So yesterday, I ran 13.1 miles. Today, although I'm struggling to climb stairs, I still have been floating on Cloud 9. A dozen close friends have asked, "So, how was it? How do you feel?" And I've told them all, "Well, I can talk your face off for 3 hours right now, or I can just blog about it later." So, here it is, my in-depth response to what it feels like to have a medal hanging on my wall.
Two days prior, I had attended the Expo to pick up my bib with my friend Becca, who was also running her first Half Marathon. I spent the entire day taming butterflies & getting excited for the opportunity and brainstorming future attempts. We sat down with one of the course experts, an Olympic athlete, who broke down the entire route for us. He told us what would be challenging, what would be recovery, & what to look out for. Although still anxious, I was thankful to have had that insight. I spent the next two days thinking about what intimidated me, how I'd fight through those fears, and how I was about to accomplish something that never seemed attainable. The weekend flew by.
Sunday the 15th. I woke up & fueled up on my Shakeology pancakes and a big mug of coffee. Swag was applied, and I made a bittersweet decision. During the expo, they recommended picking out "throw away clothes" to wear before you start running. Basically, cheap clothes from the thrift store or free clothes from the back of your closet, to help keep warm while you're standing around waiting for your wave. When removed prior to the finish line, your extra clothing would then be donated to Goodwill. I knew what jacket I'd be willing to give up. My pants, however, were more of an emotional experience...
That's right. I pulled my college "fat pants" from the back of the drawer. I have loved holding onto them for the past few years for motivation. But, in my heart, I know that I'll never fit into them again. So, I have officially ended that chapter. Onto the next one.
I grabbed everything I'd need, told Mom I'd see her at the finish line, and started getting psyched. I had some Metro travel stress & panicked that I would miss my wave. I said, "May this be the worst to happen today." And it was! I got to the security checkpoint (severely unorganized) & the bathrooms, and then wandered over to where all of the other Wave 2 bibs were walking. Even though I was technically late to my 7:45 start time, my corral hadn't even left until 7:57 AM. I still started before 8 AM.
I remember slowly inching toward the start line, gently placing my sweats in the donation bin, & the whole time, thinking "ohmyGod.ohmyGod.ohmyGod." Prior to the start line, people around me had already started slowly jogging to warm up. I, the rookie, followed suit. About a foot before the giant "START" area, I thought, "This is it. Trust yourself. You've done this. You can do this." I plastered a smile on my face, and I began to run.
I remember what the Olympian coach at the Expo said - slow to start, you'll make up for it toward the end. As much as I wanted to dart ahead, I felt like I was running through mud. It seemed like everyone was passing me. I wouldn't realize until the end that my pace was actually faster than it's been in months. But, at the time, I accepted that I would trudge at first. I thought, "I'm not here to keep up with anyone else. I'm doing this for me."
So there was a slight hill at Mile 1, but I remember not feeling too intimidated. A mile is easy. A mile doesn't take much. The reward was Mile 2 - mostly downhill coasting. I resisted the urge to completely give into momentum, as I was afraid I'd piss off my knee in doing so. I kept my pace - which I thought was an 11 minute mile. Also, by now I had gotten into the groove of where the Gatorade/water stations would be, and I definitely took advantage of those. I think it strengthened me psychologically to have a swig of water as a recharge. I'm pretty sure I stopped at every refreshment stand for this reason.
Mile 3. I see the 5K sign and I get super pumped up. The course still isn't too bad, but I know what's to come. There's a big hill, followed by the Harlem Hills series - 3 smaller hills back-to-back. I can do it. I can do anything.
I see the big hill coming up. Luckily, the night prior, I had arranged my running playlist to the intended course. I picked a few songs that made me feel really fierce to play around the time I'd hit the hills. To my surprise, I'm running up this mountain & my pace isn't suffering. In fact, I'm passing people. There are people who appear to be in better shape than I am who are walking up this hill. I'm running - in what seems to be slow motion, but, I'm running. It's not about them, though. It's not about me passing them. It's about conquering my fear, no matter what anyone else around me is doing. This hill sucks, but, it passes. The next 3 hills are tough, but the playlist is still working in my favor & I remind myself, "You just ran the hardest part of this entire course. After this, you can autopilot." My stride is not broken in the slightest.
I remember the Olympian encouraging us by saying, "Once you've got to about 4.5 miles, your hills are over." So, my heart practically explodes to see the "Mile 5" sign. I continue down what seems like a mini victory hill. Not much further from there, I see a loving, familiar face. My friend, Greta, looks at me from the side of the course with a surprised, encouraging expression. She says, "You can do it! You're almost out of the park!!" She doesn't know how badly I needed that. I mutter out, "Love you!" although it's probably stuck in an exhale so may not have been as coherent.
Greta was right. Before I knew it, I was passing 6 miles, & I was out of the park. Next on the agenda would be the coolest 2 miles of my life.
When you've grown up in PA, pretty much every NYC trip included hustling through Times Square. When you live in NYC for several months, you learn to avoid Times Square as much as possible. But, during that race, I have never been more in love.
