In rather inconsistent fashion, I've been blogging about my efforts to train for the Go! St. Louis! Half Marathon which was held this past Sunday. Which is fitting, considering my training was also inconsistent (at best). Rare were the weeks when I got in three runs. And the longest training run I managed was 6 miles, a week ago Sunday, with a couple brief stops along the way. So, when I felt the sore throat and fever moving in last Tuesday, I began leaning heavily toward the notion of once again bailing on my race.
I told myself it wasn't that big a deal. I'm still signed up for one in the Fall. No use killing myself over it. Still, the thought of not following through nagged at me. It got me to feeling pretty down on myself. And then, something happened last Friday that really knocked me flat. And I wasn't sure I even felt like getting back up. All I felt was -- tired. Depleted. Just...done.
Still, I'd promised my friend Di that I'd go to the Expo with her on Saturday and pick up our race packets -- this was going to be her first race, and I wanted to be supportive. Figured I might as well at least pick up my packet in the process.
It was raining and nasty Saturday morning, and they were predicting storms late into the evening, and rain on Sunday, giving me yet one more excuse not to bother with what was sure to be an exercise in futility. Still, as the day wore on, and I unexpectedly got to spend the bulk of it with Riley (as her camping trip had been canceled), the thought of maybe, possibly, at least giving it a try kept tugging at me. That night, we went to see The Hunger Games, and, with its focus on such a strong female character, it got me to thinking about what it really means to be strong.
I think...it means to be resolute. To not let fear and insecurity deter you. Certainly, it means when you get knocked down, you find a way to get back up. And it requires being true to yourself. Which requires keeping the promises you make yourself. Because if you don't respect yourself enough to do that. If you don't love yourself enough...well, how in the hell do you expect others to?
By Saturday night, I'd resolved that I would run the race. And, at a minimum, get in a decent run. If I got to the point where the lack of training and/or sinus infection required me to cut it short, then I would. But at least I'd know I tried.
So, Sunday morning, I got up at 5:15, got dressed, said a prayer of thanks that the weather looked to be better than anticipated, and headed downtown. (Special thanks to Cari and Chris for having Riley spend the night with Avery! I don't think she relished the thought of getting up that early to head up to Grandma and Grandpa's.) I'd planned to park in my building and walk over to the race, not realizing I was tacking on an extra 15 blocks (in each direction) to my journey. Still, I made it downtown in good time and trotted over to the Starting line. Looked for my designated "corral" and then hopped the fence with a number of others to squeeze into the chute. Me and 10,000+ others....
After a very nice rendition of the National Anthem -- which made me stand a little taller and put a smile on my face -- we were off. I crossed the Start and began my "official" race at around 7:08. The first mile was fine. I quickly ran into my friends Melissa and Carianne, who were walking the race. Was happy to see them and speculated I'd probably see them again before the end of the race -- at that point, I was pretty certain I'd be walking most of it.
I was feeling okay, though. Seemed like it took awhile to get to the 2 Mile marker, but along the way, I kept finding reasons to smile. As we headed south along Broadway, we started seeing the elite marathoners coming back the other way. Just watching their speed and grace was amazing. Two women running near me remarked on how awesome it was, and one said it almost made her feel like tearing up. It did -- in that way that realizing you share the planet with some truly remarkable beings can sometimes do. As did the father pushing his disabled son in a racing wheel chair.
And then there were the signs -- so many wonderful signs along the way. "Run, total stranger! Run!" "Keep calm and run on!" "Keep going! Keep Going! (That's what she said.)" "Mortuary up ahead -- look alive!!" And the signs were all attached to real live people who, themselves, got up early on a Sunday morning and ventured downtown just to cheer on the runners. I am always, always, always touched and amazed at the support of people along the race route. Every race I've ever run, there are people who've stopped and taken time out of their day just to encourage other people to keep going.
