Race(s) Recap Precap: Illinois Marathon Weekend

I’m attempting (again) to throw myself back into blogging. We’ll see how long this lasts.

This was my fifth year running races during the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend. The race weekend includes everything from a 1K youth fun run up to marathon challenge (5K + full marathon). I did the half I-Challenge for the fourth time – 5K at 7:30am Friday night followed by the half marathon at 7am Saturday morning.

These races are my favorites, hands down. The races are just great – great course, great communication, great gear, great people – and it’s always wonderful to have an excuse to go back to C-U for a weekend. I get such a rush running through all of these places that are so familiar and so special to me. It’s no wonder that I’ve broken my own records in nearly every race nearly every year.

Despite running a ton of halfs, I’ve never really had a “race plan” or a race strategy. I generally plan to do what I’ve done before, and roll with what comes my way during the race. This was easier when I was racing more often – now I have to try to remember what it was that I did 6-12 months ago? and did that thing work? etc. These blog posts are part of my strategy for remembering.

The last two weeks of training

I faithfully followed a training program for the last few months – for the first time ever. I did the technical runs. I used pace alerts and my heart rate strap. I trained in all kinds of disgusting weather. I went in hoping to break 2 hours in the half – not a PR, but pretty dang good considering that I’m still not getting much sleep, still breastfeeding, and only really training during my lunch breaks plus a long run on the weekends.

I didn’t run much for the two weeks leading up to the races. This wasn’t on purpose – I had an unexpected trip come up about 10 days out, and running just didn’t fit in the agenda while I was there. I got in a 12 mile run the weekend before the races, but very little the week of. My last training run was a lousy 2.5 miles on the indoor track due to bad weather.

I’ve had persistent groin issues since my toddler was born (via c-section) in 2014. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they cut through all the layers of my abdominal muscles – those enormous sheets of tissue that connect to many other major muscle groups. Anyway, that started acting up around the time I went out of town, and had me hobbling after every run for the two weeks leading up to the races. So that was a source of anxiety going into the weekend.

Nutrition

I feel like the clean-eating part leading up to races is actually harder than the tapering part. I’m terrible at following a specific diet. It bores me to death. My general plan is to cut dairy, fat, fried things, and fiber in the 2-3 days before a big race. Anything that might be hard to digest is out. In a vegetarian-mostly household, that tends to result in a lot of garbage carbs. This is something I need to change for future races!

My go-to pre-race meal place in Champaign has become Za’s. In fact, I’ve eaten there twice over the race weekend the last two years – dinner/dinner last year, and lunch/dinner this year. Their combo meal is an easy way to get exactly the veggies, protein, and carbs that I want, and nothing more. My pre-5K lunch was a salad with chicken, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. My post-5K, pre-half dinner was pizza with veggies and no cheese, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. Next time I’ll skip the pizza – it was too heavy on my stomach, and I regretted it all night.

Oh, and water. About 3-4 days out, I start hydrating like it’s my job. I don’t know exactly how much water I tend to drink, but I fill up two water bottles at a time, multiple times throughout the day. It’s a good idea, even if it means lots of pit stops in the days leading up to the race.

Travel

Our strategy the last two years has been to drive down to Champaign Thursday afternoon, giving us all of Friday to hit the race expo and do things around town. We made this decision last year due to rain in the forecast, but in general, I think it’s a much better idea than rushing down Friday and then trying to do things Saturday on race-trashed legs.

We stayed at a different hotel this year, which I hope we’ll be able to do in the future as well. For the price of a regular room at our normal spot, we got a suite at Country Inn and Suites – totally worth it with a toddler who goes to bed at 7. Other bonuses: better and more extensive breakfast options, and coffee and snacks (including fresh cookies) available around the clock. Don’t underestimate the importance of around the clock snacks when you’re running two races in 12ish hours.

In my next post, I’ll actually talk about the races. I promise.

2015 Chicago Half Marathon recap

Starting line

I haven’t written much about running here lately for two reasons: I haven’t been writing much here lately, and I haven’t been running much lately.

Gone is the time when I could run five days/week on a reliable training schedule. Gone are the days when I would get home from work, drop my stuff, and go out for five or six miles before figuring out my evening. These days I get in three runs/week when I’m lucky: two lunchtime workouts during the week, and a long run on the weekend. Once in awhile, I’ll get a bonus short run on the weekends.

