Monday, April 16, 2007

St. Louis Half Marathon

I did it. It was an incredible experience, and I will try to do it justice here. What surprised me the most was how emotionally invested I became in the race.

First, I have to say how glad I am that Cathy agreed to run the race with me and fly out here this weekend. If I hadn't known she had signed up, bought an airline ticket, and was coming, I might have bailed on this race when my original running partner dropped out. Although I didn't run the entire race with her, she made this race for me. I can't imagine doing it without her.

As for the race, I'll try my best to relive the experience here:

Before the race started it was a very chilly morning in the low to mid 30s. Luckily the sky was totally clear; Saturday had been a day of rain, all day. It was cold and windy and wet and would have been horrible to run in. Sunday would turn out to be perfect. We were cold at the starting line, dressed in layers with trash bags and gloves we had picked up at the expo on Saturday. A couple of cute boys were lined up behind us, and we did some chatting with them. I had overheard them saying that they aimed to finish the half in less than 2 hours, so I knew they would drop us immediately after we crossed the starting line.

The race started promptly at 7 a.m. I had never experienced a race like this one before. We were pretty far back so the race started, and we stood still, waiting. We got to take two steps forward, but then we waited some more. It was almost 10 minutes before we got to the starting line. That's when the race began for real. I sort of set the pace for Cathy and I, a nice slow jog at about a 12 minute mile. We got passed by a bunch of people, but we also passed a bunch of people. We were neither the fastest nor the slowest people out there. Before we had even reached the first mile marker, we had shed our trash bags. I felt good - my legs didn't feel tired, my knees didn't hurt, and being part of that crowd was pretty amazing. As we headed down into Soulard, I shed my gloves and just kept going. There's a pretty major uphill before the run through the brewery (the the AB Clydesdales), and we walked a good portion of that hill. Smelling the hops as we flew down the hill inside the brewery was pretty awesome. I love the smell of beer brewing - its a combination of yeast and hops and smells as pretzelly and like home to me.

At about mile four I figured out that I needed to pee. I headed over toward some port-a-potties, but the line was too long and I didn't feel like stopping and waiting just yet, so we kept running. As we headed back to mile 6, which is pretty close to the start, I started to get emotional. The water stop woman sort of said some encouragement with my name (my name was on my number cause I registered early), and I almost lost it. For the first time, I found myself close to tears, and I had no idea why. I felt great. I didn't feel like I had already run 6 miles. I felt as fresh as if I was just starting a training run.

About this time, I noticed that we were hearing names being called. We were running pretty close to where the finish line would be, and we could hear as each of the early finishers came through. We watched them run past us in the opposite direction. For me it was incredible. I'll never be that fast. I don't envy them really and they don't make me feel bad about what I've accomplished. Instead they make me feel good. We were training at the same time, and we were running on the same course. They are truly impressive people and deserve accolades and it is a wonder to watch them run.

About that time we found empty port-a-potties, and I got my pee - THANK GOD!

Right about mile 7 Cathy and I parted ways. She hadn't done much training on hills, and most of my training was done on much hilly conditions than the race course. She needed to walk up the hills and I enjoyed running up them. I felt bad for leaving her, but I really wanted to do my best.

Shortly thereafter, I started running next to an older gentleman. He would be my companion until mile 9.5 when the marathon course split from the half marathon course. He was probably in his mid-seventies and had completed a marathon in all fifty states. St. Louis was his 10th marathon of 2007. Oh, and he was walking. His walking pace was the same as my running pace. We chatted and I got to hear about his life experiences. I learned that he had a total knee replacement and than 15 days later (15!!) he had completed a 5k. 8 weeks later he had done a full marathon. He was an astounding person, and I'm so glad I got to have the experience of meeting him and hearing his story. I don't run races with my ipod on, and that's part of the reason why. I wouldn't want to miss the race experience - chatting with random new people (like that man or the women I met who were also running their first half marathon). Hearing the random bagpipe player, folk band, or acoustic guitarist is part of what makes running a race so much fun. Its more than just running 13.1 miles - its about experiencing those miles.

I almost lost it again a little after mile 10. I was starting to feel tired, the sun was blazing in my eyes, and I was warm. That's when I saw my friends Heather and Mark, cheering for me. I'd never had anyone come out to cheer for me before that wasn't family. I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it. I waved frantically at them as I went past, all the while doing my best to keep from sobbing with joy. If I had started crying, I wouldn't have stopped, and if I was sobbing, I wouldn't have been able to breathe. This would not have been good.

At mile 11, a group of guys had set up a stand giving out beer. Ahh - living in a city that is the home of beer. I passed because I didn't want to take in anything at that point that I hadn't trained with - I didn't need to have stomach problems in the last few minutes. I found out later that Cathy gladly accepted a beer - gotta admit that after a run, nothing tastes quite as good.

I felt great going into the last couple miles. The hills seemed like nothing, and I knew I was almost there. There actually were crowds to cheer you on. I've got to admit that to some extent the people saying "don't give up, you're almost there" were a bit patronizing to me. I know they mean well, but no way was I going to give up. At that point walking wasn't an option, I knew I had this thing in the bag. The only thing that hurt on me were my feet (which was a new experience for me).

Somewhere between mile 10 and 12, I started getting passed my the fast marathon runners. They were incredible. It was awesome to hear the crowds cheering for them, telling them how great they were doing. They knew they were out of contention for first, but like me, at this point for them it was a race against the clock. I have no desire to run a marathon myself, but I am constantly astounded by that feat. It lifted me up to see them charge past me in those miles.

When I came to the mile 26 sign I knew I had more in me so I sprinted the finish line. I finished within seconds of a marathon runner, and it was pretty dang cool to hear his name get announced over the loud speaker. He was number 12 of all marathon finishers.

I lost it again when they placed the finishers ribbon around my neck. This time I allowed myself to cry a little - I think they might have thought I was in pain, but those were tears of pure joy and pride. I never would have believed that I could do it, that I could run a half marathon, before I started trying. The fact that I am not a natural runner, could hardly run at all as a child, and yet have achieved something so amazing makes me believe in the ability of the human spirit. If I can do this, what limits really are there for me?

Miles: 13.1 (chip time 2:39:25)


Amanda said...

Hurray! Congratulations!! I'm so proud of you!

Barbara said...

Congratulations!! It sounds like an amazing are amazing!

Elisabeth said...

So proud of you for this accomplishment. You and Cathy are my personal running heros!

Heather said...

go you!! congratulations, you are sooo hardcore!!! :-D