The last time I wrote, I said that the reason I run is because it’s hard. All my life, I have gone for easy. For comfort. I like both of those. If I wasn’t good at something, I dropped out or didn’t even bother trying. I only put effort into the things I was good at.
I am not a good runner. Well, if by “good” you mean “fast”. I don’t even like running half the time. But I work hard, and I keep at it. It’s the first thing that I’ve been bad at that I’ve stuck with. And that’s why I’m so proud of my running.
And this season was pretty amazing: THREE new personal records. Even more incredible: all of them came under adversity.
First there was the 10K in early October. I love this race. It’s a flat and beautiful course, and the money goes to a good cause. It’s where I set my previous 10K PR. So I went into it this year hoping to set another PR. My dream is to run a sub-60 10K. (I told you I’m not a fast runner.)
The race is pretty small, so everyone was just milling around when a guy came on the loudspeaker and said we should all line up, that the race was going to start in five minutes. I grabbed a napkin from the bagel table to wipe my perpetually-running nose (is that TMI? too bad. my nose likes to get in on this “running” thing). Then I gave a blow, pulled the napkin away and saw blood.
“Are you serious?” I said out loud. My friends turned to look at me. ”The race starts in five minutes and I have a bloody nose!” They gave me looks of sympathy because, really, what can you do?
I grabbed a second napkin and stuck it in my waistband. I stood in the corral and dabbed at my nose while someone sang the Star Spangled Banner, and then we were off.
I kept dabbing at my nose and gave up on my goal of a PR. After all, my previous PR had been helped SO MUCH by having a friend to chase, which I wasn’t going to have at this race. ”Oh well. I’ll just do my best.”
Perpetually-runny nose helped me. Snot helped clog things up after a few miles. (TMI again? too bad. running’s a messy sport.) At each aide table I stopped and asked if they had any paper towels? Napkins? Kleenex? Anything? Nope. One guy offered to go get something from his car. I kept running.
Two hundred yards from the finish, I got a killer side-stitch. Not where you want to drop to a walk, but I did briefly before returning to a hobble. As I rounded the corner to the finish line and saw the clock, I was shocked. It wasn’t sub-60, but the clock read 61 minutes! Thirty seconds per mile faster than last year! I proudly wrote my time on my bib – which also has a drop of blood on it.
Three weeks later was a 5K. The weekend prior was supposed to be my half marathon, but thanks to a sinus infection and bronchitis I dropped out. I couldn’t speak a full sentence without coughing; how was I supposed to run thirteen miles?
But I had already signed up for this 5K with my friends. And a 5K is nothing, just three measly miles! I was still coughing, but not as much.
The first 3/4 of a mile was uphill. Someone next to me joked, “Why are they making us run uphill?” I countered, “Don’t worry; *cough cough* we’ll get to run down this hill to the finish line! *cough*” He agreed that was a plus.
I knew my time at the finish was pretty good, but I wasn’t sure if it was a PR. I went home and looked at my wall of race bibs, scanning for other 5Ks. Finally I found the one with my best time: 1:15 per mile slower than the race I had just done! Not only had I PRed with bronchitis, I had blown my old time out of the water completely.
I posted a Facebook status: “One PR with a bloody nose, one PR running with bronchitis. What will I have to overcome for my next PR?” A friend commented, “A broken leg?”
Which brings us to today, and a half-marathon. I signed up for this one after dropping out of the last one because I still need a fast enough time to qualify for Pikes Peak. And Pikes dropped the qualifying time by five minutes. Yikes!
My shin splints have been bugging me pretty bad for the last month. I prayed and crossed my fingers that my legs would hold out. I also got norovirus Thanksgiving week – which took a week out of training.
And then the weather forecast came. Not just cold but a BRUTALLY cold snap that’s affected most of the country. I obsessively checked the weather for Saturday at 9:00AM. It almost always said the same thing: nine degrees. On Wednesday it snowed several inches. Normally this isn’t a problem in Colorado because snow melts quickly. Unless the temperature hasn’t been above 12 (while dropping to 12 below overnight).
