Instead of launching head first into a recap of my personal experience of this race, I have to give it up to the people of Lincoln, Nebraska for putting on one of the most supportive races that I have ever run. Seriously. Almost every step of the way during this race, the street curb was filled to the brim with people. Some of them were camped out– fleece blanket-draped cheerleaders in lawn chairs, passing out orange slices, jelly beans, banana slices, Kleenexes, frozen grapes, ice, Ring Pops, and probably a lot more energy boosters and running aids that I didn’t see in the blur. I even passed three college students, each hammocked one on top of the other between two sturdy trees in one of the neighborhoods near Union College. There was a ukelele band. A church choir. A drumline. Local garage bands. Trucks with their sub-woofers pounding. The only place where it wasn’t pretty much packed solid was along Highway 2 where the course bottle-necked along a humble running path, probably because parking was hard to find. Even then, there was a wall of cars and trucks parked end-to-end along the four-lane thoroughfare. And the signage ranged from “seen that before” to personalized to “and just how do you ask someone to print a four-foot picture of your mom’s head to put on a stick, I wonder?” Even though I knew no one along the course, I gave every stranger who had his or her hand outstretched along the course a high-five, especially kids, and I never once felt alone. Probably five total people called out my name, which was printed on my bib, and I didn’t even care if I was the “Sara” they were cheering for– it made me smile and was the difference between running and walking. Major kudos to the community of Lincoln, Nebraska.
All of that said, anyone who has read my prior posts knows that I am dealing with another muscle imbalance that makes it very difficult to run. I haven’t run over 6 miles in more than a month and I had to stop training for the Minneapolis Marathon because of this injury. But I wanted to finish this race. The thought of waking up on the morning of a race I should be running left a far more bitter taste in my mouth than putting out a crappy time.
Going into the Lincoln Half-Marathon, my goal was to finish. I didn’t care what that looked like. I knew there was a chance I would risk much more serious injury. I had about 95% accepted that I was not going to PR with this race and that, right now, 10:30 paces are the best I can do (I don’t know how much more of that I can take, though…it feels like I am living a lie in feeling like I have not come close to my “peak” in running and knowing I have run faster times with ease). I suited up wearing black running shorts, a gray tank, aqua arm warmers, and black compression socks. I battled minor traffic to get to the university campus where the starting line was, stopped at Starbucks for a double espresso, and grimaced at the cool 50-degree winds– not because I wasn’t prepared for them (if I can say anything about my training, it’s that I handled some serious winds this year) but because I was cold. Luckily, the crowd kept me warm until I was off and running, tucked neatly somewhere between the 2:00 and 2:15 pace groups, about 35 minutes after the start of the race.
Mile one, I took it easy. A lot of people passed me. I reminded myself that every runner runs his or her own race; no one is competing with me. I ran past my old apartment where, 6 years earlier, I cursed the marathoners for blocking my car in along the street (the city never asked me to move it) and thinking that everyone who ran a marathon was some sort of elite athlete with an agent of some kind. I smiled at that memory and continued on.
Miles two through four, my leg was cramping up, but the crowd kept my mind off of it. I hardly ever looked at my Garmin– if I was going fast, I didn’t want to get excited and replete my energy trying to hold the pace, and if I was going slow, I just didn’t want to know. I just focused on maintaining whatever pace I was at because it felt good and comfortable. But then, the 2:10 pacer came up from behind me. At first, I was happy that I had been running faster than I thought, but then that panic of seeing a time that I knew I was capable of running start drifting away from me invited negative panicky thoughts to my head. I tried to expel them as quickly as I could, but I admit that my heart sank. I missed running fast.
Mile five through seven, one of my most favorite running songs– Bloc Party’s “This Modern Love”– came on, and I began a righteous downhill coast and a healthy second wind. I sucked down a chocolate raspberry Gu and really just enjoyed the fact that I was running and sent a quick thank you to heaven that my leg wasn’t giving me too much trouble.
Mile seven through eight took us all down a quaint running trail where suddenly, the heat and the blur of the long run downhill caught up to me in a subtle yet very noticeable wave of nausea and light-headedness. I remember feeling like I freaked out, but I know I didn’t lose my cool. I felt exhausted, sick, and dizzy and my most immediate thought was, “Am I going to die in a freak cardiac incident!?!” Right away, I slowed down my running and told myself to just take it easy, reminding myself that I still had 6 miles left and that I only wanted to finish.
Mile nine through ten took us all up a slow gradual hill with the wind coming at us. Despite the windy morning at the starting line, I don’t remember feeling much of it during the race until this point. I remembered back to all of my teeth-gnashingly annoying runs uphill with a 20mph headwind and how I reminded myself that race day could be windy. I saw a lot of people walking. I refused to be one of them because I also remembered that running uphill in the wind had more often than not given me a surprisingly good strong pace.
Mile ten through twelve, I don’t remember much about this part of the race. Later, a co-worker told me this was where she saw me and said that I looked at her, but I don’t remember much here. I wasn’t overwhelmingly exhausted and my pace had slipped down to the 11:00 range (ugh). I just remember focusing on running and avoiding the temptation to walk. I overheard a runner tell someone else he was walking because his IT band hurt. I reached in my water bottle pouch for the packet of Biofreeze that I had packed in case my leg cramped up and slowed down long enough to give it to him. I remember him looking at it in my outstretched hand and his eyes growing wide, saying, “YOU ARE AWESOME!!” Every time I hear about something that someone does to go out of their way to help, I say a small prayer that when I am faced with one of those moments, that I will do the right thing and put my needs and priorities aside to help that person. That’s all I want.
Mile twelve through thirteen, the 2:15 pacer caught up to me. And then passed me. I tried to push harder but I could feel the exhaustion gripping my heart and muscles and, out of fear that I would actually walk during the last mile of a race I didn’t even know I could finish let alone run the whole time, I kept my pace. I could see finishers walking along with medals around their necks. My PR was long gone. I tried to hold on. The split in the path where marathoners continued on was straight ahead of me. I felt sad that I couldn’t do a full, but the finish line of my 8th half-marathon was right in front of me and on the field of Memorial Stadium. I ran down the field, being passed by people sprinting to the finish line– one of them almost knocking right into me. And before I knew it, I was across the finish line.
Finishing a race is a feeling that never gets old. I had another notch on my belt, another medal on my wall. I had just taken part in my own life. I am especially proud of this race because, even though my official time was 2:19 and my unofficial time was 2:17, for the first time EVER in a race, I pushed away thoughts of “I can’t” or “I’ll just walk/finish in __ time instead of __ time” or “It’s okay if you ‘only’ run a __time” and just stayed consistent with my pace. I focused on what I could do. I stopped thinking that pain was something that got in my way and I readjusted to accept that it was part of the process and that I should just deal with it instead of complaining that something inherently painful became painful. I didn’t push myself by telling lies or mantras or at least by not acknowledging my pain— I finally accepted it. Sometimes that simple act of acceptance can be the best catalyst to something great.