Nothing about yesterday went the way I had planned. Nada. Zero. Zip. I had a twitchy feeling about this race from the moment I registered. It was the third race for me in the Beach Cities Challenge – three half marathons within eight months. It’s really hard to keep up the training motivation in that time – for me, anyways. Illness, vacations, small injuries all combined to distract from my normal training routine. I didn’t get in as many runs as I would like. My longest pre-race run was 10 miles, rather than the 11+ I’ve done in the past. My last long run was a full three weeks before the race. And I didn’t have quite the competitive attitude I would typically have going into this race. My goal was just to finish…finish the third race, finish the Challenge, get the big medal and be done with it for awhile. On top of all that, I just wasn’t focused. The race was getting in the way of other things. I was distracted.
Saturday afternoon, I drove up to Newport Beach where I met my brother and his girlfriend, He was running the full marathon, his second of the three races for the Beach Cities Challenge. We grabbed a quick snack then headed to the OC fairgrounds for the race expo. The expo wasn’t as big as some I’ve been to, but it was pretty well-organized, and not too crowded (maybe because we got there two hours before it closed). At this point, the excitement and optimism was building. I got a new, purple, sparkly headband to wear during the race. Yay for sparkles! I may be a runner, but I’m still girly. After the expo, we went to the Fashion Island mall. I haven’t been there in years, but hadn’t forgotten how pretty (and trendy) it is. My carb-loading dinner was less-than-exceptional. When in doubt, add cheese and bacon to your chicken sandwich.
Sleep was an issue, but that’s always the case the night before a race. I’m always terrified I’m going to sleep through my alarm, or that the alarm won’t go off and I’ll miss the start. Just after 4am, I rolled out of bed and started getting ready. As per usual, I checked my phone, scrolling through texts from friends, and Facebook posts. I had one special FB post on my wall with a photo of the most beautiful, inspiring little boy. I knew I would carry the image with me the entire day.
I realized I didn’t have a spoon with which to eat my oatmeal. ARGH!! Drinking oatmeal is kind of disgusting, but I didn’t have a choice. I don’t recommend the practice. Teeth brushed, hair in a pony, purple, sparkly headband in place, eyeliner and mascara on (because, yes, girly, and I don’t go anywhere without at least eyeliner and mascara), bib situated on my shirt, shoes tied, foam roller utilized, small cup of coffee drunk, and out the door to catch the hotel shuttle to the start.
It was still dark when I arrived at the start. The marathon was getting ready to start. Lines at the port-a-potties were typically long. I watched my brother’s start, then headed to my corral for the half start. As much as I said I didn’t have a goal for the race other than to finish, the start line always brings excitement, energy, anticipation, adrenaline, and hope. I chatted with a couple of runners around me. The national anthem was sung, and the corrals started moving forward. I was in corral 3. As is pretty normal, we got going about ten minutes behind schedule. As my corral approached the start, I plugged my headphones in and started my music. Hmmmm…..no sound came out. I remembered I had tied my music to my run controls, so went to the running app and undid that. Still no sound. Checked the mute button – not engaged. Turned it off and and on again, still no sound. Awesome. I realized then my youngest, much-beloved progeny had broken my headphones and I would be running this race without any music, without hearing my running app give me my times and pace. Brutal. I tried to mentally adjust, but it just gave me a bad feeling. I tried to tell myself maybe this was just a lesson to be learned in running…two hours of running with nothing but the sound of those cheering along the race route, my breathing, and shoes hitting the pavement. My own thoughts would be my company for over two hours. I wouldn’t have music to motivate or entertain.
It was warm for running (62 degrees F at the start). No clouds were in the sky, and there wasn’t the slightest breeze. The course was rough – very narrow at some points, a LOT of turns, and pretty hilly. We did see some beautiful homes along the route, and had a few glimpses of the ocean. The spectators were awesome – lots of little kids saying “Go, runners, Go!” and lots of dogs happily barking. Course support was decent, although they only had water on one side of the road which was somewhat problematic as far as runners moving over in the paths of other runners, and crowding at the stations.
At mile 4, my right knee started to whisper. This pain was familiar. I’ve endured it in two races before. I tried to convince myself it didn’t hurt. By mile 6, my knee was screaming. I know it’s not a knee injury – it’s my IT band knotting up. I stopped on the side of the road for a couple of minutes to stretch. When I started running again, my knee felt better. I made a new plan, and let go of any expectations for time. Every time my knee hurt too much, I would stop and stretch. I was disappointed, but continued on. At mile 10, there was a guy on the side of the road surrounded by EMT’s. He had collapsed. They had all the monitors and oxygen attached to him, and were getting ready to transport. I thought, “Well, my knee hurts, but at least I’m not that guy.” I said a quick prayer in my mind for him. Half a mile later, a girl running behind me started to cry. I walked a little bit, but the image of that precious boy’s face which had stayed in my mind pushed me on. It hurt. Both knees hurt. I was tired. I was already frustrated. The end was just a few miles away. It would have been so easy to stop, to give up, to give in to the pain and exhaustion, to let the course win. But that little boy who fought so valiantly, who smiled and made others so happy despite being in a ridiculous amount of pain every single day – if he could do that, then I could finish a race despite some discomfort. After all, I had signed up for this.
I entered the fairgrounds, and saw the finish line. I picked up my pace and pushed to the end. It was done. It was over. I worked my way through the finishing maze, gathering my medal, water, Gatorade, protein bar, snap peas, and chips. I picked up my Beach Cities Challenge medal, and then waited at the pre-arranged meeting spot for my brother. The Finish Festival was probably one of the best I’ve seen, except for the lines for beer and massages. The music was great. Food was plenty. It was well-organized. I was disappointed in my run, I was in pain, but I had done it. I had finished. My official time – 2:20:59, top 1/3rd for my age group, top 1/3’rd for women, top 48% of all the half marathoners.
Don’t ask me this week about future races. I’m not in a good place right now as far as races go. I think I’m going to take some time off from racing. I will run again, but races….I just don’t know. I’ve said that before, though. In this moment, the pain is clouding my mind. So I’ll recover, and then go from there. I am proud of me for finishing the Challenge. It is an accomplishment. I am a runner. I am a half-marathoner. I am an athlete.