I don't remember what first made me want to try it. Maybe it was because a couple of my friends had done it and I figured if they could, why couldn't I? Or it might have been because I'd overindulged during the holidays and figured if I had a solid date with a real goal I would force myself to get back into shape.
So about three months ago as I was sitting at the boys' swim lessons, flipping through some sporting magazine, I came across the ad: 'The Colorado Marathon and Half-Marathon, Colorado's fastest and America's Most Scenic Course,'
it proudly proclaimed. I signed up that day, envisioning myself crossing the finish line in a few months as a very different being than the pale, soft, wintertime person I'd become.
But training for the race didn't go the way I'd hoped. I don't do treadmills and I don't run in snow, so it was hit or miss getting myself out on the trails during the inclement Colorado springtime months. Just when I'd make some progress, a storm came along and kept me indoors for a week or two. Then, for the first time in years, I was hit with a stomach virus and knocked off my feet for a few days.
I started to think about ditching the whole race and trying a different one later on in the year. I didn't think I was ready yet. The farthest I'd been able to run was just over eight miles and to me it seemed like a stretch to jump up to thirteen in a couple of weeks. Surely it would backfire on me and I'd have to ride the lag wagon to the end. So embarrassing.
I also freaked myself out by clocking my distance everywhere I went in my car to see how far thirteen miles really was. Like to drive to our nearest Sam's, which feels very far, was only eleven miles. Holy COW, I thought. I can't run that far! What kind of crazy person would try such a thing??
As the race loomed closer, I'd pretty much decided against it. But then things changed. The weather warmed up and I got in a few really good runs. I pictured how I'd feel on the morning of May 3rd if I decided to stay home. If I woke up and looked at the clock knowing that at that moment I should've been running along a river in Ft. Collins instead of sleeping in, I would have loathed myself.
So at the last minute, I booked my hotel room and started getting my head ready for thirteen miles. It gave me butterflies and terror at the same time. But it was something I had to do.
On Saturday I packed my stuff and headed North. After stopping to have a delicious lunch with my sister on the way, I arrived in Ft. Collins. I'd never been there before but always heard about it. It's ranked the number one city in America to raise a family. It was very charming and not in a contrived way. The University campus was gorgeous and the rows of eclectic shops downtown brought back memories of my own college town, San Marcos. I started feeling a little sentimental on top of the butterflies and terror.
I headed to the Hilton to pick up my race packet. It was swarming with people and excitement. After getting my race t-shirt, bib and timing chip, I wandered around to check out the "expo" where they try to sell you fancy shoes and things. One of the displays they had was a map you could stick a pin in to mark where you were from. It was interesting to see that people had come from all over the US and several other countries to be in the race. Very cool.
It was starting to get a little drizzly and gray when I left the expo and I drove around town to get my bearings. I stopped at the grocery store to stock up on bananas, Gatorade and energy bars and then made my way to the hotel to get settled in.
I'd never stayed in a hotel by myself before and was pretty excited about it. But before long I realized why some people decide to end their lives in hotels. Being in a hotel by yourself is like the loneliest thing in the world. Before long I was back in my car looking for the nearest Schlotzsky's.
After my sandwich was ordered, I sat at the counter and waited. By then it was really raining. As I gazed out the lonely window at the dark clouds overhead, a college student came in and sat down beside me. I couldn't believe it when he tried to strike up a conversation and seemed to actually be flirting
. I was thinking that I could literally be his mother and that made me feel even more blue. I couldn't believe it had been so long since I'd been a college student myself. Thank goodness I only had a couple hours until bedtime or I would have worked myself into a serious pre-race funk.
I headed back to the hotel and sorted out my things for the next day. After setting the alarm for 4:00am and watching a few depressing sitcoms, I turned out the lights thinking, "This is it. When I wake up it will be time..." Yikes. It was only 7:30 but I managed to fall asleep right away. Benadryl helps.
Of course I spent the night having recurring nightmares that I'd overslept and missed the race. The good news was that in the dreams I was actually disappointed, not relieved, that I'd missed it. That made me feel that at least on some level I might be more ready that I thought. I tossed and turned all night and finally got up at 3:30 for good. No need for the alarm after all.
I ate my breakfast of bananas, cereal and boiled eggs and tried not to worry that it was still raining outside. I do better in cool weather anyway but who wanted to run in the rain for that long? I'd never drank so much OJ and Gatorade in my life. By the time I left the hotel and headed to the parking area I was feeling very hydrated. Very, very hydrated.
It wasn't hard to find a parking space in the garage and I'd gotten there early so I sat in my car a while watching the other runners arrive, sizing them up. You could tell the serious runners right away and then there were the people like me, who looked like they were just hoping not to embarrass themselves so they might be able to go home and post on their facebook status that they'd run a half-marathon that day.
Before long it was time to get on the bus and head toward the starting line. It was still dark but the rain had stopped and I could see a faint glow on the horizon. The buses filled up quickly and slowly pulled away and headed out of town. It seemed like such a strange thing for over 1500 people to be riding buses to the middle of nowhere at 5am so they could voluntarily run thirteen miles back to town. And then there were the marathoners who had already left for their starting line an hour earlier. Crazy.
The ride seemed exceptionally long since the whole time I was thinking how I'd be running the whole way back. Most people were pretty quiet and contemplative but a few were chatting away with their seatmates about their previous races and conquests.
When we arrived at the staging location the sun was halfway up and the clouds were clearing out. It was starting to look like a very good day. We were dropped off in a field filled with what looked like hundreds of port-o-potties and a large tent. Once I got my eyes past the potties I realized we were in a beautiful canyon with the Poudre river running just a few yards away. It was gorgeous.
