I’m not going to sugarcoat it. For every minute I didn’t fully hate of this race, I only tolerated it.
Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t Nike’s fault at all. I personally was just not having my best day.
This race came literally the weekend my semester ended. Though I was for the most part done with the semester about a week or so ago, I had a little bit left to do and final grades I was preoccupied with, as well as friends I was catching up with that I hadn’t seen since I headed into the so-called dungeon that is the bulk of the semester. So without my normally pretty intense weekly training schedule going on and other things occupying my mind, Nike Women’s kinda sneaked up on me. I didn’t go to the Expotique because I had no interest in trying to head into Georgetown, so I only picked up my packet and bought a couple of little things at my local Fleet Feet. When I saw I’d been placed into the 9:30-10:29 pace corral, I sighed. How optimistic I’d been when I signed up through the Student registration in December. “Race not til April? Psh I’ll totally be running 2:15 HM’s by then.” Little did I know. Damn ankle.
I tried to pep myself up by putting together a super fun outfit to race in, including my “run happy” Bondi band. Oh, self. You did try.
After my ankle injury six weeks ago, I’ve started running again after three weeks off and RICEing. Sometimes my ankle will swell up a little after a hilly run, but it’s fine an hour or so later. It doesn’t hurt at all anymore. However I wasn’t trying to overdo it, so since my “comeback” to racing at Cherry Blossom three weeks ago, I’ve only been running a few miles at a time a few times a week. I haven’t been going to my normal strength-training classes – Body Pump on Mondays or yoga on Fridays.
And that has definitely taken its toll. I was hurting. I’ve always advocated for strength-training, but that was before I’d ever really not done it while running longer than 5K’s. I just knew I heard a lot of runners complaining about aches, pains, and no speed progress while I felt little to no pain besides general muscle-building soreness and saw my times consistently improving. Now that I’ve run a half on six weeks of no strength-training, I can’t advocate for it enough: BUILD YOUR MUSCLES, RUNNERS. YOUR BODY WILL THANK YOU SILENTLY.
The morning started off rocky to begin with. I set only one alarm when normally I set like three, because normally I’m hyper-vigilant about getting to the race on time. Missing the start of the race had become the nightmare equivalent of showing up to the theatre after my show had already started, or finding out it was final exam time for a class I didn’t even know I was registered for. (It’s usually Spanish? I don’t know why.) But again, I was like, meh, this is pretty much the same deal as Rock ‘n’ Roll and Cherry Blossom and both of those I was like way early for so I’m sure one alarm will suffice and excite me enough to get up.
Nope. I hit snooze until the time I’d meant to leave. Missed the last metro by half a second and then had to wait 15 minutes for the next train. I was lucky the closing times listed in the race program for gear check and corrals were really only alarms to get everyone there early enough – I raced off the train at Metro Center, sprinted 3 blocks (you know, great warm up for running steady 13.1 miles) ready to throw out whatever I was going to check that wasn’t necessary and sticking my car and house key in my wallet and sticking my wallet in my bra. But race organizers directed me to gear check and thank God, they very helpfully allowed me to check my gear and wished me luck.
(Serious shoutout to all the Nike race volunteers – from the first lady who noticed I had a gear check bag to the last lady who wrapped my space blanket around me, you were all fantastic.)
I arrived at the corrals with just enough time to hear Joan Benoit-Samuelson and Shalane Flanagan wishing us all luck! If I wasn’t so harried and relieved just to have gotten to the corral and not find it locked off like I’d imagined, I probably would have been squealing like a schoolgirl to be running the same race as Shalane and Joanie on the same day. I wanted so badly to spot Shalane’s blondie-blond braids but was too far back.
Eventually we were off.
From the first moments of this race my head wasn’t in it. I’d had such a stressful morning since the moment I woke up and freaked out that it took me a while to even realize I was running a half marathon, really. After the first three miles I couldn’t stop thinking about how far I had to go. Normally I’m really good at mentally keeping myself “running the mile I’m in” and “running my own race,” but my mind was very much in a skiddish, anxious mode.
It didn’t help when around the 10K mark a girl shoved me during my walk break. I simultaneously instantly forgave her in the name of friendly running, wanted to burst into tears, and wanted to chase her down and yank her by the ponytail to the ground – because she ran off laughing about it. Oh thanks bitch you literally slammed right into me with your hands outstretched, it is not like we were in a crowded stretch, I was to the right, THIS IS ON YOU.
By this time my legs were hurting bad anyway. When I found myself slowing mile to mile, I did a quick inventory. “Lungs okay? Yes, just fine. Legs okay? …No. Nope. NO. OH GOD.”
They felt like lead. The idea of picking them and putting them one in front of the other was heinous during this walk break around the halfway point. I tried to get into a run again and only made it to just past the 7 mile marker. I wondered if I would finish the race.
