As I waited for the gun to signal that the Country Music Half & Full Marathon had officially started, my aspirations of a sub-two-hour finish rapidly diminished to a hope that I would somehow finish.
Gone were the thoughts of a competitively paced race. Instead, as I stood very ill-prepared for 45-degree, windy, rainy weather in a t-shirt and shorts, I was aching for at the very least a trash bag to use as a poncho. Maybe even a hat? What about something as simple as my long-sleeve mock-zip that I wrongly had checked with my gear? (“I’ll get too hot!” I had thought.)
Out of all of the cold weather that I have endured; nothing was quite like the cold matched with rain that brought a whole new light to the saying that I felt ‘chilled to the bone.’ Nothing was dry. In fact, my shorts were feeling quite heavy and there were puddles in my shoes. Not to mention, I was pretty sure from the sympathetic gestures and looks from fellow runners nearby that I must have been heavily wearing my look of misery.
“Just start already! Maybe if I’m running, I’ll warm up.”
That is if I didn’t cramp up so bad that I fall into a fetal position and get trampled.
That was also a legitimate worry.
As my corral finally made it to the starting line I was excited for us to be released; not out of adrenaline or anticipation–there was none of that. Instead I was just glad to be moving. Glad to be one second closer to being done and maybe out of the bad weather.
I had known fairly quickly it was a terrible idea to keep my music and earphones with me; but that was only confirmed short strides into the course. Wet ears do not mix with ear buds; nor does loud rain mix with music volumes. I couldn’t hear anything.
So less than a mile into the race I was left contemplating throwing my headphones off the side of the course; only to settle with stuffing them in my bra instead.
“Well that may be an unfortunate chafing factor,” I thought.
And there I am. Running. Still soaked through in my tee and shorts. Now also carrying an iPhone that I’m not even listening to.
While some people were brave enough to ditch their outer layers, trash bags and ponchos; a mile didn’t warm me up.
On the other hand, I was so cold that I was looking at the items on the wet ground contemplating how gross or warm it would be to recycle them. I decided on gross since they mostly just looked wet and laughed at myself.
There were churches with groups cheering and bars with patrons staring. There were so many people and I couldn’t help but be grateful for the people who somehow sucked up the bad weather and were there cheering for others when they didn’t even have to be there.
I missed the one-mile sign and before I knew it I was off of the roads I remembered driving and walking the day before; and then I was on unknown roads already passing mile 2’s marker. Partly because I was distracted texting myself some Nashville photos on mile 2 (I was obviously concerned about what was going to happen to the ol’ phone in the rain).
Even though the first two miles seemed to be over in a blink I knew I was going slow. There were a lot of people passing me (‘what in the world people, it’s raining — how can you race?’) and I could tell from my watch that I was going at about a 10-minute mile stagger. But I was two miles in. And still cold. It hurt when my feet hit the ground. With every muscle stiff from shuddering in the cold, I thought something might eventually shatter.
While I had worried about the hills going into the race, I smiled when I saw the first one ahead.
This was going to get my blood pumping. Warmth!
Mile three was a welcome scene of hills and exiting downtown Nashville for neighborhoods. The next three miles were a wonderful welcome of:
– warming up,
– getting used to running in the rain,
– realizing I was overly comfortable with my pace,
– finding that I wasn’t having any of the cramping I had worried about,
– being distracted by the question “do I have to pee or is it just the rain?”
– smiling at the people cheering on the sidelines,
– abandoning the effort to avoid puddles,
– embracing the hills and thought that I had prepared well enough,
– and genuinely finding some way to enjoy myself.
Who would have figured that those rolling Tennessee hills might be just what saved my run.
There were cheerleaders and family members, locals and business owners. Maybe it was the emotion of what I was doing, maybe I’m nearing that time of the month, or maybe I was just fragile from being in the cold all morning—but countless times I was almost moved to tears at the amount of support that existed in spectators who were sitting in the cold rain and encouraging us one by one.
“It’s not raining at the top of the hill!” one shouted.
Another yelled “Anyone can run in good weather; it takes a real runner to be out in this rain!”
One supporter’s sign read “Run if you can, Walk if you must; Whatever you do finish for Boston.”
And I had to choke back a few tears.
Who knew that running 13.1 miles would be as much of an emotional journey as a physical one?
Man, I wished that those affected in Boston could see the number of signs on the sidelines, t-shirts on the runners, body markings and wristbands that showed “Boston Strong.” It was an incredible sight.
By the time I got to mile six I was feeling strong in a personal sense, too. Not only was the halfway mark looming, I was fairly shocked at how fast the time was going. No music really, many of the bands must have been scared away by the weather. A lot of quiet besides the padding of sneakers in puddles and mixed chatter between runners. And still not a second did I think “THIS IS DRAGGING.”
Every bend brought a new neighborhood or poster. Every passing runner had some entertaining shirt or expression.
Around mile six is when a guy who had ferociously passed me on mile one seemed to sputter out and I somehow passed him again when he was sucking air. I couldn’t help but feel a little vain that I was pacing myself better than he was.
My stride felt natural and I rarely found myself looking at my watch other than to check my pace at mile-markers.
