The marathoners started at 7:15am, still under a hint of darkness. They got out before the wind, and the rain hit us.
The 13.1 milers were scheduled to leave at 7:45am, to relieve the bottle neck through the starting gates. But we got the rain. There we stood mashed in between two gates, positioned on either side of a skinny one way street through the city’s waterfront park.
We lined up at 7:30am in the gates to try and jockey for position. There were adorable pace bunnies with ears everywhere promising to bring you to the finish line if you could keep up. We weren’t too sure where to hang out. There was a 1:50 bunny, a 2:00 bunny and even 2 of some slower times. I had trained for 2:20. My training plan had paces and speed work built right in and we decided to settle in behind the 2:15 bunny. It seemed slightly optimistic yet within reason.
The wind started about then, the 70km/hr gusts that chilled so bad we all started shaking. The temperature was a fairly pleasant 14 degrees, most of us were in short sleeves and shorts. Most of us were frozen. When the skies opened up all I could think was heaven help our blisters. I was equipped with my favourite wool socks and a lot of anti-chafe cream on my feet. I was hoping it would be enough. Hubbie had opted for cotton socks and nothing else. I was reminded of how stubborn he was and that he was going to pay for that choice later.
Hubbie started shaking so badly that people around us started to slowly shift away while glancing sideways at us. You know that look people get when they don’t want someone to throw up on them, yup, kind of like that. I believe they were expecting him to have a seizure or something.
Before the announcer sounded the horn, we were all drenched, head to toe, and had yet to run a step. The wind, although fierce was at least going to dry us off when we spread out a bit.
Promptly at 7:45 we set off, walking the first minute or so to jostle through the gates. This was a fairly small, city race, enough people for a good time but not so much that you can’t run right away.
Hubbie, true to form, ran like his ass was on fire right out of the gate. We have never run together, ever, but we know each other well enough. This was expected. He was easily in front a few paces straight away as we ran back and forth avoiding some and letting others pass.
I looked at my Garmin, we were hitting about 8:30 pace, I trained for about 10:30, this was not going to last. At best I was hoping for a 10 min/mile average. Since I hurt my hip in January and then again in March I haven’t been able to consistently get under 10 min/miles for longer than a 10k. Today we were going more than double that. I got worried.
People started to spread out around mile 3 and just like normal, I started to feel a bit more comfortable in my stride. My feet didn’t feel wet even though they were; the wool socks were doing their job.
Glancing down again, I saw that we had settled into a comfortable 9:30 pace, still faster than I wanted but I felt all right for now.
The rain had let up, it was misting when we circled by the lumber mill at the base of the neighbouring mountain. The city smelled so good, it was distracting.
I spent some time watching other runners. It’s amazing how everyone can run so differently and get the job done. Their were people running on the balls of their feet and people hammering their heels. There were the mid-strikers and some people actually appeared to be leaping forward with each step.
The other thing we couldn’t help but notice, a lot of people were in distress, not urgent, call the ambulance distress but people who were not finding their running groove. At. All. That’s the neat part about running a lot. You can start to spot bodily mechanical failures easier in yourself and others. The arm drop, the forward shuffle, all the tell tale signs that things aren’t going well. This concerned me a bit given that we all still had 10 miles left. I’m not sure if I thought the same fate would overtake me, but I was worried.
At that point I overhead nearly everyone around us talking about how they barely trained for this. Thank God. There was a reason.
By the 4 mile mark we were still running sub 10 min/miles and I was starting to worry if we didn’t slow down that I won’t be able to finish, more specifically, that my hip won’t let me finish. My mental will has crossed the finish line many times but I am not always sure about my body.
Finally, the speed, and the worry got to be a bit much. I told hubbie that we should slow down. He responded with a simple, “Why? You’re breathing good, you look fine.” And all that came out was ,”I didn’t train this fast, I don’t think I can hold it.”
If you’ve known someone for years like we have, and you’ve been through deaths of loved ones, births of children, new jobs, losing jobs, days that changed your lives forever and boring days of lovely routine, you probably have looks that pass between you that say more than words ever could.
