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13.1 Miles of Pure Struggle

Posted Jan 03 2013 8:25pm
Undertrained. Unprepared. Unlikely to finish.

What?  Well, that's how I felt as we set out to conquer the  Space Coast Half Marathon on a beautiful (and very cold!!) November morning..... 

Thousands of runners get ready
to cross the start line: Space
Coast Marathon/Half Marathon, 2012.
Actually, I didn't consider NOT (did you get that?) finishing until my sister and I crossed the start line (yes, in the first 50 yards I knew I was in trouble!). It was going to be a loooooong 13.1 miles, and I dared not let on that I was already struggling. I suspect she already knew.....

Our plan was to walk as much as we needed to:  She was coming off an ankle injury that required an orthotic boot for weeks prior and I was, well, undertrained, having only run six miles on my longest weekend runs of late.  We'd walk a bit and then we'd run when we felt like it. 

Sounded good, right?  On paper, anyway. 

But, I failed to consider a key detail:  my baby sister is at least 4 inches taller than me, and most of that l.e.g.s. (!).  Our walking plan quickly turned into a trot for me and a s...t....r...o...l...l... for her.
By mile 4, and after two porta-potty stops (this was a whole separate issue on this race day... one I had never encountered before), I finally - after much cajoling - talked my sister into going ahead. She needed to run, and I didn't want to hold her back. Ironically, we had talked about how 'real runners don't leave each other behind' during miles 2 and 3.  Now, I had to convince her to go ahead. She wasn't buying it. We had planned to do this race together.

"We will be together. We're on the same course. We'll pass on the out & back," I said, as I worked to convince her. Finally, she gave in, and by mile 4, like a filly on her first day out, my baby sister took off, to find her stride and conquer her first-ever half marathon. I was so proud of her!!   
 I was relieved. And hurting.

Not finishing was not an option.
Not yet.  That thought came during miles 6, 8, and 10.... Like wet cement pouring down on me, my wish to quit this race was heavy and dragging me down. I wanted to quit. I wouldn't. I wanted to quit. I refused. I wanted to quit. I cried.  What the heck was I doing? I wasn't properly trained for 13.1 miles! But I continued to trot along. Shuffle, really. I shuffled, I walked, I cried some more. But I kept moving forward.

The course itself was beautiful: a tree-lined, two-lane residential road, straddling the Indian River while revealing some of the area's most beautiful (and historical) homes.  This should be a definite on runners' race schedules!  Great weather, beautiful course with lots of volunteers and neighborhood folks who come out to cheer (and nourish you with beverages and snacks), very well organized.
 However, no matter how beautiful or organized a race is, if the runner isn't prepared, it's a struggle. 
  My body continued carrying me through this painful journey (or maybe it was my mind?) as the miles passed, but it wasn't without stops and starts. 
Blisters bloomed on the bottoms of my toes and feet.  Every step felt like hot coals. I even stopped to take off one shoe and sock. MISTAKE. My foot swelled almost instantly; getting the sock/shoe back on was problematic. My muscles, thinking they were finished for the day, immediately began to freeze up. Restarting was almost worse than starting at the beginning.

My Achilles tendons tightened in mile 8, feeling like stretched rubber bands,  taut with overuse , they threatened to snap if I contiuned. This was a new pain for me.  I was pretty scared at this point. But I pressed on... a  DNF was not acceptable.  I hobbled.    In mile 10, a kind woman whom I'd passed and was passed by, fell in stride beside me:   "Are you okay?" she asked, with a look of worry on her face. "I'm okay." I dropped my head as the tears fell quietly.    We walked together for a hundred yards or so, she telling me about herself, a half-marathon walker with scoliosis , as her sister ran the races.  I found strength in our few minutes together, but began to fall behind again, the screaming Achilles threatening to snap. I urged her to go on, much as I had my sister in mile 4, and thankfully, she did. 

*Looking back, my fellow half-marathoner's story would be something to reflect on in upcoming weeks, helping me accept what my future would hold.....  
Before the race: my amazing husband who would
help me cross the finish line hours later.
Somewhere in mile 11, as I was sure I'd fall on my face, body spent, Achilles tendons rigid, and back so sore I thought I'd never stand up straight again, I saw him.

My sweet, wonderful, always-there-for-me husband. He looked worried and relieved. I began to sob while mumbling something  about 'not being able to do this....' (not that THAT was an option).  He walked quickly beside me as he encouraged me to shuffle on, because I was 'almost' there. Really?  I didn't think so. 

Feeling bent and broken, I appreciated my dear husband continuing with me for a mile or more before he sent me to round the circle and cross the finish line.

I wanted him to go with me. I was scared I wouldn't make it to the finish.   No, he said.  You can do this. I'll be waiting at the finish line for you.   
And with that, he sent me on the final leg of my journey.      Little did I know it would be my last as a runner.
  A few minutes later, I crossed the finish line, collected my medal (it's pretty darn cool!), fell into my husband's arms, and thought how happy I was that this struggle was finally over. 
   Little did I know how 'over' it really was.

THAT realization would come in a few short weeks.....  My sister (aka 'the filly') and me.... after a long race on a cold day!

 It's been nearly six weeks since we ran our race. Lessons learned.   High price paid. I'm a different person now. Neither better nor worse. Just different.   Have you ever been surprised by an otherwise'ordinary' event unexpectedly changing you?If so, in what way? What did you learn?      
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