But it didn't take long to realize it was also freezing. It was in the thirties still so everyone headed to the tent to huddle and wait for an hour or so until the race started. Before long I met a group of women who were very friendly and fun to talk to. Once again I was honored to be in such a diverse group of amazing people. I don't know why but it seems like most people I meet at races are exceptional.
The time flew and pretty soon I was in line for one last restroom stop. The butterflies came back but it was a thrilling feeling. Runners started heading down the road to the starting line as one big herd of people. I positioned myself toward the back of the herd since I knew I'd be running slow and steady.
Finally, it was time. Slowly, the first half of the pack pulled out and the rest of us started jogging up to the starting line. Hoots and hollers went out from the runners and the police escorts cleared the road ahead. Not that there was much traffic out there yet. I turned on my tunes to what I'd decided on as the perfect starting song: Halo, by Beyonce. It had an anthem-like beginning and seemed fitting. This was it. No turning back now!
The crowd of runners thinned out over the first couple of miles as the fast people made the most of the downhill beginning. It was touted as the fastest course in Colorado with 1200 feet of elevation drop. Most of that happened in the first four miles or so. Funny how fast the miles go by when you have gravity on your side. But even though I felt like tearing up the downhill part, I bided my time and paced myself, afraid I'd burn out too early.
I normally don't drink energy drinks or eat power bars when I run but they really made a difference for me that day. Things were just clipping along when I saw the road sign. 'Fort Collins 10 Miles.' Well that's funny, I thought. Ft. Collins is where I'm
going. Ten more miles, huh? Once again I was jarred by the reality of how far I was trying to go. I tried to suppress the slight panic that rose for a moment. One mile at a time. That was my mantra.
It was a scenic route and that helped the time go by. We ran past picturesque farms with horses stomping around, dogs barking and the smell of the country. Some good smells, some not so good smells. Volunteers handed out sports drinks every two miles and there were more potties at each station. It was a very organized race.
But the funnest part was when we ran by the crowds that had gathered at various points to cheer us on and support their friends and family. People had cowbells and children gave high-fives. I still remember one woman who was standing quietly on the side of the road. When I passed her she made eye contact and quietly said, "Good job." That was at about mile four and just hearing those two words got me through the next couple of miles easily. I don't know what it is about encouragement from strangers, but it is powerful. At least for me.
At mile six there was finally an uphill stretch. I'd been training on hills more than on distance for the last few months and I felt a surge of pride as I topped the hill without even slowing my pace. There were more volunteers up there to hand out drinks and they were dressed as clowns. Very random. I couldn't say enough good things about the volunteers all along the route that day. They were fun and enthusiastic and really made my day.
When mile eight came and went I realized I was in uncharted territory. The good news was I was feeling just great. It's true how race day adrenaline and excitement can really get you through. I started to think crazy thoughts like, "I think I'm actually going to do this!" followed by the other voice in my head, "Shut up. You still have four miles to go. Wait, make that five. Eight plus four is twelve. And you are going thirteen. That leaves five so calm down, sister..."
I couldn't believe I wasn't in pain. I couldn't believe it almost seemed easy. But I tried to stuff those over-confident thoughts down deep so I wouldn't mess up my head. Soon we were closer to town and it was a very level course. We ran through a park and over a bridge. By then some of the elite marathoners had caught up with us and were passing us. Keep in mind that they only started an hour before we did. I was in awe as they breezed past me, their sinewy legs in an almost full sprint. Amazing what the human body is capable of.
Mile nine, mile ten, mile eleven. I started feeling it. My feet had pretty much gone numb a few miles back except for the blister that was rising. So what, I told myself. It's not like I have a bone sticking out. It's just a blister for heaven's sake. Some people had already started walking around mile seven so I was feeling pretty good about keeping up my pace. I also felt like if I stopped running I'd never be able to start again.
As we got closer to the end, emotions started welling up in me. I couldn't believe
I was going to do it. Thirteen miles. Make that thirteen point one miles. I thought back to just two years earlier when I first started running and could barely make it down the street. I remembered how I used to loathe running and be annoyed by people who loved it. I picked up my pace.
One of the most inspiring sights I saw during the last part of the race was a man who had to be at least seventy-five or older, trudging along. His head of white hair was tucked and his eyes seemed to be almost closed. I could see it was taking everything he had but he was not going to stop.
After passing the twelve mile mark I grabbed one last cup of water, gulped it down and tossed it in the trash. The last mile. No freaking way. I started scrolling through my music to find the right song for the finish. Steve Perry's voice rang out singing, "Don't stop believing..hold on to that feeeeeeeelin'!" Cheesy, but perfect.
That last mile was a long one. Finally, I came around a corner and saw it. A big sign hanging over the cheering crowds: FINISH. Is that really it? Could it be?? I wanted to savor every last step. I turned down Steve so I could hear the people. I ran across the last timing mat and suddenly, it was over. Someone handed me a medal and said congratulations and I stumbled out into the crowd.
That was it. I had done it. How could it be? And what now?
I sat down for a minute and gathered my thoughts. People were milling around eating bananas and cookies and eyeballing each other. The marathoners strutted around with their fancy 'Marathon' medals, looking down their noses at us half-marathoners. Okay, maybe they didn't but it sure seemed like it.
That critical voice in my head wasted no time in trying to belittle my achievement. "Well it was partly downhill," she said. "And it did take you two hours and thirty-two minutes." But I put a stop to that right away. "Listen, bitch. I just ran thirteen point one miles without stopping. So shut it."
On my way back to my car I saw so many happy faces. People were on their phones calling their peeps and one guy was even sitting on the curb, crying. I think they were happy tears.
I called my family and made my way home, feeling amazing. It wasn't until later that night as I was wiping down the stovetop when it really hit me. I had actually done it. Then I finally shed a few tears of my own.