The morning of Nov. 9, the morning of Veterans Marathon, did not get off to the best start.
The quick version: I lost my key, left late, missed a turn, almost missed packet pickup, was peeing when the cannon went off and my Garmin was a jerk.
After a cup of coffee, bowl of oatmeal and decent (enough) poop, I was ready to head to Columbia City - about 40 minutes west of Fort Wayne. One problem: I couldn't find my keys. I searched the counters, my mail basket, freezer, bedroom - it was nowhere to be found. I looked for 10 minutes but knew I was pushing time as I was picking up my bib that morning so Mark gave me the spare and I was off.
I made the drive with one eye on the road and one on the clock, hoping that I would make the 7:30 a.m. cut-off for pickup. It was looking OK until I missed a turn and found myself 5 miles out of town, requiring m to pullover, check my phone and double back. But at 7:27 a.m., I found a parking space two blocks from the start and ran to the tent in a crazed frenzy, leaving all race day supplies in the car. It was my good fortune, maybe, that there was a line for pickup and I was going to get my bib.
With jacket, pins and bib in hand, I headed back to the car to get ready. I found a bench and pinned my gels to my Nathan Sports speed belt, got my flasks in the container and managed to see one of my training buddies. He was the only person I saw pre-race. He was encouraging and reminded me that I had trained hard. It was something I remembered, even held onto.
All my gear where it needed to be, I headed to the port-o-johns for a last minute and very necessary pee. At first glance, I thought they were empty but there was a long but semi-fast moving line. I waited anxiously, anticipation growing with every passing minute and prayer said. The lady in front of me, who was running the 5K (a later start), let me go in front of her. I was in the john when the canon start went off. I shrugged it off, like I tried to do with most everything else that morning, and focused on what I could control.
I turned on my Garmin as I made my way to the start but it did not want to find satellites. I decided to hit start and get on with the race.
The quick version: My Garmin sucked, I ran into Kasey and the first loop was almost magic. Then my leg hurt.
Starting in the back of the race, I got the fun opportunity to pass people. And lots of them. I tried to find a good pace without wasting energy but it was tough. I felt good, strong. Ready to take it on.
As we wound our way through the first mile, I kept my eye on my current pace to keep it at 9:09 or slower. I didn't look at the rest of the watch, which was a problem. I hadn't zeroed out my last run so I was at 4 miles before I hit the one-mile marker and my overall time was all off. I didn't realize it until just after that first mile. I kept trying to reset it but it took me some time to realize that I had to stop it, hold down lap button and then re-start.
Around the second mile, I heard my name - it was Kasey! We met each other volunteering at the Huff and had followed each other via social media the past year. I was so excited to see her that I totally glued myself to her and enjoyed chatting with her in real life.
Those miles were almost magic. We moved at a good but reserved clip. The scenery was nice and the wind wasn't that bad. Yet. The conversation made the miles go by quickly, and it was a distraction from any pain or discomfort that we might have been feeling.
Somewhere around mile 11 or mile 12, I couldn't ignore my left leg. From the calf to the glute, it was cramping. It felt bad enough that I wanted to walk at times but felt much worse when I actually slowed down. It was tight and almost painful, and walking brought the pain to my knee. I tried to not think about it - I didn't want Kasey to know I was struggling so early - and I wanted to look OK when I saw Mark at the half.
The quick version: My leg effing hurt, I almost quit,, it was windy and I death marched it to the finish.
I saw Mark and Miles near the finish/start of the second loop and I ran over to get new flasks of Nuun. It was then that I admitted that it was not my day. As I told him this, I could feel the tears welling in my eyes and I had to fight the urge to walk off the course. Mark later said that he was worried that I would, in fact, not finish but didn't let me in on it.
I made my way on the second loop, slightly pleased that I passed in 2:05. It was a good pace for the first part, and it meant that a PR and sub 4:15 could be in reach if I could stay in it.
But staying in it would be the challenge.
I was OK-ish until mile 15, even though I was taking short walk breaks, but it was getting harder to restart. I could tell my gait was changing when I slowed down and it was harder to find a rhythm once I began running again. Each aid station I passed presented an opportunity to walk off the course, and I found myself weighing whether it was worth it to carry on. Why was I continuing on? What was I trying to prove? Was I putting myself at risk for injury?
I couldn't quit, though. I didn't carb load for nothing. I didn't train for nearly 5 months for nothing. I didn't want to teach Miles that it's OK not to do something just because it's not going your way. And so I soldiered on. I turned on my music early, ate my Picky Bar early. I tried to regulate the walk breaks to a 4:1 or better (better = more running, less walking). It was really just hunkering down.
I got a bit excited at mile 23 when I spotted my training buddy, Joe, up ahead. He was walking, though, and I knew that it was not a good sign as he's a strong, consistent runner. I caught up to him and asked how he was doing. It was not good, he said, adding that the wind had gotten his head. So yeah. The wind. It was wicked. The speeds were recorded at 28 mph and gusts were up to 43 mph. It was definitely a factor in the race - there were times when I felt like I wasn't moving at all or couldn't run in a straight line. Justin Gillette, the winner, said it definitely felt like it picked up on the second loop.
I told Joe that we trained together and we could finish together but he urged me on. I felt terrible - he was dry heaving on the side of the road when I left him - but I knew that I would have wanted the same.
The last 5K hurt but I knew it was just a 5K. I could do a 5K - it was just how much I walked. I managed to dig in and run the last mile through, which was saying a lot for the race.
I finished in 4:31:05. Not the time I trained for, not even close, but it was what the day and my body gave me. Considering I almost didn't get to the start, I'll take it. As best I can.
An anecdote: To put an exclamation point on the "this isn't my morning" day, I was trying to get a picture with Kasey (who got a 15 minute PR!!!!!!!) when Miles flipped over his stroller and introduced his face to the cement. He's screaming with a bloody lip in the photo of us because I'm mom of the year.