For the first time, after 4 half marathons, 4 10-milers, 2 10K’s, and countless 5K’s, I didn’t have that strong gut feeling in my stomach that come hell or high water I’d cross the finish line. I was in so much pain and had so much negative sentiment toward the activity of making my body run that I wanted to close my eyes and be somewhere else. The only thing keeping me going was… I don’t know. As much as I didn’t want to keep going, I also could not fathom the idea of stepping off the course. Where would I even do that? The idea of stopping at medical and getting driven somewhere was foreign. There was just no way. If I had to walk the last 6 miles I would and I would let them sweep me if I had to. But voluntarily quitting was out of the question.
My sweet friend Corrie was awake early (like weekend version of early) on a Sunday because she’s one of those people who makes the most of beautiful weather and enjoys the day by going to the Farmer’s Market and all the things I wish I woke up early enough on non-race days to do and enjoy. She was tracking me online – apparently the chip-tracking was so advanced she could actually see where I was on a map, without me even having to cross any tracking pads. I got a text from her around mile 4.5 but didn’t check my texts until I was absolutely slogging and started going through my checklist of things to give me a boost when I’m dragging during a race. One of which is to text my mom or a friend how far I’ve gone, as if to tell them and myself, “okay, even if I die, for the record, I did this much.”
Corrie’s texts saved me. In fact, when Corrie told me to “just walk a while,” it made me do the opposite, because any time anyone tells me to do anything I do the opposite. But my legs hurt bad enough that I was running so slowly I could actually text her as I was running. And this was pretty much the gist of it:
Literally all I could think about was that Whole Foods was at the finish line with chocolate milk. It was all I wanted. I started seeing bottles of chocolate milk dancing in front of me. When I took sips of my water I imagined it was chocolate milk. I longed for the day less than a week earlier my mother and I had finished our track session and gotten chocolate milk from the McDonald’s drive-thru. I looked at the aid stations with disgust when all they offered was water and Nuun.
But by mile 11, all I could do was fight back ugly crying tears and continue muttering “chocolate milk” to myself.
I am usually ready to be done with the race by mile 11 but at least have the rough knowledge of my finish time and excitement for the finish line party. None of this happened in my last two miles. I considered walking all of it and added 40 minutes to my current time of 2:11ish. I thought with agony as 2:18 approached and I had barely made it 11.5 miles that in Charleston I was crossing the finish line by 2:18. I watched 2:21 come and go after the 12 mile marker and thought about how I was crossing the finish line on a sprained ankle at Rock ‘n’ Roll at 2:21. And I watched 2:25 pass, trying to get around the last bend to see the finish line ahead, and thought with shame that my first half marathon in Richmond had been faster than my fifth.
I prayed that no one I knew was spectating the race, as my face probably looked something like this when I finally did cross the finish line and tried to pretend I was excited:
I could barely hold myself up looking for the people with the chocolate milk. I accepted a Whole Foods logo bottle of water and guzzled it, only to be angry the liquid inside wasn’t milky and chocolatey. I accepted a Whole Foods gift bag and dug around inside angrily finding no chocolate milk. A nice lady wrapped a space blanket around me and I said “Thank you, chocolate milk?”
Finally I saw milk crates.
Even my arms were too tired to open the thing as fast as I needed it.
Yeah, I got my Tiffany’s necklace, and promptly shoved it in a bag after a photo opportunity with a ridiculously cheerful good-looking ROTC man.
I had a couple of friends that had for sure finished by then but I didn’t even try to stick around to wait to find out where they were. I was dead on my feet and had an appointment at noon that I now only wanted to be clean for and wipe away all evidence I’d ever engaged in cardiovascular activity that day.
If my feet hadn’t been so blistered, that would have been the best shower of my life. My skin was crusted in dried sweat. (Ooh yeah you know this is why you read the running blogs, reader. Yeah baby.)
So, yes. A grand departure from my normal “OH MY GOSH RUN HAPPY RUNNING IS JOY AND LOVE I LOVE RUNNING HALF MARATHONS ARE MY HAPPY PLACE” race recaps. And obviously SUPER-CONFIDENCE-BOOSTING for the Frederick Half Marathon, oh, this coming weekend.
On the one hand, with Frederick Running Festival looming this weekend, I have no idea what I was thinking signing up for back to back half marathons. On the other hand I didn’t expect to be so out of shape in time for Nike Women’s because I didn’t expect to have a freak fall off a curb and lose six weeks of real training thanks to an ankle injury. And somewhere in the middle I’m ready for Frederick to redeem the half marathon from the nightmare that was Nike Women’s.
Net finish: 2:30:45
Age division: 2528/4010
Do you know a Leukemia or Lymphoma patient that would love a Tiffany’s necklace? I would much rather give the necklace to someone fighting a much harder fight than the one I’ve just complained about.
Did you ever walk or strongly consider walking the last few miles of a race just to cross the finish line?
I’m running about a minute per mile slower than I was pre-injury. How long did it take you to recover your race pace after an injury?