to finish strong.
getting out the door at 6:30 am was a bit more challenging with a wee one in tow, and we arrived at the race site with only 25 minutes to race time. which is not really much leeway when you have to feed a baby and go to the bathroom before you hit the starting line. poor graham was so sleepy and bewildered that he took longer to nurse than usual, but he needed to tank up to last a couple of hours without me, and i needed to downsize to comfortably wear my sports bra. (ha!)
the line for the bathroom is always crazy-long before a race, but it’s a must. so we all stood in the queue and lee pinned the number on my shirt while my dad secured the beacon to my shoe and i hopped around squealing about how cold it was. i was wearing a jacket and leggings, but decided against the hat and gloves, assuming i would warm up once i started running, as usual. (the previous day had been shorts weather, after all.)
i finally made it to the front of the port-a-potty line with about twenty seconds to the gun. i took care of business as quickly as possible, burst out the door and ran straight across the starting line. i waved to my three boys as i joined the last stragglers at the back of the crowd of racers. (so much for warming up/stretching.)
it only took two miles of facing the icy forty-degree wind to realize that leaving the hat and gloves was a baaaaad idea. my sleeves weren’t long enough to cover my hands, and my fingers were already painfully numb. i noticed a woman in front of me take her gloves off and clip them to her hip, and lusted after them for a full mile before working up the courage (desperation) to catch up to her and ask if she would like me to carry her gloves for her. thankfully, she generously allowed me to borrow them for the remainder of the race. i’m not sure how i would’ve fared without them.
the first six and a half miles were great. my nose was frozen and my hands were still a little cold, but i felt energetic. dad and lee had driven to the turnaround to cheer me on, and i flashed a smile and thumbs-up as i passed by. i rounded the halfway point at the exact time of my split last year, and headed into the second half thinking i could kick it up a notch and possibly beat my previous finish time.
around mile 9, i lost all hope of setting a personal best. i was getting tired, and putting one foot in front of the other took more effort with each step. for the first time in my (short) running career, it felt like my legs would fail me before my lungs. it didn’t help that everyone in this race was so fast. last year i passed at least a handful of people; this year it seemed everyone was passing me! (even though i was running around a 9:00 pace!)
by the time i hit mile 11, i reallyreally wanted to quit. my muscles were thoroughly fatigued and moving forward had become like dragging lead through molasses. i was forcing my legs onward by sheer will, praying they would not collapse under me. i tried to motivate myself with thoughts of my mother’s strength and visions of my family waiting for me at the finish line.
i had planned to sprint the last quarter-mile downhill to the end, but even as i saw the flags drawing closer and my cheering section jumping up and down, i wasn’t sure i could make it. i tried to turn on the afterburners, but the result was just me throwing myself toward the finish in the most awkward and laborious “run” that you’ve ever seen.
as soon as i cleared the finishing area, i allowed my legs to buckle and sprawled my weary body flat on the grass. through the stars spinning around my head i could see my family’s feet surround me and heard my sister squeal, “you did it!” yes, i did. and by some miracle i clocked in at 2:06–only two minutes over my previous time!
my one word for 2013 is grace, and i’ve certainly had to extend it toward myself over and over in the past few months. as the balance of my life continually shifts to accommodate the blessings and challenges that come my way, i know i’ll need an extra measure of grace to navigate the adjustments with aplomb. i hope i can continue to push toward my goals even when i want to quit, while having the grace to accept a less-than-perfect finish.