I had hoped to be able to run the half marathon (13.1 miles), since I had such an awesome experience at the Monument Avenue 10K earlier in the spring, but it just wasn't in the cards for me this time. I am proud that I kept up consistent running after that race and through the summer, but our family schedule and my work schedule just didn't allow for me to spend the time acquiring the distance I need to be able to run 13 miles all at once. At my current per-mile pace, that means I would have to carve out at least three hours on a Saturday to get the "long run" in, and with Travis in school on Saturday mornings, well, it was just impossible. But I still have that distance in my sights, and I am hopeful that I can work it out so I can train, maybe in 2013.
So, I chose the 8K this time. The course was mostly flat, with a steep downhill at the very end to the finish, and that suited me just fine. I got up at 4:30, so I could make sure I ate something (yogurt and walnuts), got dressed (long running tights and a short sleeve technical shirt, headband, and throwaway hoodie and gloves), and packed a bag for afterward with a fleece jacket and my long-sleeve race shirt. We got downtown a few blocks from the start at 6am, and I made my way to the line as Travis found a place to park the car and get himself to the finish line to wait for me. We had no idea how crowded it would be, or how difficult it would be with so many streets closed for the three race courses that an early start was for the best, even if he was the only spectator waiting at Brown's Island for a while.
Meanwhile, I hung out at the start line, watching the sun come up and walking around. I was lucky to find a friend who was running the half, and another friend running the 8K, so I wasn't totally alone. Runners tend to be pretty friendly, for the most part, I've found, so I did have people to chat with. It was cold, but not unbearable, and I knew I would get rid of the sweatshirt at the start because there was no way I could run with it on.
The start wave I was in crossed the timing pads a few minutes after seven, and we were off, down Broad Street toward Mulberry for a couple of miles. I felt great! people were passing me right and left, but I was happy in my pace, knew what I was doing, and also knew *I* would end up passing at least some of those people later on, as they got tired. Rule #1, don't start off too fast!
When I crossed the start, I cranked up my iPod Nano LOUD. I wanted to be able to run in my own little bubble and not get distracted by anything -- especially the distance. I couldn't hear anything much but my music, and I was fine with that. Running along, listening to music, I was able to smile and feel great! I knocked out the first three and a half miles with no problem whatsoever.
Right around mile 4, the side stitch I had been feeling creep up on me began to make it's presence known in a way that felt like I was being eviscerated on my right side. It was awful, and I was seriously beginning to worry about my ability to run across the finish. I had not stopped to walk, not once, and I was bound and determined to NOT STOP at all until I crossed those timing pads at the bottom of 5th Street and Tredegar. But I could hardly stay upright, and my tricks for mitigating the cramp were not working at all. At one point, I doubled over and walked about ten seconds to try to clear it, but then I felt like a total weenie -- this race was only 4.97 miles, come ON! -- and I knew I didn't want to show up in any race photographer's photo like that, so I stood up and ran on. My legs actually hurt less if I ran, so that sealed it. I kept telling myself, look you, it's barely a mile left. Seriously. Barely a mile. Come on.
Finally, finally, I turned the corner and saw the start of the downhill to the finish. I knew Travis would be there, someplace, and I also knew I was going to run across those timing pads if it killed me. As it happened, I saw him, AND the timing clock at about the same time. he was cheering, and the clock read 58:03 and counting. The finish was in my sights, and I was going to, GOING TO cross it before that clock turned over to 60:00. Somehow, I turned on some speed, forgot the stabbing going on under my ribs, and RAN like everything depended on it. I crossed the finish at the 60:00:00 mark.
THEN I walked.
I gratefully accepted a water bottle from a volunteer, and got my finisher's medallion from another volunteer, which I immediately put around my neck. I saw my neighbor, John, who had come in just a few minutes earlier, and we chatted until Travis joined us. After some post-race food for me, we walked back to the car. A stop at Starbucks and then a trip to the farmer's market at Forest Hill (which took longer and involved more walking, as the marathon was going on through there!), I finally made it home and into a HOT shower. The rest of the day involved me thinking it was hours later than it really was. The side stitch evisceration flared up and reasserted itself ALL DAY, even with the buckets of water I drank. But I hung my race bib on the fridge with the rest of my bibs, and felt really proud of my accomplishment.
This morning, I am very sore, all over, and I can still feel that side stitch, which is now thankfully just a pocket of muscle soreness. But I am thrilled with my official time -- 58:10, much faster than I expected I would be, and definitely under the 60 minute mark. My neighbor and I are planning to run the Powhatan Christmas Tree 10K in a few weeks, and I am already looking to see what I can do about upping my mileage in 2013.
I still don't LOVE running, but at least I've gotten to a point where I can feel pretty good doing it, most of the time. And I like racing.