He gave me one of those looks. No words, just one look, and a raised eyebrow that said, “But what if you could?”
Without him, I would have never run that fast to start and without him I doubt that I would have kept that pace for fear of burning out later on.
Without me he would have started walking shortly after that brief exchange. About mile 5, that boy was hurting. He felt some hot spots on his feet and without a pre-race plan he didn’t know where to store his gels and they were falling out of his sleeves and driving him nuts. He fuelled up about then, more to stop fiddling with the slippery little packs than anything but the less in shape you are, the earlier you need to eat.
The day turned into a perfect running day, cool, overcast and dry. The wind did manage to dry us off, at least what was exposed. The streets were littered with people, shoes off, blisters so big you could see them while running by.
Mile 6 returned us to the park and out the other side, running south down the river bank over uneven paving stones and over a pedestrian bridge.
Hubbie and I were keeping pace with one another fairly well, not chatting so much but happily trotting along keeping an eye on one another if either of us were trapped behind a line of runners and couldn’t get past.
Around mile 8, I felt pretty good. Actually great. I felt like 5 miles was not only possible but it was likely I could do them even faster. I was built for distance, I thrive on running long enough that it’s only your will that keeps you going. I love that feeling of being completely depleted and doing it anyway.
At mile 8.1 I started to run faster, a few moments here and there I broke through to 8 min/miles but finally felt comfy around 9:10. Hubbie fell back but urged me to keep going. And that I did. The few times I turned around I could see him, maybe 10 feet back, just holding the pace, looking intensely uncomfortable but not giving up. I had forgotten that he is just as stubborn as I.
Those last 5 miles are the first time I’ve ever done something physical that he was not able to keep up with, ever. It felt sort of weird but I’m ok with the one who trained having an easier time. It felt like a bit of divine justice.
Those closing miles truly felt like a blur, it was a combination of hoping that my hip would hold, marvelling that my hip was fine and wondering how long I could actually run that fast. And then wondering why I don’t normally run this fast. Obviously now, by mile 10 it had occurred to me that maybe I had undersold myself a bit.
My mantra for the race, whenever my mind got away from me, was to return to my feet, my pace. Step, pull, step, pull. It reminds me to place my foot down, not shuffle and to pull my foot backwards as an active gesture. It helps me focus on what I’m doing and block out the garbage. I thought this a lot.
At mile 12 we had to run over the pedestrian bridge again, maybe only 15 steps across it total. But it was steep and wood and slippery. As I approached, all I could hear was people groaning. Miles of flat terrain followed by a steep uphill, however short is brutally painful. The groans were right, it was all one could do to not fall on your face sliding down the other side of that thing. But you knew the end was near, it was the only thing that kept you going.
Half way between there and the finish line I saw a frog. Running. A person in a frog costume was not going to beat me. It was the most bizarre thought but after 2 hours of effort beyond which I have never experienced, I wanted to beat that frog. So I started to run, really fast. I had no idea at the time but it appears that it was a good 10+ miles/hr. Hubbie wasn’t privy to my thoughts at the time given he was a few strides behind me and couldn’t see the frog at his angle. But he sped up too.
Then I heard him chuckle and knew he had the same thought.
At full speed we went blazing by countless people, I didn’t even notice them, they all seemed to be clearing a path. It was a good thing, I didn’t have much energy to run around anyone at that point. I was set to autopilot.
We hit the starting gates with a few hundred yards to go, Hubbie has always had amazing closing speed in races, he had me beat, hands down.
Those last few steps my stomach failed me, I felt the overwhelming urge to throw up on the frog man while I passed him but autopilot is funny, your legs won’t stop to let you get sick. You just keep running.
The last few steps of the race, hubbie slowed down to grab my hand so we could hold hands as we crossed the finish line together. It was almost picture perfect except it was that moment that I needed to step over the line, and almost wretch my guts out. But I’ve always liked my fairy tales real rather than happily ever after.
So, to the person who will no doubt post that beautiful moment on You-tube. Yup that’s me, half-marathon finisher almost throwing up on my husband, because somewhere around mile 4, I realized I could go faster.