There are little kids who hold their hands out to "high-five" you as you run by -- and who beam ear-to-ear every time a runner reaches out and high-fives them back. There were the residents of Soulard -- 40 or 50 strong -- standing out in their PJ's with signs and noisemakers and music blasting, cheering loudly as we ran by. There was the older gentleman, standing on the corner by the brewery, yelling, "Keep going! You paid for it -- might as well get your money's worth!" There were the Dean and Vicar of Christ Church Cathedral standing outside sprinkling the runners with holy water as we ran by. And all the hundreds of volunteers who handed out water and Gatorade along the way, and then cleaned up the mounds of paper cups tossed aside by the runners.
As I ran by all of these people and soaked all of it in, I couldn't help but reflect on the gift I was being given. I was being reminded of the goodness to be found in our fellow man. Of the ways in which we help one another be strong. That's a facet of God's love I think we too often overlook.
The music played a significant role for me, too. I don't run with music all the time -- usually because I've forgotten to charge my iPod. But this time, I'd remembered. And so, as I neared the Mile 5 marker (parked next to the White Castle, which cracked me up for some reason)...
I switched on the tunes and let them carry me along. Starting with Rupert Wainwright's rendition of "Across the Universe" which alternately haunts and lulls. Later came "Beloved Wife" by Natalie Merchant, which always pierces my heart with its beauty and sadness. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" made me think of friends and family who'd wished me luck. "Change Your Mind" by Sister Hazel helped me strengthen my resolve to adjust my thinking on some things.
As the music played on, I plodded along. By now, I was walking every uphill. And I'd made a point to walk through every water station, take both a Gatorade and a water, and finish both before starting back to the running. It seemed to be working. Because pretty soon, I found myself passing under the giant American flag hanging across Tucker Blvd., and, in addition to feeling pride for my country, taking heart in the fact that I'd actually made it to the half-way mark.
At that point, I told myself I would finish -- even if it meant walking the rest of the way. But strangely, after I'd walk for a bit, I'd find myself wanting to run some more. Soon, I'd survived the nasty hills up Olive and angled over Vandeventer to Forest Park Parkway. I couldn't help but smile at the fact that "Homeward Bound" came on just as we were rounding the turn at the 10 mile mark and heading back east toward the Finish.
Shortly after that, I looked across the median and spied Di and another friend, Denise. I hopped across the median and ran over to them to hug them both and let them know I was so proud of them! Then back to my side to keep shuffling eastward. By now, the elite marathoners were passing me. Yes, they'd run twice as far, twice as fast, and were closing in on 26.2 miles while I was slogging toward 13.1.
And in my ears, the Indigo Girls were singing, "If the world is night....shine my life like a light..." Not sure how bright a beacon my beleaguered self was at that point, but I took a measure of inspiration from it anyway. Along with the following lines, "In the kind word you speak, in the turn of your cheek. When your vision stays clear in the face of your fear..." Those are nice little words to have running through your head when you're striving to find your footing and move convincingly forward.
I kept telling myself if I could just make it to Mile 12, I'd run the last mile in. But there was a lot of hill to cover in between, and I was flagging. Kind of like my phone which was down to about 3% battery. I saved my Runkeeper progress and Tweeted/Facebooked it because I knew I was about to go incommunicado for a bit: "Phone's gonna die before I make it to 13 - but I'm gonna make it. ." I'd slowed back down to a walk, but "Return to the House at Pooh Corner" (the version I have of me actually singing along with Kenny Loggins) was playing in my ear and reached the last Chorus: "Believe me if you can, I've finally come back to the House at Pooh Corner by one..." I slowly picked my feet up and made them start running again. A gentleman standing alongside the course shouted out, "There you go! You can do it! You've GOT this!"
And I knew that I did. I was going to finish. And not only that, I was going to finish in well under 3 hours (which I'd had in the back of my mind as my modified goal). Most of all, I'd kept that promise to myself after all. And that was something I'd really needed. A reminder to myself that I am worth it.
It wasn't pretty. 2:44 for a half isn't exactly speedy. But I did it. And now have my sights on knocking that down to 2:20 for the Rock 'n Roll half in October. I have faith in me. I can do it.