Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not-So-Happy Half-Marathon (the sordid details)

I was sweaty, my feet had blisters and my legs felt tired, but didn't want to stop moving.  I was so exhausted that felt like I was going throw up, and my stomach was sending me all sorts of painful mixed signals, forcing me to run to the bathroom.

Bittersweet success...  I completed a half-marathon.  The culmination of many months of dedicated training had paid off in a reasonable finish time (that would have been "perfect" for me, had I not taken a potty break).  My smiling husband and children showed their pride in my completion, but for now the world was blurry and surreal as I walked back and forth in between the finish line and the bathrooms, waiting for my muscles to relax somewhat, and for my body to cool down.

I had expected a sense of elation... I mean, this was an event that I had envisioned and planned for since the spring, knowing that it would take a great measure of dedication in order to complete.  Weirdly, I wasn't thrilled, I was just "done".

Running this race was probably one of the most physically grueling things I've ever done in my life.  I pushed myself harder than I ever have before.  What's difficult with running such a long race, is that you MUST pace yourself, or you will fall apart before you even reach the half-way point!  I started up a bit faster than I normally would on a long run, but in the excitement of a race, with athletic bodies swiftly moving around me on every side, it was difficult to not become totally caught up in the wave of runners.  It's hard to remember to breath and find your rhythm and pace.

Thank God for pace bunnies!  These are experienced runners, who have numerous races under their belt and can comfortably run at a consistent pace, knowing within a minute or two when they will arrive at the finish line!  At the start line, you are typically expected to line up according to how fast you anticipate you will be running.  I parked myself close to the 1:50 pace bunny (meaning, that he would complete the 22 km in 1 hour and 50 minutes), thinking that perhaps by being in a race, I'd be more likely to have the gusto to complete this distance faster than ever before.  It was such a comfort to follow the lead of a steady runner.

As the miles passed, I became less concerned about keeping up with the pack, and less interested in the competitors beside me.  Instead, I tried to focus on the beauty of the run, as we circled the Glenmore Reservior and weaved through treed areas, up and down hills and through the occasional clearing.  I pictured the distance in my mind, and for the first half of the race, eagerly approached each kilometer marker with vigor and spring in my step.  Slowly but surely, the zippy pace which I had started out with began to take it's toll on me.  Not only that, but my bladder felt as though it was going to burst.  I kept thinking - should I jump into the bushes, and hope no one sees me?  But no, I'd continue on for another km or two, hoping that I'd soon see a bathroom.

At one point, after taking a quick stop at a drink station (I can never drink and run at the same time!), I lost sight of my pace bunny.  Panic filled my being, and I attempted to quicken my pace and hopefully catch up.  That tall, lean, athletic man with the white baseball cap and black shirt labelled "1:50" on the back was my knight in shining armor! He was the one who kept me going and prevented me from giving up.  If I could just keep his skinny runner legs and Nike shoes in my sight, I knew I wouldn't fail!  This time, I managed to catch up enough to see him after some little hills, but eventually, around the 14km mark, I lost him!

Now I was intent upon staying in front of the next pace bunny... "Mr. 1:55".  He was a stalky little guy, and I didn't have as much faith in him because he started out so quickly, racing ahead of the 1:50 pace bunny.  About a quarter of the way through the race, he had slowed down, and all of the 1:50's had overtaken him.  I figured that his strategy might be to start out strong, then settle into a steady, slower pace, and once near the finish line, pick up the pace again.

Everything was going great, except my mind became quite unstable.  As the blisters on my feet began to swell, I was asking myself "What the heck am I doing out here?"  I'm so competitive, though, and quite stubborn as well.  I LOVE challenge.  Maybe that's why I embrace the whole "natural childbirth" idea, and even it's more extreme expression of "unassisted childbirth".  So on one hand, here I was doing the most difficult thing of my life (next to having a baby), yet... it was 100% my choice and supposed to be something that I enjoyed!

