I hadn’t run a half marathon distance since my unfortunate half marathons in May, so I had no idea how fast I could run one. I extrapolated, based on recent runs, what I could expect my time to be. Anything under 1:35 and I could be happy, I decided. The girl last year had won in 1:24. I thought that might be my stretch goal.
I was surprisingly nervous the day before the race. In July, I had a pair of New Balance running shoes that I loved, but which had unfortunately not lasted very long, partially because I wore them once while climbing sharp, barnacle covered rocks by the sea. They were super minimalist – more like socks with a bit of tread on the bottom than shoes really. You could literally roll them up and put them in your purse. They also glowed in the dark.
I searched for them in two different stores before learning that they had been discontinued. Thankfully, I found a fairly similar pair at NikeTown and bought those.
I had to pick up my race packet from the Westin that evening, and I wandered around taking freebies. Then I went home and ate some Indian food, drank a couple of screw drivers, worked for a bit, listened to some hypnosis for athletic performance, and went to bed around 11pm (I’m mostly writing this for my benefit so that next race I have I can look back and imitate this. Especially the screw driver drinking part). I had set my alarm for 6:45, but then I realized that if I woke up and discovered that my bike was stolen I would have to take the bus, so instead I set my alarm for 6:30.
I’m glad I set my alarm for 6:30, because I had forgotten that I’d left my bike at WeWork the Monday before Thanksgiving, and never picked it up. My Uber app wasn’t working (and I don’t know if I want to support Uber anymore anyway) so I had to take Tony’s bike. There was no time to adjust the seat so it was way to big for me. I also didn’t figure out how the gears worked for a while, so I was stuck in the lowest gear. It’s only a 10 minute ride to Seattle Center, where the race was starting, from the condo, but when I got there I only had 15 minutes until the race start at 7:30. I couldn’t figure out how to get into the corral with the racers. When I finally did, they were counting down four minutes to go. I rudely shoved my way through the crowd. With one minute to go, I caught sight of the 1:30 pacers at the front of the pack. I was going to follow them no matter what. And we were off.
The first half felt almost easy. I was running with my head up and my legs were loping along under me. It was fun to run on the closed down highway and through the tunnels. On the other side of the tunnel, Lake Washington was absolutely beautiful, sparkling a cold blue. I had been thinking the night before about what it means to run ‘for yourself’ and this was it. There aren’t a lot of things I do just for myself. Writing is one of them. Sailing is another. Tinkering with arduino is another. Running is another.
Around mile 7, the course got hilly again. I’m not great at hills. Another girl caught up to me. A girl from the front of the race fell back. There were now three girls running around the 1:30 pace group, and we were oddly all wearing teal jackets. I mentioned it, laughing, and the pacer asked, “Did you all call each other this morning to coordinate your outfits?”
Around mile nine we all started to spread out. I fell back from the pacers. One of the girls stayed with them, and one stayed just ahead of me. My legs were starting to feel tired. I was glad about this, and also surprised. In the past when I’ve run, my lungs have always tired before my legs. Making your legs stronger is easy. Lungs are harder to exercise.
I kept reminding myself to smile. Smiling when running is an amazingly effective performance enhancing drug. It should probably be made illegal.
I kept considering taking my jacket off and running in a sports bra, but given the 30 degree weather, it never seemed like a good idea. Finally, I saw the sign for mile 12. Whenever I’m running and it gets tough, I tell myself ‘Just one more mile. You can do anything for a mile.” Also it was a downhill mile. I caught up to one of the teal jacket girls and passed her.
When racing, I have a bizarre downhill form that is probably extremely damaging to my body, but extremely effective. It’s how I originally hurt my IT band. This race, my IT band was fine, but my right calf started to cramp up. Only half a mile to go! Even if my calf cramped up now, I could still run to the finish so I didn’t care.
Only a quarter mile. You can do anything for a quarter mile. Only 0.2 miles. At 0.1 miles, I broke into a sprint to the finish. I crossed in 1:32:20.
Someone put a medal around my neck. I was handed a space blanket and a protein bar. I looked at the protein bar blankly. The last thing on my mind was eating food.
There was a sunny spot on the bleachers in the recovery area. A guy in an orange shirt was sitting there wearing a space blanket. I recognized him. We had run together the whole way, and he had finished a couple seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a bit. We had both been shooting for sub 1:30 times but hadn’t quite made it. It wasn’t a PR for him. It was for me. It was a 10 minute PR in fact. He encouraged me to find a coach. “At 26 you’re just getting started with distance running. In a couple of years you’ll reach your peak. I’ll look for your name in future races.” He also told me to check to see if I’d won anything, since he’d only seen a couple of girls in front of us.
I hadn’t won anything – just 5th place in my age group which means that my name shows up on the “Leaders” page of the Seattle Marathon Results, so I’m pretty content. Maybe next time if I start practicing I can win. Speaking of winners, Iliana of the Least Slow Group took fifth overall in the marathon, which is seriously awesome. I hope to grow up to be as fast as her.