Life is busy. I’m tired. The baby is still up a LOT at night. I’ve biked seven (or more!) miles to work every day for two months which has made up for the fact that I have had very little time to get to the gym. All of my excuses are legitimate.

So much about running is mental. I’ve known this for a long time, and yet it always surprises me how easy it is to psych myself out, to decide I can’t do something that I really can. Up until Saturday night when I laid out my stuff, I wasn’t fully convinced I should actually even run the race. We’d had several very bad nights of minimal sleep. I’ve been dealing with mild numbness in one foot. And I’ve just felt blue for awhile, the sort of blue that makes digging into your reserves difficult.

And then the baby surprised me with a good night of sleep. I woke a little before 5, well rested and reluctant to wiggle out from under the softest, snuggliest kiddo in order to eat some peanut butter toast and leave the house by 6. At 6:30, I was walking to the starting line with half a cup of coffee and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude – for the overcast but lovely morning, for the privilege of being able to do events like this, for the strong body that has muscled through a hard year, for my sleeping family who have compromised and coordinated so that I could get the miles that I need to feel sane and healthy.

Waiting for the start//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

You can imagine my surprise when I went on to run the steadiest, strongest, and possibly the best race I’ve ever done. I’ve had faster races, but I don’t think I’ve had stronger races. I felt great. I listened to Tensnake. I accepted all offered high-fives. I took my gels at 4 and 8, and Gatorade at every other mile. I dug in and pushed hard. I felt a blister forming at 6 miles – no problem. My guts started to feel wiggly around 8 miles – no problem. I had some cramping in my chest around 10 miles – no problem. I passed 10.5 miles – which is where I almost always bonk – no problem. The only moment when my energy flagged was when my watch said 13 miles but the finish line was obviously still a quarter mile away – and then I just swore and kicked into overdrive, and crossed at seconds over the 2 hour mark, very close to my personal best.

Medal as big as my face

I was pleased. I was floored. I was exhausted, starving, and unimaginably gross. I collected a medal the size of my head and sat down to eat a tiny square of pizza. I found that I’d run negative splits for literally the entire race except one mile. I don’t know how this is possible.

As I walked slooooooowly back to the car, I shared a long post on Instagram which I’ll distill here: these days, running feels like a gift.

2013 At The Races

In preparing for this weekend’s I-Challenge, I realized I never posted ANYTHING here about all of last year’s running. Which, given last year’s running, is a serious omission.

January 2013: Polar Dash half marathon in Chicago

Fired up?

Don’t ask me why, exactly, it seemed like a good idea to run a half marathon in Chicago in January. Maybe Megan and I just weren’t thinking when we signed up in the early fall? Thankfully, we were blessed with unseasonably good weather – in the low 50s! in January! in Chicago!. In the two weeks leading up to the race, I was also blessed with some sort of chest cold that I simply couldn’t shake, which made the race challenging. I felt great for the first portion, picking up a pace buddy somewhere around the 6 mile mark. We stayed together until miles 11-12, when I started having trouble breathing. A buddy of his had jumped in around mile 8, and the two of them encouraged me to stick it out, but I eventually told them to go on ahead, and took a short walking break. I’d hoped to catch up with him at the finish line to thank him for keeping me going, but I never saw him again. Thanks, random pace buddy! You got me through a tough spot.

I finished in 2:04:19, 5 minutes off my Monster Dash finish in October, but not bad for being sick.

Silver and blue

April 2013: Illinois Marathon I-Challenge 5K and half marathon in Champaign

My second year doing the I-Challenge, and my second year with back-to-back PRs. I rolled into Champaign with an incredibly full bladder and just enough time to get through the race expo and queue up for the 5K Friday night. A 5K has the potential to feel like small potatoes, particularly after distance training for the half, but it was a great way to start off the weekend. I started off on the slower side, but as I rounded the corner from Green to head back to the stadium, I punched the Go button and kicked up to a pace that I didn’t know I had in me. I ran the last half mile with a woman who was also doing the I-Challenge – the marathon for her – and while we agreed that neither of us should be going out that hard with a race in the morning, that didn’t stop us from powering around the corner and into the stadium. I finished in 24:55, taking more than a minute off my PR from the previous year.

