Well, let me get right to the point: I had another great weekend! This month is chock full of fun and excitement, what with getting to hang out with the girls last weekend, the race this past weekend, and a trip to Kentucky for a conference and to see several friends this coming weekend. However, all the travel and busyness were stressing me out a bit even though I knew it was all in the service of good things.
So people, imagine my SHEER GLEE when it was announced Thursday night that campus would be closed and all classes canceled for Friday! Just imagine! An unexpected day off amidst all the chaos! Yes, the winter storm that has been plaguing the rest of the country finally made its way down south to Alabama, and (as folks here are a-scaird of snow and its cold, wintry ways) the university decided to pre-emptively cancel everything. Fine by me.
I spent the snow day relaxing, doing some chores in preparation for the trip, and walking around my neighborhood snapping pictures of the rare, rare sight of winter in Auburn. I felt relaxed and prepared for the weekend ahead. Perfect day.
Saturday morning I accidentally woke up at 7:00 AM (curse my stupid internal alarm clock!), and was rewarded with the sight of this outside:
The cloud system had moved on, leaving nothing but blue skies and sparkling, snowy branches in its wake. Had I slept in late as planned, I would have missed it all — everything was melted before noon.
Later on, my friend B. and I headed up to Birmingham to meet C., check into our hotel (I love staying in hotels), and get me checked in for the race.
I was really happy to have both of them along for the ride. While I definitely enjoy my alone time, I know I would have been nervous and anxious if I’d been by myself with no one to distract me from my worries. Instead, I had two good friends, a fun dinner out on the town, a bit of lounging in the hotel bar (I also love hotel bars) (but I only had a club soda — sad trombone), and plenty of support and encouragement.
That night, I laid out everything I would need for race morning and spent about 20 minutes too long figuring out how to attach my digital timing chip to my shoe. I had never been in a race this big before — everything else I’ve run has been about 100 or so people — so I’d never had to use one. It has a microchip in it that transmits your information to the timing system every time you step over a mat, for example, at the start and finish as well as a few places on the route. Anyway, I finally figured it out and went to bed.
Race morning, I was ready to go. The alarm went off at 5:40, and I quietly got dressed and downed half a CLIF bar for breakfast in the quiet hotel room. I did forget to put my Body Glide (sounds dirty, but it’s a blister and chafing preventive) on my feet, and one blister did develop, but otherwise my preparations were in order.
As any runner knows, one of the most important things to do on race morning is go to the bathroom before the starting gun. You just don’t want to be carrying any extra cargo out there on the course if you know what I am saying and I think that you do. Well, I managed this task perhaps a little too well. After taking a dose of Pepto, I headed out to the starting corral, nervous tummy and all.
I wanted to position myself to the back of the starting group to stay out of the way of the faster runners, but it was such a crowded mess just getting into the corral that once I got in I just stayed put. This wasn’t brilliant on my part, as it led to my being positioned too far to the front and thus spending the first five miles of the race getting passed by hundreds of speedy types.
I had no idea what my pace was for those first five miles as I had started my Nike+ program incorrectly and it was measuring my time but not my distance (D’oh! User error there, I’m afraid.) I didn’t spot any mile-marker signs for a while, and I was afraid I was going far too slow just based on the numbers of runners passing me. I was passed by old and young, fat and thin, and even a retirement-aged woman wearing not only a red tutu but also two pairs of red, heart-shaped novelty sunglasses. This was not great for my self esteem.
You know what rocked, though? Passing mile 5 at 51:00. I figured I was about a minute behind the starting gun (with a crowded start, you may not pass the starting line until a while after the race officially begins) and I had been running solid ten-minute miles for five miles. While I’ve definitely run a ten-minute mile before, I had never run five of them in a row. Holy shit! I was blazing fast! Well, fast for me.
I kept up the pace through the 10K split (you run over a timing mat at 6.2 miles and your chip sends your info to the race timing system, so you can later look up — or your friends can — your time for that portion or “split” of the race) (sorry, I’m just explaining this for people who aren’t familiar with the silly lingo and procedures) and probably kept on pace until around mile 9 or 10. After that point, there were some long hills and I was definitely feeling slower and a bit fatigued.
Although I kept hydrated and fueled by taking water and Gu at the stops, I really wasn’t able to keep that fast pace going through the entire distance — to no surprise at all, really. I had estimated my finishing time at a pace of over 11:00 per mile. I was ahead of my target for the first 10 miles, but then I had to slow it down. I always do this, and I’m fine with that.
The last mile of the race was pretty tough; I’m not going to lie. It felt like it was three miles long. I swear to dog, that mile just stretched out interminably in front of my leaden feet. I was sure that any second I’d see the finish line up ahead but it just wasn’t appearing. At one point I stopped right in the middle of the road (sure the guy behind me was thrilled) to stretch out my hamstrings for a second. I kept running, though, knowing my friends were going to meet me at the finish and that my goal time of 2:30 was well within my sights.
As I rounded the last corner and entered the long finishing chute, I heard the start of Weezer’s “Troublemaker,” the very last song I would be hearing if I met my goal time. I knew I would make it. I remembered that there would be an announcer calling out names as we went over one last timing mat before the finish, so I yanked out my ear buds and chugged on down through the chute. I wanted to push harder at the finish, but there was pretty much nothing left in my tank at that point.
I heard the announcer call out my name, though, and heard my friends screaming for me from the sidelines, and the finish was as great as I could have imagined. When I crossed the line, the clock said 2:30:27, but my chip time would turn out to be 2:29:31, half a minute faster than my goal. I made it!
I collected my shiny, Mercedes-style medal and finisher’s shirt, gave my friends a sweaty hug, and then we headed back to the hotel for the foam roller, ice bath, and to figure out what to do about brunch.
It was probably the best Valentine’s Day I have had in years.
To anyone out there thinking of trying something new in your life, whether it be an athletic goal or something completely different, I have this to say: DO IT. Learn what you need to know, make a plan, and then do it. You really can, and you will not regret it.