It’s race day.  It’s race day!

It was a little harder to generate that enthusiasm when I woke up at 5 am after being up until midnight the night before, but I found it after fifteen minutes.  It was time.

Yay?

Okay, the enthusiasm will come.  I drink water before I let myself go to the bathroom (I spent most of the day before drinking like crazy, too), then I eat a banana and drink 8 ounces of chocolate almond milk with a little mocha mix thrown in.  I go back to the bathroom, dress, put on my bib and timing chip, and debate cutting my bangs off.  No, not enough time.

A quick, five-minute devotional and I’m out the door with my pre-packed bag.  I verified ahead of time that there will be bag check and I know there will be bathrooms… just not where they’ll be located on the course.  The trouble finding packet pickup and not knowing where the bathrooms will be are the only two things that I would find to be negative about the experience.

Oh.  Except for parking… but that’s really a Ventura problem, not an organizer problem.  I get to Ventura and end up going around in circles looking for a free parking lot.  I really don’t want to pay $8+ just to park.  Eventually (after a little detour through the County Fair parking lot) I find a free lot… five blocks away.  It’s now 6:30 am.

I chat with guy wearing a race shirt who drove all the way from Redlands for his first race.  I’m sure a lot of racing regulars won’t find 130 miles to be a big deal, but I did.  He must’ve gotten up before 4 am or stayed the night.  We separate when I find the bathrooms.  Time for a last minute pit stop.

It takes me a bit to find the line for bag check-in, but the line moves quickly and is well-organized.  I get a bright orange strip of tape to tie around my bag, then I’m off to the race course.  Butterflies are trying to emerge from the caterpillars currently lodged in my stomach.

There is a mass of people at the starting line.  No wonder there wasn’t any parking.  There is some talk about being in the right waves, which confuses the newbie in me.  Eventually I just ask the nearest person and determine I’m just going to go in the third/last wave.  Looks like it might be safer.

Someone local does a wavering rendition of the National Anthem and the first wave takes off.  I do my best to paste myself to the wall and stay out of the way.   That’s.. a lot of people.  I’m glad I didn’t start with the first wave.

The second wave starts and it’s a little bit smaller.  I’m still glad I didn’t start yet.  Back of the pack is a comfy place to be when you think you’ll be walking a lot.

Third (and final) wave.  I start somewhere at the back, strapping on my armband for my phone and popping in my earbuds.  Wish I’d thought to start a timer on the phone, but I didn’t.  I’ll settle for the music.

The pack starts out pretty slowly, more like a mass of cows in the butchering shed, but eventually we manage to spread out enough to get up to my normal speed.  I think it’s my normal speed.  I really can’t pace myself properly with all the adrenaline from running with this many people.  I run by myself or with my kids.  This is… fun?  I think it might be…

I remember very little about the first three miles.  I decided early on to run to the pace of whatever music randomly came up, but the rest is largely a blur. There were a few curves in the course until we came to a main street, then it was all straight-away.  I do remember that my bladder got a little over-excited and I had to stop at the first bathrooms at Mile 3.  I also had to wait in line.  I’m pretty sure every person behind me was having a bowel movement, because they were slow.  I was fast… I had a race to run.

Just after Mile 3, I was running next to a lady with a big smile on her face.  She turned to me a bit breathlessly and said, “This is personal best for me.  I’ve never run three miles straight before.  I’m running on pure adrenaline now!”

I’m sure I  blinked at her in amazement, then the smile spread to my face and I gave her a hearty congratulations.  She’d never run three miles straight before and I was worried about finishing this?

Around Mile 4, I caught up with a very big guy (probably 6’4″ and built like a football player) wearing a shiny purple skirt over his running clothes.  He was occasionally dancing around and having a good time cheering on others.  When someone told him they enjoyed his cheerfulness, he grinned big.  “A friend told me I’d be hating this by Mile 5.  I plan to enjoy every step.”

That attitude infected me and I started cheering on other runners, too.  Trust me, it’s more fun that way.  I didn’t just cheer for anyone; I tried to choose the runners who were alone and/or looked like they were struggling.  After a bit, I was running with a lady in a blue shirt.  She smiled after one of the times I played cheerleader and said, “You are making this so much fun!”  I explained to her about the guy in the purple skirt and we ran and cheered people on together for almost two miles.  Then my music went high tempo and, obedient to my decision to run with the music, I sped up.

There were Clif Shot Gels at Mile 6.  I grabbed a vanilla and nursed it for a while.  Nasty, vile, overly sweet stuff, but I could feel my body needed it, so I ate every bit, wishing I’d figured out which flavors were good ahead of time.  Just a bit further and it was turn-around time… halfway!

After the turn-around, I noticed a guy who would run full-tilt for about 100 meters, then walk, the run another 100.  I never figured out if he was trying to work out a cramp or just didn’t know how to pace, but it was kind of entertaining and was working for him; he kept pace with me for about four miles.

I cheered on the last of the runners who hadn’t made it to the turn-around yet, then concentrated on passing one runner at a time.  I didn’t rush it; I just focused on another person and told myself I could run a little longer.  I did walk now and then; roughly one song for every three to four miles.  But I walked a lot less than I thought I would.  In fact, once when I thought I was going to have to walk for a bit, “Run” by Hillsong came through my earbuds.  I couldn’t help it; I had to run.

It was time for the last few miles.  Just TWO to go.  I walked for a little bit, then told myself I could run the rest.  I misfigured the 12 Mile mark, though, and started running hard too soon.  I had to slow down and walk again.  I still managed to pick it up and even kick it into overdrive as the finish line finally came into view.  Okay, I wasn’t sprinting across the finish, but I wasn’t walking, either.