With a 7am race, there was no time for fun – just a quick beer and a grilled mushroom sandwich at the Esquire, then an early bedtime at my Airbnb. I was out the door not long after 6, but still barely made it to meet Stephen at the starting line Saturday morning! We were both aiming for a 9:15 pace, so did the first half of the race together – through campus and into Urbana, where I spotted my friend Lucy taking photos in her front yard. At around mile 6.5, I got a side stitch and dropped back a bit. Water and a gel perked me up, but not enough to catch Stephen as he went on to finish the marathon. The most joyous part of the race for me was the trip through Meadowbrook Park which, while congested, provided a brief glimpse of a deer bounding through the prairie grass. I noticed at mile 10 that I would easily PR, but didn’t use that as an excuse to slack when, as usual, my energy flagged around mile 11. Thankfully, the music and the crowds spurred me on as we reentered campus, and I powered through to another PR: 1:56:59, nearly 3 minutes faster than the previous year.

Back to back PRs.

Fucken medals

May 2013: Rockford half marathon

This race was a totally different animal for me. Instead of pushing myself to PR, I was supporting my sister in her first half. The race started and finished downtown, weaving along both sides of the river through both affluent and modest neighborhoods. We ran the whole thing at her pace, enjoying the rare occasion for solo sister time. At one point, we were heckled by an older woman, who observed as she passed us that I was barely running! When we approached the heckler again, Jenn suggested that we gun it, and so we blew past her and kept up the pace for a few more minutes, eventually slowing back down to a comfortable finishing pace. The heckler caught up with us again, and I mentioned that Jenn had given birth less than a year previously, and that this was her first half marathon. We parted ways without further heckling. With the finish line in sight, Jenn picked up the pace, and we were happy to see our family at the finish line, though Jenn’s husband and kids were still on their way. We earned every last bite of the belated Mother’s Day picnic enjoyed that afternoon. Finishing time: 2:29:57

Running

After

June 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Seattle

Annette and I decided earlier in the year that we wanted to do a destination race, and Seattle provided a beautiful destination! I don’t think either of us were really prepared for the hills or the sun, but that didn’t stop us from having an enjoyable race. I didn’t have a goal in mind, but as we walked to the starting line, I decided I’d aim for two hours, a relatively reasonable goal given the last few races. I’m not super familiar with Seattle’s geography, but I can tell you that we ran through Chinatown with Mount Rainier looming in the distance, along two beautiful bodies of water, and on a couple of highways normally closed to pedestrians. I felt great and was on track for a PR until mile 12, when I suddenly got a crippling side cramp and had to walk. And walk. And cry. And walk. So much for my goal. It was a bitter finish, but not the end of the world, particularly since I hadn’t set a goal for myself until shortly before race start. We spent the rest of the day getting sunburned in Fremont with a grade school friend, watching a naked bike ride, and destroying giant burgers at the top of Queen Anne Hill. I finished the race at 2:04:27, and finished the day with a ridiculous sunburn.

July 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Chicago

I’m not sure what to say about this race exactly. In June, shortly after returning from Seattle, I took a hard fall on my bike which left me badly bruised for several weeks after, which made it hard to really train. I was averaging 20-25 miles per week, including a few long runs with N and speedwork with a running group, but I wasn’t making any improvements in pace or distance. Of all of the races, this is the one that I should have skipped. But I didn’t! Megan and I queued up on a beautiful summer’s morning, and the race got off to an interesting start, as my Garmin struggled to get a satellite lock between the skyscrapers and tunnels downtown. The course was great, covering both city and lakefront, and several of our friends came out to cheer at different points, but as the race went on, the mercury rose, and the sun became a little unbearable. At mile 10.5, crews were handing out sponges soaked in very cold water. I think you were supposed to squeeze the water on yourself and then toss the sponge, but I didn’t. In fact, the sponge became my lifeline. When I bonked half a mile later, I held the sponge to my face, cooling my forehead and inhaling the moisture. The sponge makes a prominent appearance in all of the official race photos, and in the group photos taken by friends later. I don’t think I set the sponge down until we got back to the car. It is my new lucky charm. The following photo should tell you everything you need to know about this race. Finishing time: 2:02:23