The entire streets are free of traffic & lined with people who seem genuinely excited for you, though they know nothing about you. I've still got a smile plastered on my face, and anytime I look at a spectator, they shout sentiments like, "Keep smiling!" "Good for you!" "You're doing great!!" Meanwhile, I look to the sky. Though it's cloudy & still morning, the sky looks magnificent. The business might be quiet, but the lights & signs are shining bright. It honestly felt like a dream. Maybe I'm a little person who still may or may not belong in NYC, but in this moment: it's all mine. In this moment, I'm surrounded by magic. I'm doing something extraordinary.
This love affair carries me completely through mile 7, before we turn onto the West Side Highway. I hit mile 8, and the euphoria significantly drops. I've run along the West Side Highway plenty of times, so I know that it's not too physically challenging. It's all mental strength at this point. Miles 8 through 10 were, by far, the most difficult part of the journey. I felt as though it was taking 5 years of my life to run this stretch. There were very few spectators here, the road was flat, & I really needed to dig deep. Thus, I turned to my playlist again. I played songs that were at least 10 minutes in duration that I could rock out to while there was nothing else to focus on. And, of course, I collected my thoughts. Any time I felt weak, I thought, "Remember your why." I remembered the family I was raising money for. I remembered the girl on her treadmill in college, dying to just put in 3 miles that day. I remembered the girl in gym class, humiliated by her classmates because it took her 19 minutes to jog a mile. Quitting right now was NOT an option. I felt a little tingle of knee pain between miles 9 and 10, but I audibly said to myself, "NOPE. NICE TRY. NOT TODAY." I powered through it.
After Mile 10, more people had started to show up to spectate. I really connected with the charity groups that were waiting along the side. Obviously they were rooting for their runners, but they loved that, after 10 miles, I was STILL smiling. That was a non-negotiable for me. Smiling shows confidence. Smiling brings positivity. I was doing something great, so I would keep smiling. So I was happy to get some "I LOVE YOUR SMILE!" encouragements while I fought against my body for physical strength. These kind of acknowledgements got me past Mile 11, & then I knew I had it from there. Two more miles. That's nothing. I can do that. I put on the "Motivation and Energy on Demand" podcast by Chalene Johnson, which is probably the most encouraging thing I've ever heard in my life, and I let her reassurance guide me to Mile 12.
Mile 12 was when the high really set in for me. I looked at the giant clock, and it announced the time since the professionals had past it, "2:34." For anyone who is close to me, you know how important 12:34 is to me. So, to see 2:34 when I only had one mile left almost caused me to burst into tears. I was ready to crush this last mile. After 2:34 hugged my heart, I started to enter the tunnel. The Olympian gave us the heads up about this by saying, "The tunnel: you'll either love it or hate it." I LOVED it. It was a little bit darker, but it seemed to contain enough energy to skyrocket us all to the finish line. People were cheering & celebrating, & I joined in on the fun. There was a slight ramp coming up, but that honestly wasn't even a concern for me. I just crushed about 4 hills. Come at me, slight ramp.
We're off of the ramp. We start seeing signs that say "800 meters left" and "400 meters left". I don't measure in meters, but I know that this means I'm closer to greatness. Since I'm already physically exhausted, I decide to just let my self-love carry me the rest of the way. Right after Chalene Johnson, "Raise Your Glass" by P!nk begins to play.
Remember that chubby girl on the treadmill in college that I was telling you about? Every time this song would come on shuffle, she would run as fast as she could. Back then, it was probably about a 5 or 5.5 mph setting on the treadmill. At the Mile 13 marker, however, that meant running for my life.
I can't even begin to estimate my speed from Mile 13 to Mile 13.1, but I FLEW. I could see the finish line. I started to tear up. I high fived a spectator, who said, "YOU'VE GOT IT, BABY!" The closer I got, the uglier I cried. I passed the finish line, punched the air, and just stood still for a moment.
I did it.
I got my medal, my snack bag, & my picture taken. I found my mom & also saw my friend Meredith, who made me an adorable "YOU'RE NOT TIRED!" sign & got me a few other gifts. I took my phone off of airplane mode & received a handful of encouraging messages. My friend Dan said, "You made great time!!" And I thought, "Hmm. Did I?"
I looked up my statistics on the Half Marathon app. I had averaged a 10.5 minute mile for the entire race.
I'm sorry.... what? I haven't run faster than a 11.5 minute mile in WEEKS.
Victory brunch was shared with Becca, Dan, Mom, & two new friends (Hannah & Sean). My runner's high had me borderline delirious, but it was the most wonderful feeling. I still don't think I've fully committed to the ground yet.
Okay, so, I ran 13.1 miles. Although a challenge, I prevailed. And I'm inspired to set even more goals for myself within this community that just might be the puzzle piece that's been missing from my life. Although a terrifying goal, I'm going to commit to the "9+1" plan with New York Road Runners. This means I will run 9 more races this year - at least 3 of them being Half Marathons - and volunteer at one. Why would I do this, you ask?
In 2016, I would like to run the NYC Full Marathon.
Why? Because I can do it. I can do anything.
And, if I can do this, then you have to know that YOU can do ANYTHING, too.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.” - Tim Noakes.