The race is just the victory lap.
If memory serves me correctly, McGillivray was saying that when people go to Boston to race, they should remember that the day and the 26.2 miles they'll cover is just a victory lap. The real race, the real test, is the completing the work and training it took to get there.
The Athens Half Marathon was my victory lap. I toughed out a difficult winter, pushed myself to complete a challenging plan and did the work, which happened to be more than I've done in three years. Some might like a victory lap to be speedy but, as it turns out, I like to take my time. Relatively speaking, of course.
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"Don't doubt it or fear it. Just go for it!"
As I lined up for the race, I felt serene. I wasn't anxious or nervous. Worry about what I could do didn't fill me. Rather, I just felt ready and almost giddy with expectation.
The cannon went off with a startling bang, sending the mass of runners over the mats and down Union Street. The race started on a downhill and up another, and it built momentum in the crowd and in my legs. I had hoped to start conservatively but on my arm, I had a list of names. Thirteen names for 13 miles. The first name on the list was mine and, as I was running my first mile for me, I let the legs do what they wanted.
My Garmin buzzed. 8:39. Way to go me!
The second name on my arm was Kim, the wise sage who told me not to doubt it and not to fear it. It was her birthday Sunday, and I decided that instead of pulling back as I had planned days before, I wasn't going to be scared. "No fear, no doubt, Kim," I recited in my head as we turned onto the bikeway. I felt joyous and strong as I ran with the river on my right and woods to my left.
A buzz. 8:41.
The third mile was for Alyse, the reason I was in Athens and the reason I was running the race. She is a Twitter BFF and cheerleader when I most need it. I continued to stay strong, pushing away the doubt and fear, as I ran that mile. It was getting warm, or I was getting warm, and I sipped the Nuun Energy in my handheld. The 8 ounces was almost gone - but I wasn't.
A buzz. 8:41.
Mile 4, and it was Joe's turn. The person who logged so many miles with me this winter and was the instigator (my story and I'm sticking to it) for so many weather-related adventures. A cross breeze rustled through the trees, and the cool air felt good across my warming face. My mantra continued, "No doubt. No fear. Joe."
The race and the pace was moving, and I was ready to take it by the horns. I took a Salted Caramel Gu and finished off the remainder of my Nuun. I could feel my lips dry, and I knew I needed water. I pushed forward, thinking of my runner gal Tina, and reminded myself of the kind encouragement she had sent the day before.
"Gatorade! Water! Gatorade! Water!"
Water? Water! Yes. This would be great, I thought, deciding that I'd grab a drink and fill my handheld. The only problem was that I couldn't find the water. There was Gatorade and more Gatorade but no water. My race came to a halt as I searched for a Subway cup. Finally, what seemed like two minutes later, I was directed to the left. I took a swig and managed to get it into the handheld. Just one thing - I'm not sure I got the top on right. The holder was soaking wet a quarter-mile later and the water sloshed across my fingers.
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The crowd began to thicken as I approached the turn and the numbers and thoughts in my head began to garble. I couldn't remember what mile I was on - there were no markers on the course - much less who I was supposed to be channeling. I kept trying to figure out how fast I'd have to run to beat my time for Fort4Fitness, doing my best to forge forward. To not doubt it, to not fear it.
My legs, though, were giving me trouble. I tried to keep up with a few people I had randomly selected in the crowd but they'd get ahead of me as I walked through a water stop, forcing me to catch back up. I don't remember being discouraged - just a smidge frustrated and confused.
Oh, and annoyed. My handheld was wet, empty and doing me no good. At $20, I wasn't going to get rid of it but I needed to do something. "I can put it on my race belt!" I thought in a moment of clarity. I unbuckled it at the next water stop and slid it through. It bounced and bobbled but my arms were free, and I could shrug off the tension in my shoulders.
9:25, 9:15, 9:51 (race belt), 9:13
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My legs will not go. I am trying. Oh, how I am trying but I just can't find the speed - or anything for that matter. The miles and names run together, and I stop telling myself not to be scared. I am now ordering myself not to walk.
To get through the final miles, I start playing games. Pick off this person. Pick off that person. Run fast to this marker. Recover to this one. Run fast again. I was digging as deep as I could to salvage my expectations but it was getting tougher, especially as we exited the shaded bikeway and onto the road to the finish. The sun was hot, my lips dry and I could feel the salt on my skin. The wind seemed to pick up, and the movement forward was relentless but slow.
The race finished on a track at Ohio University. One and a half laps on the track. It is, by far, the meanest thing I have ever experienced in a race. Run past the finish line on the outer loops and then run another lap. I saw Alyse, and I smiled. I waved. I tried to run faster for a strong finish but I was done. I slogged through the last lap as three passed me.
9:46, 10:01, 10:34.
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I gave Alyse a big hug at the finish, so thankful to have her there. I wasn't sad or upset. Just relieved and grateful to be done.
"I blew my wad in the first half," I told her. "But I had fun doing it." And I had.
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Race facts: Flat course, most of it on the Hocking Adena Bikeway. The race started at 8 a.m., near the OU campus. Data from Garmin Connect has the temperature at 66 degrees, 60 percent humidity and 11 mph SSW winds.
Pre race: I woke up at 6 a.m. and had a blueberry bagel with butter, half a banana and half-bottle of Nuun Energy.
Stats: Official finish time of 2:02:56. 9:23 pace. Overall, 201st out of 588; 86th female of 363; 19th out of 68 in AG. Crossed the half in 58:43, average pace 8:58.