An accurate representation of today's half marathon as taken by Nicolas, and featuring my new best friend, the sponge. #project365 10/365

September 2013: Chicago half marathon

Megan and I were up and out early, arriving in Hyde Park as the sun was still coming up for our third half marathon in a third season in Chicago in 2013. I had sincerely hoped that after a 6 week break from racing, I would be in better shape for this one. I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong, but my energy started flagging as we made our way up Lakeshore Drive to the turnaround at 31st St. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t walk until I saw Annette, waiting at the top of the bridge with high fives and a slap on the ass. I made it to about mile 9 before I had to slow down a bit, and to mile 12 before the pain in my hip really kicked in. I swore LOUDLY as I slowed to a walk, despite the encouragement of the pacers I’d been running with for awhile. Another 2 hour goal slipped away as I limpingly ran through Jackson Park to the finish line, coming in at 2:01:41.

Go time.

September 2013: Women Rock half marathon in Chicago

This was really the right way to finish the racing season: a just-for-fun half on the lakefront with my sister. After the frustration and injury of the last two races, it was great to enjoy the scenery and her company on a beautiful fall day. I don’t know if it was the pace group or the fact that the race was only open to women, but it was definitely the most friendly race I’ve done, with lots of smiles and encouragement from other runners. I was only minorly bothered by what would later be diagnosed as a hypermobile SI joint. The post race swag? Necklaces (instead of medals) and a flute of cheap champagne. Finishing time: 2:32:37.

Untitled

A girl, her sponge, and post race cheap champagne.

2013 at the races: 7 half marathons and 1 5K in 4 cities and 2 states with 3 PRs. Not bad, but definitely too much for one year.

Burn It Up (or: April at the races)

5K Pigtails

My wide eyes tell you everything you need to know about how I was feeling before April’s races. Tired. Overwhelmed. Undertrained. In need of a hug, a pep talk, and a lucky charm.

Motivational Speech

I already told you about my race plan for the CB10. I stuck to it for the most part, though the sun didn’t cooperate with #14, and there were no space blankets (#18) on offer. Instead, I shaved five minutes off last year’s time, even with stopping for an Oreo and 2 oz of Yuengling, even with cold weather, even with the the wall I hit between 8.5 and 9, just like last year. Jeff brought us sweatshirts, and Tina’s friends provided a sun-drenched brunch. And I logged a new PR: 1:33:56. Two days later, I moved into my new apartment in Chicago.

Medals and Swag

A couple of weeks and a new job later, I drove down to Champaign for 24 hours of races – the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend, with races ranging from a 1K fun run up to the full marathon. I was registered for the Half I-Challenge – a 5K Friday night, and the half marathon Saturday morning.

My feelings for Champaign are complicated, as I’ve explored here before. It felt like home from the time that I first moved there, and no place has quite replaced it in my heart. Between the race expo and the 5K, I went to Kopi and worked on my laptop at one of the small tables just like I did for years and years, with the same people ordering the same drinks as they have for years and years, and the same music on the stereo as has been playing for years and years.

When I moved to Champaign, it was on the heels of the end of my first marriage. I was alone for the first time in my adult life, making choices that would establish my new life independent of the person on whom I’d based my world. It was scary and overwhelming, but also so full of possibility. It got easier than in those first days, and what made it easier – and what made Champaign feel like home – were those anchors – like Kopi, like the regular customers, like the park at night, like the family of friends that surrounded me.

I mention this because when I queued up for the 5K in the cold and the wind, totally alone in the crowd of thousands south of campus, I looked to my right and saw one of my favorite regulars from the years I worked at Aroma. I don’t know his name or anything about him beyond his regular order – a small coffee and a brownie – but every time he came in, he made me smile and think of my dad. I have no idea if he remembered me – hell, I lost him in the crowd almost as soon as I spotted him – but it was a moment of grace, and gave me energy for the cold, rainy, windy race ahead.

5K PR!

We went down First past the Stadium, turned right on Green, and then up Sixth, where I blew a kiss in the direction of GSLIS. The rain started as we turned right to head past the art museum, but it hardly mattered at that point. Down into Memorial Stadium and onto the field, where Jill spotted me and yelled out a cheer that pushed me to the finish line with my last burst of energy. Another PR, this one by 20 seconds: 25:58.

