God works in mysterious ways.
This morning, at 3:30, when my alarm went off, I never suspected THAT would be my biggest takeaway from this day.
I quickly went through my morning routine, double-checking (ok, more like quadruple-checking) every step: chip tied into my laces securely, bib fastened to my shorts, hair out of my face, moon chews for the road…I have a touch of OCD about things like this that I’ve learned over the years I share with my grandmother.
My wonderful husband (who also got up well before the sun came up!) took me to the hotel where the shuttle left for the 4 a.m. departure. I stood inside the doors looking around, thinking maybe I’d see someone I knew, but I didn’t. Before not too long we were being herded out the door (there were about 525 runners total) to the buses that would take us to the starting line. I ended up towards the front of the first half marathon bus, and grabbed a seat alone. A couple minutes later, a girl approached my seat and asked if I was sitting with anyone. I said no.
“Oh good! Everyone’s all buddied up and I’m all alone!”
I had no idea what an impact this moment would have on my race.
Allison, my seat buddy, and I chatted the whole way to the starting line. I found out that she had just moved to the state from Florida, and had only decided a couple weeks ago to run this race. She’d never run a race without her training buddy before–and while I had, I could still relate. We discovered as we made our way up the canyon that we maybe ran around the same pace.
When the bus pulled up to the starting line, we stuck together after we ventured out into the cold morning. We stood in line for the porta pottys together, and debated over which of our layers we’d leave on at the start and which ones would go in the truck that was heading back to the finish line. (I opted to ditch everything but the shorts and under armour tee I had planned to run in…the first few miles were chilly, but it was ultimately a good decision.)
Allison had this amazing calming effect on me–telling me not to rush to do this, not to worry about that–continually saying what an awesome run we were going to have. Words can’t adequately express how at ease I was.
We decided to start together and I told her I was going to try and stay with her as long as I could. As we made our way to the chute Allison prayed–for both of us–for strong legs, for healthy lungs, for how grateful she was to be able to run a race like this. That’s when it really hit me–the moment that made the race for me. I could run this race–because I’d done the training, but more importantly, because God gave me healthy legs. What a great day to be alive! Allison gave me this weird calm and an important reminder that I wasn’t running this alone–and not just because she was there. It’s funny how often I overlook something so simple as that.
The gun went off and we started faster than the pace I knew I could hold, which I was okay with. (I generally start too quickly.) Except that the 8:40 or so pace that we were running didn’t start to jump over 9 minutes as soon as it usually does for me. (FYI, my goal pace was something like 9:48, a 2:10 finish was what I was shooting for.) Around mile 2 or 3 I realized for the first time that a sub-2 hour race was possible. Allison warned to take it easy (she’s much more experienced and cautioned that we didn’t want to lose it at the end.) My newbie-optimism was quick to point out it was largely downhill–that it was okay we didn’t normally run this pace–we could hold it up here. I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I knew how great I felt, and I knew I had to go with it.
The rest of the race stayed pretty steady (for me, anyways.) My splits were as follows:
8:54 Allison warned to take it easy here.
8:09 Holy crap I’m still under 9 minutes per mile!
8:57 Slowed down for water, didn’t walk.
9:26 Walked through the water station here, which seemed to pay off.
9:03 Allison broke away here. I was definitely feeling tired.
9:18 A little slower. A couple small hills, and I was fading. I used Jacquline’s counting trick here. I started to pick it up when I looked at my watch and realized that no matter what, I was finishing in UNDER two hours. I don’t know how fast the last tenth was because I forgot to stop my watch until about a minute after I crossed the finish line, but my forerunner showed a max speed of 5:50 minutes per mile at the end, so I feel like I definitely gave it my all for a finish of 1:56:31.
When I got to the finish line I didn’t see Allison at first, and I swear to you, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had asked someone for her and they’d have been all “Allison who? There was no Allison!” and I’d be peddling this story to the Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction people. But I did find her (she finished just under a minute ahead of me) and she greeted me like a best friend would.
I almost cried at the finish. I never, EVER thought I’d break two hours today. And especially not the way I did it either, feeling SO great. I’ve only done two other races, but I know I don’t push myself as hard as I could–I have this fear of not being able to finish. But today I really had no inhibitions. I can honestly say I left it all out on the road.
After having a few hours to digest it all, I certainly think Allison was the answer to my prayers to be calm (a huge struggle for me in past races!) When I think of all the randomness that led her to be on that seat next to me, I can’t arrive at any other conclusion. Running those 11 or so miles with her made all the difference in the world on my race.
So there you have it. My best run ever. Huge strides towards controlling my pre-race nerves. And finding God on Highway 14A.