For a while, my spirits sank to new lows and I didn't even want to check the GPS on my phone to confirm my pace, distance and time.  I still had to pee really bad, too.  Then came an enormous climb out of the valley, and I was passed by numerous runners.  I started to make excuses for myself so I wouldn't feel bad - thinking that the majority of these people had probably run a lot more races than me, and many of them were probably in running groups.  As for me... it was just lil' ol' me.  I had picked my race alone, planned my training alone and ran alone.  This thought process actually made me feel a little more justified in my weariness and I began to contemplate not having a great finish time, but merely finishing the race!  (And I still had to pee!)

Something wonderful and beautiful happened around the 16km marker.  There, parked on the side of the road, was a green mini-van with a crowd of my fans standing beside it.  It was my family!!!  They were jumping and cheering and raising their hands in the air.  I quickly picked up my pace, with a spring in my step and new vigor infusing me from their encouragement.  It was the best thing ever... and so timely.  (But I still had to pee.)

Finally, another km or so later, I saw a "washroom" sign pointing across a patch of grass.  At this point, I couldn't deny my bladder any longer.  I sprinted across the grass, only to see a lock on the door. I guess I'd be using a tree after all!  Dismay and anger quickly fizzled out when I realized that it wasn't locked, but that they stored the lock on the door bolting mechanism.  I burst inside the door and fumbled to shut it securely.  Thank God, I made it!

This was one of those times where it was a great inconvenience to be a girl.  Sitting down was the last thing my legs needed to do, and they were shaking and my muscles were twitching.  As soon as I jumped out of the bathroom, I lurched forward across the field and back onto the path.  I was determined to find my place back in the human chain of racers.  It was then that I noticed the 2:00 (2 hour) pace bunny ahead of me, and thought to myself:  It's alright.  I'll follow her lead, and then pull forward in the last km or so.

Unfortunately, it was extremely challenging to keep up.  My breath was uneven and I was all messed up from stopping to use the bathroom.  I knew I had to take it easy for a little bit, or I'd end up passed out on the side of the road!  "Well..." I thought, "as long as the 2:05 pace bunny doesn't catch me..." (and at least I didn't have to pee anymore!)

Running for such an extended period of time leaves you with a lot of space to think.  I thought about how this race was like my life - filled with effort and challenges.  Sometimes all you can do is keep your eyes on someone who is farther ahead of you, and think: "I can keep up.  I won't quit."  I've had many of these times in my life - where things were so tough, and I was exhausted - but I was encouraged by the progress of others in front of me.  Likewise, when it came to the drink stations, these reminded me of times in my life where people have provided much needed refreshment, giving me strength to continue my journey.  Also, a lot of this refreshment comes to me by seeking the Lord, and prayer.

Anyway, we were nearing the finish line and I felt myself drooping.  I kept losing track of how many kilometers were left, and then would try to lie to myself whenever I did see a marker along the road, and I'd pretend that the distance remaining was shorter than it really was!  When the athletic centre and track where the finish line was set up was finally within sight, I though "Yay!  I can do this, I'm gonna make it."  Then I realized that we were taking the long way around, and that we'd have to complete three quarters of a lap around the track to actually cross the finish line.  At this point, all I could do was put one foot in front of the other.  I so wanted to walk.  No, what I really wanted to do was collapse on the side of the road and cry.  But still, I plodded on.  Sometimes, the face of one of my athletic friends (a personal trainer) would come into my mind, and I thought of how tough and fit she was, and how I wanted to be like that!  So I kept running... and running... and running.

Crossing the finish line - 2:02:32
Along the track, my husband caught up with me (although, I'm sure I wasn't going very fast at that point) and took a few snapshots with his phone.  Then, around the curve and I could see the finish line!  I managed to pick up my feet and gave it everything I had, sprinting on through, my electronic chip registering and recording my time as I stepped over the finish mat.

And it's over.

After logging hours and hours and miles and miles of running in my training log, I finished the race.

Would I do it again?  Ya.

1 comment:

Kindra said...

You may not have completed in the time you wanted, but it's still an amazing accomplishment! Great job Lisa!