Dinner with Erin and Jadon, one of the last of my GSLIS crew still left in town. We had pizza – maybe not the best race fuel, but damn, was it delicious – and I slept fitfully on their very comfortable couch, concerned about oversleeping, concerned about the race, concerned about the weather, concerned about everything.

Up at 5, and out the door by 5:30 because I was anxious about road closures for the race. I sat in my car and listened to music and blasted the heat and prayed for the rain to stop. I dug out a permanent marker and wrote Keem’s cheer on my hand: YOU’RE DOING IT. I stretched at Assembly Hall, then hopped in ahead of my designated wave, hoping to pace at 9:15 and beat my Detroit time.

I can’t really explain the race – I couldn’t then, and I can’t really now, a few weeks later. The course was easier but the run more demanding than in Detroit in October. It was cold and windy. It never seemed to end. We ran through campus, past Hendrick House, where Mark lived for years. Maybe I took too much water. Maybe I didn’t have enough water. My nose wouldn’t stop running, but my legs felt like a million bucks. We pushed on through Urbana, passing the street where Amy and Adam lived, past the turn to go to Sarah and Hannah’s house. We hit the edge of town, turned south, and ran through Meadowbrook Park. I hung with a couple of guys, laughed as others challenged each other and ran off the edge of the path to get around slower runners. I felt strong and steady. I had no problem hitting my pace.

We turned north to head back toward campus, and I hit a wall. 10.5 miles and I felt like I couldn’t possibly go any further – and then, on the sidewalk, just walking, not paying attention to the race, I saw Rick Powers. I used to see him occasionally when I was dating Shawn and going to English department events – and then once in a while around town – but hadn’t seen him in years. That little burst of happiness helped, though not enough to get me through the side cramp a mile later, or the complete and total exhaustion to come. The latter would come in the form of two marathoners who came up beside me near the Meat Science lab and stayed with me for a few blocks, encouraging me about my time, telling me that I was lucky that I was almost done.

A hairpin turn, and around the corner into the Stadium. I looked down at my watch, and poured everything I had into the last minutes. As in the Cherry Blossom race, I repeated over and over: All the pain. All the sadness. All the hurt. Burn it up. Use it as fuel.

I crossed the finish line, hit the stop button, and saw this:

Half Marathon PR
Under two hours. 1:59:09. A PR by almost six minutes. I got my medals, sat down, and immediately lost it, crying hard enough that another runner came over to check on me. No, I didn’t need help – I was just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to finish, much less PR, much less break two hours. So very thankful for every person and emotion and thing that had carried me through the miles and through the last few months. So very much, all in those miles, in those medals, in my aching body and heart.

I fucking did it.

The Half in Full

By 6:15, we were parked in Detroit, listening to music in the car rather than waiting around in the cold. My anxiety was at an all time high when Tina texted me to wish me a good race – this being the first long one I’ve done without her! We braved the cold and headed to the starting line. Shane picked up a coffee and did his best hype man impression, then gave me a huge hug before I headed off to join my wave.

Waiting for the Race

Ready to Go!

As my wave approached the starting line, I put on my music, closed my eyes, and tried to center myself. I said a brief prayer of thanks for that moment, for the months of training that put me there, for the blessing of good health. It’s totally cheesy, but I nearly cried when I heard Lose Yourself as we crossed the starting line.

Mile 0-1: The streets of Detroit are peaceful and quiet. We run west on Fort towards the Ambassador Bridge, twinkling in the half light. My favorite sign read something along the lines of “TIGERS LIONS MARATHONERS DON’T QUIT”. The deep flow of Stacey Pullen‘s Essential Mix was the right choice – Detroit techno on the streets of Detroit.

Mile 2: Around and around we go up to the bridge. I drop my $2 hat and gloves from Target – they’re almost too cute to let go, but too warm to carry with me. I start passing people, the hill training finally paying off as we make the climb.

Running up to the Ambassador Bridge

Mile 3: It’s windy on the bridge. I lost my headband, so my bangs are all up in my grill. There’s no sun to speak of, but that doesn’t diminish the views of Detroit and Windsor. I wave at a passing trucker, who plays an elaborate jingle on his horn.

Mile 4: Canada!

