This little old journey of mine has been made up of hundreds of moments. Some of them good, some of them bad, all of them teaching me invaluable lessons along the way. Timberman this past weekend was no exception. I think it’s safe to say I felt almost every emotion possible in a 12 hour span.
Race day started far beyond bright and early, with a wake up of 4am. I put on the clothes I had laid out the night before, checked my backpack one last time, and we headed out into the dark. Because I knew there was practically half a day before I would have to run I was nervous, but more nervous for my buddy (who was doing the full 70.3) than I was for myself. I was preoccupied for the first few hours as I watched people set up their transition areas, adjusted wetsuits, and hugged my friends goodbye as they made their way to the start. Every time I heard the air horn send a wave into the water my stomach did a flip. That sound meant the day had officially begun.
I cheered as the swimmers crawled back to shore and made their way to transition. The cyclist in our relay team headed out and I said goodbye to my friend as she took off on her bike. That’s when I realized how many hours I had to kill. And that I was alone. And that’s when the panic set in.
I wrapped my legs up in a sweatshirt (Wish I had thought to put comfy sweats over my running shorts) and curled into a ball at a picnic table. I glanced at my watch and couldn’t believe how slow time was moving. I felt my breathing get more and more panicked as I tried to envision 13.1 miles. And then in true half ass fashion, I put my head down and started to cry. I wanted it to be over, I wanted my fiancee there, I wanted my comfort beside me telling me I could do it. I wanted anything but to be sitting alone at that table staring at a war-zone transition area.
Luckily before I became an all out disaster our relay swimmer found me and snapped me out of it. We spent some time watching the elite athletes and then found a shady spot near the relay corral to wait for the bike to come in. Bless her soul for allowing me to ramble on about stupid things to calm my nerves. With no exact way of knowing how soon I could start running I paced in the corral until it was time. We exchanged the chip, high- fived each other, and I took a deep breath as I headed out. Show time.
Originally I thought that the “double loop, out and back” course would mess with my head, but I ended up appreciating it. In my mind breaking the race up into 4 5Ks seemed manageable so I forced myself to only think about one leg at a time. I took in the scenery (the spectators and signs were awesome!), kept my pace steady, and even made a friend for a while. Towards the end of the first leg I heard someone yell my name and looked up to see my buddy on her bike across the street. I smiled and felt a little piece of the alone-ness melt away.
I proudly stomped on the timing mat as I ran around the first loop. 1 down, 3 to go. On the way back I timed my water/beans perfectly, and was even able to take them down without having to stop running for the first time in my life. I’m sure the water stop volunteer appreciated my jig as I ran by. Shortly before the halfway point I heard my name again and looked up to see my buddy smiling as she ran towards me. As always, she yelled exactly what I needed to hear and I made myself run a little taller. If she could swim 1.2 miles, bike 56, be in the middle of a half marathon and STILL have the energy to yell at me – I could do this. She is my all star, always.
The turn around was the worst. All of the runners made their way down the same grassy path, with crowds on either side and the music blasting. A woman stood in the middle directing traffic: finishers to the left, 2nd lap runners to the right. I growled at her as I ran by, but tried to remind myself that the faster I ran the faster I would be there too.
5K #3 was tough. Limbs started to get heavy and tired and the realization that I was only half way done set in. The mind games rolled around my head until I crossed the timing mat again. One lap to go and I would be done. Time to dig in. Time to prove myself.
I was slow but determined those last few miles. No matter how much I wanted to stop I reminded myself how close I was, I visualized the finish line. I started going through the list of things in my head that I said I’d never be able to do- and have done. I passed my buddy one last time and as we slapped hands she yelled “GO GET THAT MEDAL!”. I smiled as I felt the tears come on again. But this time, they were warm and happy.
As I rounded the last few bends I started to hear the music again, noticed the crowd getting thicker. My smile grew bigger and bigger and as I passed the woman directing traffic I yelled “STAYING TO THE LEFT!”. She just laughed. I heard people cheering. I heard my name being yelled by my friends parents. I passed by the other two members of my relay team who were jumping up and down and cheering. I don’t think my smile could have gotten any bigger. My face actually hurt more than my legs as I crossed the finish line.
With my medal around my neck and a bottle of water in my hand I stopped, despite the crowd still around me. I only noticed two people in that park: the girl I used to be and the girl who had just finished a half marathon of a Half Ironman. The thing that seemed impossible was over. And I had done it. All on my own. I smiled, I laughed, I cried big, fat, happy tears. I was just so proud.
Despite my “speedy” long runs the last few weeks sadly I didn’t pull off an impressive PR on Sunday. I am still a very slow half marathoner. But I am starting to understand distance running. I am starting to learn what it means to dig deep and push yourself to the finish line. Starting to learn that your legs can out run your mind. Starting to believe in myself. And you know what? All of those things are worth far more than any PR.