It’s Saturday night, February 9, 2013 and I can’t sleep. For the last three days I’ve been thinking I’m coming down with a cold so I’ve been taking doses of Echinacea/Goldenseal and lots of Vitamin C. I think it’s worked and I’m feeling physically better but I’m really anxious about the race as I described in the last chapter of our story. I turn on the light and go through all my gear for the race one more time to make sure that what I’m wearing is already set out and what I’m taking in the car is ready to go. It’s all there so I shut off the light one more time and put my head on the pillow and finally drift off to sleep only to wake up after what I’m sure can’t be more than 5 minutes and discover that my alarm is going off and it is time to get up, eat my half plain bagel with peanut butter, drink my G2, get dressed and get up to St. Petersburg because it’s Sunday, RACE DAY!
The hour long drive to the race passes by like a blur as the anxiety has turned to excitement. I get to the parking lot at Tropicana Field and start getting ready. I immediately head to the port-a-potties which is part of my normal race prep. I know I’ll probably need to hit them 2-3 more times (and I do, at least for half-marathons and the one marathon I’ve done). I make sure I’ve had enough water and G2 and go drop off my bag at the trucks and then proceed to warm up. I take it easy just to get the legs warm and so I run around the parking area a few times and then I see people starting to line up in the corrals. Time to get rolling.
I use the port-a-potty one more time for luck and go to my corral. The nerves are starting to kick back in and it’s not a good feeling. So I did something I’ve never done before. I squirmed my way to the very front of my corral. I knew my corral placing was based on my previous PR and I was sure I could beat that so I didn’t think I’d be getting in the way of many people. But this was the first time that I really acknowledged in my head that I’m fast enough to warrant getting a good starting position. And the minute I got to the front of the corral the nerves just disappeared. In their place was determination and a certain excitement that bordered on giddiness. I felt ready. I felt strong. It was time to get moving!
As our wave was released I knew I had done the right thing moving to the front because I wasn’t being passed by anyone and was into the open space between the previous wave and ours. I knew I was going a little faster than I had planned for the first few miles but I also knew I wasn’t pushing it that hard. I was breathing easily and the legs felt great. All that was left to do was to run like hell!
I won’t go into a mile by mile race recap. Instead I’ll skip ahead to around mile 8-9. I started to get a little tired at that point and was beginning to feel like I HAD gone out too fast. But I took on some Gu and some water and backed off the pace ever so slightly just to recover a bit. I took a mental inventory of the key systems. My breathing had slowed down. My energy level was returning. My legs were feeling OK. And my calves were not complaining at all. I was on target for a 1:45 – 1:46 finish and I was feeling good about that. I kept up the slower pace for about a mile or so and then picked it back up just a tad around mile 10.
And now we’re into the last couple of miles of the race. The part of the half marathon where, in every other one I had run, my calves start complaining and spasming and I have to slow down. But my training had included “closing.” I had been putting in a very fast last 1-2 miles in each of my long runs during the latter half of my training and now I was going to find out just how much, if at all, along with the purposeful speed training, had paid off. I see the mile 11 sign and I pick up the pace ever so slightly, almost expecting the calves to start expressing their displeasure. But they don’t. So over the next 2.1 miles I gradually, but steadily, pick up the pace. And I start passing people. And the calves are still with me. They are still giving me their tacit approval to keep going. And so I do. The momentum is building and building and now I’m breathing really heavily and the legs are turning faster and faster. By the time I see the finishing stretch and hit mile 13 my pace has increased into the high 6’s. And my calves are going right there with me and we’re passing people left and right. I get into the finishing area and give it one last acceleration because I don’t want to finish with anything left in the tank. I run at top speed over the timing thing on the road and I immediately realized that I had smashed through the most ambitious time goal I had set. I wasn’t sure what the official time was going to be but I knew I had finished below 1:45 and I was walking on a cloud.
I began walking through the gauntlet of folks handing things to me. My medal. Water. Gatorade. Chocolate Milk (yay). Bagel, Banana. Dole strawberry fruit cup (yummy, they were semi frozen too). Granola bar. And I get through it all and find a place to put things down and stretch and drink my water and chocolate milk. I realize that my eyes are watering from the emotion of the realization of what I accomplished. I set a challenge I didn’t know I could meet. I set a plan to accomplish it. I executed the plan. And I met the challenge head on and beat it.
Something to know about me if you hadn’t already guessed is that I tend not to celebrate my own achievements. I’m happy when I do something really good but I don’t advertise myself. I try to be a little more understated in that regard. It’s not that I don’t think I’m good at various things. It’s just that I’ve never liked to call attention to myself especially when there’s a risk of failing and yes, I think that indicates a dose of fear of failure. So stating a goal I didn’t know I could achieve, by itself, was a big step for me. Achieving that goal was almost secondary. Not quite, but I think you understand what I’m saying.
So Pooh challenged himself and met his own challenge. Well done Pooh, you silly old bear!