Mile 5: The Windsor waterfront is lovely. I take an espresso gel and pass up the water station. The streets are lined with cheering spectators despite the rain. One family has a table set up in their front yard with water and orange wedges on offer.

Mile 6: I am passed by a cyclist with no legs pedaling one of those lying down bikes. I immediately choke up. We wave at spectators in the riverfront hotels. My energy is starting to flag a bit, and I take my first water.

Mile 7: The tunnel! The tunnel is fast. The tunnel is loud. The tunnel is warm. The tunnel is fun. Our GPS watches lose signal as we race underwater. I make my one really stupid race decision and decide that I want to touch the international border placard – and then spin myself out because I didn’t slow down enough. Fortunately I avoid falling and actually hurting myself – and I pick up the pace to join the 9:44 pace group.

Mile 8: A member of the Canadian Border Patrol doles out high-fives as we exit the tunnel. Another cyclist struggles to hand-pedal up the hill, and I shout out encouragement as I pass him. All smiles through the gates at the border crossing.

Mile 9: It’s cold. It’s raining. We loop past Joe Louis Arena, and I pull up my hood to try to keep some of the rain off my face. No luck. Only 4 miles to go, though, and I’m right where I want to be – or at least I think I am, as I don’t remember seeing a mile marker for a while. I spot our car as we head down Lafayette.

Mile 10: Finally, a sign! I take water when offered, and am delighted to accept a handful of M&Ms from a spirit group. Who needs gels when there are M&Ms?! The road is flat and wide and I’m feeling good as we head up 18th. I pull out the cameraphone to take a picture of Michigan Central Station, but my pocket has changed a setting, so I quickly put it back. The mariachi band just before the next mile marker makes me smile.

Mile 11: The end is feeling near – but still far. We run through Corktown, where folks are sitting on their porches cheering us on. I stick right with the 9:44 pacer. A guy in a pink monster suit shows up from I have no idea where and runs with us for at least two miles. I’ve run out of Stacey Pullen, and switch over to Faithless for the duration of the run.

Mile 12: They’re starting to count it down for those of us finishing the half. I take two cups of water, but miss the Oreos on offer. I pull away from the 9:44 pacer, feeling reserves of energy I didn’t realize I had. My Garmin shows my fastest pace of the race yet as we near the cutaway point and mile 13.

Mile 13: I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel tired but like I’ve just punched the go button that will get me across the finish line. I spot Shane right where I lined up to join my wave – he yells and cheers and snaps a couple of blurry photos as I run by.

Wave and Whoosh

Mile 13.1: Done in 2:05:50! I feel amazing and exhausted and oh so thankful for the space blanket and the medal and the food and water. I have beat my previous time by 13 minutes, and my goal by 4 minutes.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!

I slam a bottle of water, a banana, and half a pumpkin muffin. I get my picture taken with my medal and my space blanket. I slam another banana and a carton of chocolate milk while waiting for Shane to make his way out of the crowds. We hug and kiss and I don’t cry but feel like I want to. I grab another chocolate milk and a muffin for us to share in the car on the way home.

Happy and Relieved

Final stats:
Chip time: 2:05:50
Overall Place: 2538 / 8489
Gender Place: 1067 / 5311
Division Place: 217 / 883
Pace 9:37

Detroit half marathon: TOTALLY BROUGHT.

Prelude to the Half

Since I’m not getting much done in the way of course prep tonight, let me instead tell you about yesterday’s race.

Back in May, before I ran my first half, I was convinced to register for Detroit by a coworker who enthusiastically told me that the Detroit half is his favorite race. Running to Canada and back! Crossing the Ambassador Bridge as the sun comes up over Detroit and Windsor! Racing through the Detroit Windsor tunnel! Sign me up!

And so I spent the summer running home from work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every weekend started with a long run, often followed by breakfast at Afternoon Delight.

Saturday Morning

Midwest Runner Girl

Veggie Delight and letter-writing

I was under the weather this last week, and as the race approached, my anxiety grew. I read about the course. I read about nutrition. I tapered my runs. I changed my diet to make sure I was properly fueled. I looked at elevation maps. And then on Saturday, we drove to Detroit so that I could pick up my race packet.