So… shin splints PLUS running in the cold PLUS running on packed snow/ice. Maybe this race would RESULT in a broken leg from slipping…
I was so very very nervous this week. Even had a panic attack on Friday. My previous best half marathon time was at sea level, and I’d need to take NINETEEN minutes off it! How could I EVER hope to get that?
Just before the race, my friend looked at her phone. ”Do you want to know how cold it is right now?” Why not. It’s not like I was going to back out now. She turned it around to show me: minus three. The forecasters were off by twelve degrees. Lovely.
Walking to the starting line I almost wiped out on the ice. It was so slick.
When starting gun went off I could feel neither my fingers nor my toes. Thankfully they warmed up by mile three.
At mile one I came down with a killer side stitch. Ugh. Everyone else was still running at this point, and I was forced to walk. One kind lady patted me on the shoulder as she passed, “You can do it!” I had to walk a lot and it slowly dissipated to manageable over the next four miles.
By mile six I was exhausted. I don’t know if it was the cold, the nerves, or the fact that I hadn’t been able to do a long run in three weeks. I had music on my ipod, but it was doing nothing to lift my spirits or encourage me.
When I passed my cheering friends at mile seven and they asked what I needed, I said, “Hugs.” Which they gave before sending me on my way calling out, “And you’re on pace!”
What? On pace? I couldn’t believe them. That’s a mental trick to try to encourage me to keep at it. It’s got to be. But I kept running (with a lot of walking) refusing to give up. I at least wanted to finish. After all, how many people can say they race a half marathon when in zero degree weather?
At mile eight my knee started hurting. When I passed them again at mile nine, my crazy friend jumped in to run with me to help. ”Are you lying to me about being on pace?” I gasped. ”No! You can totally do this! It’s gonna be tight, but I want you at Pikes!”
Those four miles were awful. I wanted nothing more in the world than to stop running on this snowy, icy trail with my aching knee. I pulled out my earphones and let them swing across my chest. I didn’t care about qualifying any more, or even about PR. I just wanted to walk. Or sit down.
She tried to give me carrots to think about to make myself run faster; nothing worked. But I kept up with her. And I passed a lot of people in those last four miles. She told me we had to have ten-minute mile pace for the last three miles, and I almost collapsed thinking, “I just can’t do this any more!”
Finally we came to the finishing parking lot, and I didn’t even want to run to the line. Just seeing it I wanted to walk the rest of the way. Even with more friends there cheering for me. And it was uphill to the finish line, on the iciest part of the course — arg!
I wasn’t sure if I wanted there to be a clock at the finish. Did I really want to know my time?
But I looked up: three minutes over.
I took sixteen minutes off my old PR, but I hadn’t yet qualified. I didn’t even care. I collapsed on my friends and they half-carried me to the car. (I made sure to pick up my finisher’s medal first.)
It wasn’t until I was warming up later over IHOP breakfast that I let myself be proud – REALLY proud – of my accomplishment. If Pikes hadn’t changed their qualifying time, I would have been in. And sixteen minutes is NOTHING to sneeze at. ESPECIALLY in conditions like that. After all, how many people can say that they ran a half marathon in zero degree weather?
Oscar moment: Thanks to Jennifer for offering to help pace me during the race, and even after getting a cold STILL showing up to cheer. Thanks to Sean for cheering for me and helping carry me to the car. Thanks to Emily for your cheering, and for also being AWESOME by running the 5K in this frigid weather – just a few months after starting running AT ALL; love you, my new running minion. Thanks to Lynn for cheering, running four miles with me on a bum ankle, and always believing in me. (Seriously, all the spectators and volunteers for this race should get medals, too; it was COLD!!) Thanks to whoever actually read this 1700-word post. And thanks to all the folks out there who were praying for me during this race; I have no doubt that your prayers and our amazing God helped me reach that finish line!
P.S. On my drive home at 1:30 I looked at the temperature gauge on my dashboard: it finally reached nine degrees.