Sunday morning arrived, entirely too early, too dark, pretty darn cold, and with a ton of nerves. My brother was running the full marathon, so that prompted and earlier start. We got up at 3:30am, and left the house just shortly after 4 for the hour drive to Huntington Beach. I turned the seat heater on in my car to keep my legs warm and loose. I swallowed some coffee, sipped water, and mentally wrapped my brain around the prospect of running 13.1 miles. I also kept my nephew awake with my nervous chatter. He was calmly accommodating. He’s a great kid, and thankfully, easy to talk with.
We dumped one car at the local mall, and drove towards the parking areas near the start. Of course we hit traffic. Brother quickly mixed up our oatmeal, which we both inhaled. Then he jumped out of the car to get to the start line for his start. I and his three kiddos found some parking and then started the walk to the start line. I still had 90 minutes til the Half start. We waited it out in the Expo tent, which was blessedly warm and full of other Half runners. My stomach was churning with nerves. I had promised myself I wouldn’t put any expectations on this race, other than finishing. But once I was there, the excitement and adrenaline started kicking in. I know what I’m capable of based on training runs. But those are just that, training runs. You never know what’s going to happen come race day. And with over 16,000 half marathon runners, I knew I would have a lot of dodging to do.
It was finally time to get in my starting corral. I had to surrender my jacket to my niece for keeping during the race. BRRRRRRRRR!!!! It was about 45 degrees at that point. The sun had come up an hour before, but it hadn’t done much to warm the air. The elite wave and first wave got off on time, but then we stood there for 20 minutes not moving, not hearing any starting guns. I was getting anxious, wanting to get my run underway. My muscles were tightening in the cold. I’ve had issues with calf cramps before and I was afraid it would happen again if I stood there much longer. Those around me grumbled and tried to stretch as well in our tight quarters. Finally we started moving forward. The Start came into view. I said “Good luck!” to the ladies I’d been chatting with, started my running app, put my headphones in, and as I got closer to the Starting line, turned on my music.
It seemed appropriate that the first song I heard was “Right Now” by Van Halen. It was just what I needed to shove the nerves down and take charge. I thought to myself as I began running, “Your race, your pace.” And off I went. At about .4 miles, I felt a small snap on the outside edge of my right foot, and felt some pain. I just told myself it didn’t hurt. Within 30 seconds, the pain was gone. Thankfully, the course was relatively wide, running North on the Pacific Coast Highway. The sun was to my back. The lanes to pass others just seemed to open up. I was able to set and maintain my planned pace within the first mile.
There was a guy running in front of me who seemed to be on the same pace plan. I started calling him “sweaty stinky blue guy” in my mind. He had on a blue shirt, and blue spandex shorts (totally bad look FYI), and he was sweating at 1 mile like someone who’d already run 10 miles. And he was stinky. I couldn’t seem to get away from him. I’d move to the left to pass other runners while he’d move to the right to pass, but then there he would be again, right next to me or right in front of me. Honestly people, even if you’re going to be running a half marathon and getting all sweaty and gross, you should still put on some deodorant that morning! I lost sweaty stinky blue guy at mile 3 when he slowed at a water station. I never saw him again the rest of the race.
There was a mild hill right after that water station at Mile 3. Lots of people started walking. Where I live and train, I can’t run half a mile in any direction without hitting some kind of hill. This was nothing. I took it and stayed right at pace. We flattened out before the Mile 4 marker, then hit a downhill just before Mile 5. The morning was gorgeous. My music was cooperating with my desired pace. I stuck to my plan for taking the Gu. We curved through a neighborhood for a few miles, then we were back out onto the PCH. I love running near the ocean. It’s just so inspiring. I saw the full marathoners on the other side of the PCH. At about Mile 7, I saw my brother pass the opposite direction with all the other fully crazies. He didn’t see me. I thought about texting him, but I knew we were both on a mission. I kept going.
Mile 8.25 is usually my wall. I told myself that I just needed to push through to Mile 9. At Mile 9, I told myself to push through to Mile 10. I gu’d again at 10. My legs were getting tired. My left knee started to pinch for about half a mile. But I wasn’t going to give in. There was another hill at 10.5. I did slow a bit for that one. Once on top of that hill, I knew the finish was close. I stopped running for a hot minute at Mile 11, then mentally yelled at myself for wimping out, and I started running again. I was under my time in my 11-mile training run. You can do this!! I knew that even if I walked the last two miles, I would still beat my other Half Marathon times. But I didn’t want to just beat my times, I wanted to destroy them. I kept running.
My favorite part of races is all the signs people have on the sides of the road. The people with cowbells, the kids clapping and jumping around…those are what get you across the finish line. That last mile-and-a-half was lined with cheering spectators. It spurred me on. I knew my brother was done…He had sent me a text when he finished. He hadn’t come in at the time he wanted, but he had finished. After a defeating race in October, finishing was a moral victory for him. That helped me keep going as well. And then I could see it…the Finish Line!! I kicked it up the last half mile. My power song came on my running app, and I pushed through. I crossed the finish at 2:09:11, beating my last PR by almost 15 minutes!!! Elation!
Granted, walking quickly became an issue. Knee joints were tender. My right calf was sore. My hips were screaming. My right foot started to ache where I’d felt that snap at the beginning. But I was done. Not only had I finished, but I had a new PR that proved I could do what I’d done in training. I collected my surf board medal, met up with my brother, niece and nephews, took our “We finished!” photo, and began the long walk to the car.
I’m still coming down off that high. It was such a good race for me. I still have work to do. That mental wall is just so brutal. There were a lot of moments I just wanted to stop running. But it was such a good morning. OC Half is in three months. I’m telling myself I’m not setting any expectations on that race either (I’ve heard the route gets VERY narrow at a couple of points). OC will finish the Beach Cities Challenge for me, and I will get a fourth medal (dinner-plate sized!), and the feeling that I really accomplished something. This 40+ stay-at-home mom is a runner, and a decent one at that.