I looked at the clock: 2:37.something.  2:37?  2:37!!!

I was going to be happy with 3:30.  I’d just run my first half-marathon.

 

 

So, it is finally here.  Race weekend.  I’m ready (sorta).  I’m stoked (sorta).  I’m…

… worried.

I had a bad UC bout the week before and I haven’t run in a week.  Not one step.  No biking.  I’ve barely walked.  I dither back and forth about skipping the half entirely.

But I paid for it.  Trained for it.

I also overscheduled for it.

The race is on Sunday.  On Friday night, I’m supposed to drive to pick up my kids, then go to a birthday party another 70 miles away.  (I didn’t know it was another 70 miles when I agreed to it.)  I’m stressing this, because it’s a highly social thing and I’m feeling very introverted.  I wise up and cancel, but I still have to drive for two hours to pick up the kids, then another hour and a half to get them home.  Then we stop to get groceries and I promise we can all sleep in the next day.

We do sleep in (10 am!) and then I make cinnamon raisin French toast and hash browns.  I know I can’t carb load the night before the run; I’ll be in the bathroom for the whole run.  Hopefully carb loading this early will get it all resolved before the run.

The only big things on my agenda are housecleaning, the library, and picking up my race packet.  This should take, at most, three hours and make for a relaxing day.

Oops.

Housecleaning takes us until 2 pm.  2 pm!  We have quesadillas and carrot sticks for lunch, then run out the door to the library.  Books are due and the kids need something to read, or I wouldn’t bother.  Oh, and we need something to go with dinner, so we run by the grocery store, only to realize that this needs to be refrigerated.  We go back home, drop off the groceries, and go to the library.

3:30 pm.  The day is slipping away and I haven’t relaxed yet.

The library goes smoothly and we get in and out and head for the beach to pick up my race packet.  I’ve never done this before, so I’m nervous.  Then I have a hard time finding parking and a harder time finding the packet pickup, which generates more nerves.  I’m supposed to be staying calm and relaxing.  Hmm.

The kids want to play on the beach.  Although it was a little tiring, I think this was my best decision all weekend.  I love the beach.  I love watching my kids have fun.  They ran, splashed, found a perfect sand dollar, discovered mollusks and other rocky-beach creatures, and generally had a blast.  We stay a little too long, get a little too sandy, and maybe I use my muscles a little more than I had planned, but I’m glad we did it.

We get home and I start kids on showers while I make dinner.  Basmati rice, teriyaki chicken, and stir fry veggies.  Showers are done, dishes are washed.  It’s date night with the #1 son.  We watch I Am Number Four and have microwaved s’mores.  I stay up a little too late getting everything prepared for the next day and showering, but I feel… ready.  Mostly.

Tomorrow is race day.

 

Back in January I decided I needed something to motivate me to be a regular runner.  I’ve run most of my life– I ran track in high school and competed in the 800– but I’ve always been sporadic about it.  Even last year, when I ran a 10K (6.2 miles) for Run 10 Feed 10, I trained pretty sporadically (and it showed).  This year, I was determined to do something different.

That started with putting my money where my mouth was.  I put down the payment for the half as soon as registration opened.  There!  I was committed!  I was going to run a half-marathon nine months later.

Apparently, nine months feels like “plenty of time”.

Between work and commute and kids and laziness (and, to be fair, the occasional bout with ulcerative colitis), my training was pretty lackadaisical for the first four months.  No, six months.  I think the urgency really kicked in just before June, when I was still only running five miles for my long run.

I’m a big fan of slow building in training to reduce the chance of injury, so I didn’t want to lengthen my long run by more than 10% in any given week.  Going from five miles to thirteen is a slow process this way, especially when you take a “step back” week every fourth week.  (I did not get injured once during the training, though.)  5 miles.  5.5 miles.  6 miles.  Back down to 3.  6.5 miles.  7 miles.  7.75 miles.  Back down to 4.  Yeah, it was slow going and I realized I was going to be cutting it very close.

I had done a few things right.  I was definitely a stronger runner, with more kick at the end.  I was faster.  My mile had gone from 10:30 down to 9; I could do five miles in under an hour.  But I had a hard time running distances over five miles.

I stuck it out, even when I was biking 9.4 miles a day as part of my commute.  I kept running when temperatures soared, just moving it inside to the dreaded treadmill.  I even got up super-early on my treasured weekends to run before church on Sundays, since that was often the only time I could get in a long run.

I even stopped playing tag and football with my kids for a while so I could focus on training.  We’re not doing that again.

Then life struck.  I got bad cramping on my ten-mile run and had to walk the last mile in excruciating pain.  Really.  Every step felt like knives were going into my legs.  My eleven mile run was better, but I missed my six mile drop-down week entirely.  That’s okay.  I still needed to do my twelve, but I was hopeful.

I had a really bad bout of UC.  I don’t run when I have a flare-up.  I just can’t.  I missed another week entirely.

Now I was in panic mode.  Okay, so I wouldn’t run thirteen miles before the big day, but at least I would run twelve.

I overslept and couldn’t run in the early morning before the kids got up.  I sucked it up and took the kids to a track park so I could run and they could play.  They ran the first mile with me (my kids are awesomesauce that way) and then I started running endless circles.

Running twelve miles on a 1/4 mile track sucks.  Big time.

I made it to six miles.  The kids were bored.  I was bored.  The sun was hot.  We really wanted to go play games.

I stopped at six and we walked the seventh mile home.

That was it.  That was all the training I could do for my half-marathon.  Time was up.

Was it enough?