I realize now I was not mentally nor physically ready to run the race Sunday morning. I knew I could finish. When you’ve done five half marathons already, and are not a competitive runner, just knowing you can finish is a win. But I wasn’t ready. My brain couldn’t wrap itself around the fact I would be running 13.1 even as we picked up our bibs and packets Saturday afternoon, nor as we carb-loaded at dinner Saturday night, much less as I woke up at 5am to get ready to go Sunday morning. It didn’t hit me as we drove the roads I used to drive to get to Ryley’s NICU, nor as we parked with the start line in sight. Even as we got in our corral and I downed the first of three GU gel packs, my brain was struggling to take it in. Then, we crossed the start line, surrounded by a few thousand other half marathoners, and I finally took it in.
There was so much happening last week. There’s been so much happening the last few weeks. It all conspired to keep me from focusing on the race. Birthdays, book fair, mom’s procedure, upcoming fundraisers, soccer playoffs…..those are the things that took my time, energy, and brain power. The race was a side-show in a weekend of family happenings. I ran it for a reason, though. I ran it because while Ryley survived his early birth and NICU stay, while he came through it with flying colors, Berkeley still held so much heartache and so many painful memories. I needed to change that, somehow, some way.
On Saturday, we drove Highway 13 to reach the football stadium where the race expo was held. I haven’t been on that road since the day we brought Ryley home. My heart clinched with memories of driving that road every day for three months. I recalled the rainy days. I remembered the day I almost rolled our car after being cut off by another vehicle. I remembered the night we drove back to the NICU at 10:30pm to see him, sure something was wrong because he just hadn’t looked right nor acted like himself while I was there during the day (that’s when he got his own staph infection). Memories flooded through. I saw the same houses I’d admired fourteen years ago. Nothing seemed to have changed.
Race morning, we drove by the hospital that had been Ryley’s first home. Fourteen years later, it still has the power to make me cry. I quickly texted my girls, the ones who get it. They understood immediately, sending love, hugs, and calming words. And as we continued past the hospital, I saw parts of Berkeley I’d never seen before, because I only ever drove to the hospital and back, never past it.
Sunday morning was full of sunshine. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere. It was a smaller race with under 5,000 runners, including the 5K-ers. I had said this race wasn’t about time, it was just about finishing. But those pre-race hopes kicked in. At the start, I felt really good. A mile in, my calf and Achilles hadn’t tightened up and my IT band wasn’t screaming. Without headphones, you can hear the sound of hundreds of feet hitting the pavement. We ran through parts of downtown and headed towards the campus. I knew we had hills ahead. Between miles 3 and 4, we hit an enormous hill. We toughed it out, running the entire thing. And then ahhhhhhh……a long downhill. At the bottom of the hill, we made a right turn, and there in front of us was an even bigger, longer uphill. Not fair! I made it nearly halfway and then needed to walk. We weren’t the only ones walking. It was brutal. Once we hit the top of that hill, I knew we had a very long, very slow downhill to the water. But the hills had done their damage.
There are always fun things to see along a race route…people with signs, little kids cheering you on, the other runners. I saw one of my favorite race signs ever. It said, “There are puppies waiting for you at the finish!” So cute. And why do some people think they don’t need to wear deodorant for a race? We got stuck a few times behind stinky people. Not good when you’re sucking air after taking a hill. We passed two people and a mascot pulling a big wagon. One guy asked if he could hop in.
At mile 8, I was feeling a little dizzy. I’ve realized the GU gel packs were upsetting my stomach a bit, but I hadn’t wanted to change anything on race day, but I’d pushed off taking my second pack and it showed. I slowed to a walk and downed it. Ew. At this point, we were along the waterfront, and it was gorgeous. I felt a bit defeated at walking. In that moment, I knew it was going to be a battle to the end. Our pace was still decent, but as the next couple of miles passed and my body and mind were winning over my heart, I had to let go. Mile 9 we stopped to take a photo of the Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge. At mile 9.4, there was a girl down on the side of the route. She was in really bad shape. Other runners were helping her, so we continued on, but the reality of the work it takes your body to get through a half marathon set in again.
I fought through, my brother beside me every step of the way. I alternated between acceptance of the way our race was going to go, and frustration at not being physically where I knew I could be. I ran when I could, I walked when I couldn’t run. Just past mile 12, I needed to be finished. After the second-to-last turn, we began running again. “Don’t let me stop, please.” We couldn’t see the finish line as it was around another corner, but we could hear the race announcer and saw the crowds. Then, my nephew was there on the side, encouraging and smiling. We finished with a 2:38, a PR for worst for me in a half marathon. My back was hurting. My legs were tired. I was shaky. But we were done. We’d finished.
Driving home Sunday afternoon, I was very emotional. I’ve never been that emotional following a race. I was on the verge of tears for most of the 6.5 hour drive. I’m so thankful my brother was with me for this race, beside me every step of the way, despite the fact our pace was about two or three minutes off what he normally runs. He knew what this meant to me, and he kept me going. For having the worst half marathon time I’ve ever had, I don’t feel bad about my race. I did what I needed to do. I slayed some demons. That was the point. I made some new Berkeley memories, which is healing. The course, like our NICU stay, was so hard. We fought through it, sometimes with frustration and disappointment, just as I’d fought through the NICU journey. And in the end, we crossed the finish line, exhausted and elated.