Countdown

We shared a back seat picnic and spent the afternoon at the DIA. We had cappuccinos at Astro and read the race materials again. I made polenta for dinner and we went to bed early.

Detroit Industry

Race Prep

And then the moment of truth. The alarm went off at 4:30, and by 4:45 I had eaten a bagel, fed the cats, and dressed for success.

Ready to run 13.1

Endorphin Report

There are at least half a dozen things I should be doing right now, but instead I’d like to sit here and drink my fizzy water with lime and tell you about the half marathon.

Pre-Race Flexing

First, it was nothing like what I expected.  I expected it to be punishingly hard.  I expected long periods of the sort of pain and exhaustion that I experienced in the last half mile of the 10 Miler.  I expected that my knees would ache as they have after short runs, and that I’d have to walk at least the hills, if not part of the flats.  I expected to break into tears if I made it to the finish line.

Starting Line

What I did not expect was pure joy. I did not expect that at all. I stayed with Tina for the first 1.5 miles, pacing at 11:30 per mile, much slower than my usual runs but consistent with advice that Stephen’s given me in the past. We wound around through downtown Dexter, past a marching band and a tiny cheerleader and many folks watching from folding chairs in their front lawns. Before we made it to the cider mill, we wished each other a good race and I eased into my pace: around 10:30 for the duration of the run, still slower than usual but maintainable for the distance.

Team Astronaut Mike Dexter

There were hills – more than I expected. In the week after the 10 Miler, I meditated on my gratitude for my feet and legs: stronger and more resilient than I ever imagined, able to carry me for ten miles without faltering. As I ran up those hills, I meditated on my butt, feeling the muscles stretch and propel me forward, passing runners on the inside of the curve.

Finish Line!

I chewed gum – the same piece for 3 hours – and I listened to Four Tet. I soaked up the sun, relishing the warmth on my skin. I took Gatorade at mile 6, and water at 8, 10, and 12. Between those miles, someone had a hose hooked up to their mailbox, and I splashed my face with the cold sulphuric water. I took my only gel at mile 11 – chocolate, warm from the sun and my body.

Our names were printed on our bibs. I didn’t really understand why – until I started passing bystanders who were cheering for runners by name. Every time I heard my name, I wanted to cry with happiness. These total strangers gave me small bursts of energy and joy, which I tried to pay forward along the course – complimenting tattoos or cute running jerseys, encouraging runners who stopped and started. I made a friend at around 11.5 – he asked how I was feeling, and I said that I felt amazing and that this was the furthest I’d ever run in my life. We stayed together around the curve from Huron River Drive up onto Main Street, when he broke out ahead. He found me at the finish line, shook my hand, and congratulated me on my first half.

The last hill – I didn’t know if I could make it. Half a mile uphill into downtown – so difficult during the 5K last year, almost impossible after 12.6 miles of running. And then I saw Karl and Cara on the sidelines, Karl with his medal already around his neck. I shouted out to them, and they cheered for me. Another burst of energy and happiness to carry me over the finish line, where Shane was waiting with the camera.

MEDAL

Water. My medal. Kissing my medal in front of the flag for the official photographer. Food. Hugs. Chocolate chip cookies and chocolate-cherry sourdough from Zingerman’s. More water. And then standing on the sidelines with Shane waiting for Tina to finish. Cheering for people struggling to the end. Enjoying the happiness on the faces of loved ones as their runners finished. Soaking up the moment. Spotting Tina heading up the hill, whipping off my bib, and running back to join her.

Crossing the finish line a second time, with energy I didn’t think I had.

HOORAY

And then spending the rest of the day in the sort of intense glow that I couldn’t have possibly imagined. Warm from happiness, exhaustion, and sunburn. Cocktails, biscuits with chocolate-bacon gravy, and a salad at the Roadhouse while wearing my medal. A nap while wearing my medal. Beers, fruit, guacamole, a cute drooly baby, an energetic big sister, and lots of conversation with friends while wearing my medal. Snacks and loud music at Ashley’s while wearing my medal. An early bedtime (sans medal).

Team Astronaut Mike Dexter

Was it worth the pain and exhaustion I’ve experienced all day today? Definitely. Will I do it again? Yes – in Detroit in October. Have I done a good job of expressing the full-body elation I experienced in this post? Not even remotely.