There were friendly runners talking about that last hill or how they remembered the next neighborhood from last year’s race. There were runners joking about how no one would even notice if they peed themselves and there were runners who talked about stealing a snack along the way. There were runners who looked visibly tired but kept trucking along and there were runners who seemed to like mixing sprinting with walking.
It was an eclectic crew and I was somehow surprised to find the amount of conversation that happened along the way.
Running a half-marathon was far different from 5Ks or 10Ks where everyones pace is set on speed. Instead this race seemed to be about finishing and lasting, and sometimes that required some conversation and moral support from fellow runners along the way.
After I crested the mile seven marker in a neighborhood that felt strangely like Asheville, I knew I was set to go. I was halfway there and it was safe to pick up my speed a little bit. Some runners balked at the free beer from local restaurants; but I was afraid of it.
If i could just make it to mile 8 I was going to take advantage of the Gatorade which was luckily my favorite; but unluckily I think spilled on myself as much as I was able to drink.
The only drawback was that I could tell I was off-pace to break two hours. But, just maybe, if I stepped it up I could trim it down as close as possible.
Eight miles had always been the magic cross-over. I don’t know what was special about it except that maybe that was the most comfortable long run that I had finished so far.
Eight miles came easy but it was also at mile 8 that I began to feel things. Picking up my legs was a little harder.
The sign “Does your butt feel like bowling balls?” didn’t mean much when I saw it the first time at mile 2; but at mile 8 it started to ring a bell. My calves were feeling a little tighter. It was like my left leg was remembering that it had a shin splint and my feet weren’t just swimming my shoes anymore–there was definite sloshing.
If only I could get to mile 9 then I would only have four miles left and that was a short running day. That should be in the bag.
A few bands and again multiple pockets of spectators later I crested the 9-mile marker and started to kick up my speed. After mile 9 I didn’t feel like there was much looking back. You could tell that we were winding back out of the suburbs towards downtown and the tenth mile which landed us back in the city again put me on familiar roads that I had wandered with Nathaniel the day before.
The hills didn’t make too much of a difference and even though I couldn’t feel my toes or really my hands at that point, I was still feeling strong. My breathing was picking up; but it was steady. My heart was pumping; but it was keeping me warm.
The only hard part?
At one point I about had to hurdle a girl who decided to bend over in front of me to stretch at the last second.
People walking meant you had to weave. That meant that sometimes people would get huffy if you cut them off (understandably). And it also meant misery if you had to get around them on a sidewalk that meant pushing off and leaping onto a raised surface. That’s when I could really sense I was going to hit some fatigue. Luckily as mile 10 blended into mile 11 there was a GU stop. Never had it before; but one of the French Vanilla packets later I was pretty confident that it would give me what i needed to push through the final two miles. For each of those walkers though I wanted to look back and yell “Come on! We’re almost there!” Maybe I should have. But I was too shy.
Passing the 12-mile marker was the biggest adrenaline kicker. ONE MILE. As I sped up, the man next to me warned that three-quarters of the finish were uphill. I didn’t hear him. I just kept going. Just maybe I could hit 2 hours on the dot. Maybe. But I would have to be fast. Every corner I hoped I would have a glimpse of the finish—but nothing.
Until finally there was the marathon course running alongside ours again. And in the distance I could see the finish fixture covering the route.
The rain was still pouring as hard as when we started; but somehow deep inside I had enough left in me to sprint out the finish.
And when I looked at my watch it read 02:00:13. I had made it in two hours.
(Only to see on the actual recorded time that I hit 01:59:57. Talk about beating 2 hours by a hair.)
As I crossed the finish line I was so overwhelmed with “damn, I finished” and “holy crap, I got cold again really fast” and “oh my gosh, I did it” and “good grief, I’m emotional” that I about burst into tears. Walking through and picking up my medal, chugging a bottle of water, grabbing a Gatorade, inhaling a banana, snatching a Powerbar and snapping a photo later I was completely overcome with cold. Shaking. Barely could pick up my feet. So much pain. And the car was so far away.
I was lucky to not run the race alone. It was far nicer to find a familiar face at the end who had shared the similar challenges of the day than end the race by yourself like I had done in Charleston. I’m not sure many other bonding experiences you can share with a person other than pushing your body to its complete limit subjecting it to miserably cold, wet weather for six hours and also running your heart out for a good part of that. And finishing pretty strong, I might add.
A day and two aching legs later; it’s still hard to shake my thoughts as I ran my race and I still find myself dreaming about the 13.1 miles start to finish. I’m still taking ibuprofen and I’m still drinking a Nalgene of water every two hours. I’m still stumbling up and down stairs and I’m definitely still finding spots of chafing from wet clothes and knots from cramped muscles.
All that said. I’m somehow, shockingly, sad that I can’t run today.
So, surprise surprise, I’m pretty sure that 26? Yeah, 26 is going to include running a full marathon. Maybe 25 will see another half. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.
I can’t say exactly when or why I started running; but if you’re going to be addicted to something I can’t think of a better (albeit time-consuming) drug.
So, check that off. Another 25 by 25 bites the dust.