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The Race for Me

December 21, 2010

2010 Space Coast Half Marathon

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bib Number: 2776
Overall Placement: 532 / 1538 (34%)
Age Group Placement: 36 / 136  (26.5%)
Gender Placement: 108 / 903 (12%)
Chip Time: 2:01:55

This wasn’t the race I was signed up to run.

I mention this because, all weekend, I was reminded of the fact that I had been training for months to run a marathon, and yet was showing up on race day to run 13.1 miles.

To wit: when I got to the expo on Saturday morning, they had my half marathon bib, with a suitably high number, given the high number of people who were signed up to  run the half marathon. Little G, who was running the marathon as originally planned, had a low number on her green bib, indicating that she was running the full 26.2 miles. She and I had both registered for the race early, committing to the event almost as soon as we started our training program, about 16 weeks earlier. So we’d both been promised personalized bibs. Hers was computer-generated and official-looking, with her number in printed letters at the bottom of her Tyvek bib. My marathon bib, meanwhile, had to be discarded when I called race headquarters earlier that week to downgrade to the half. Therefore, my bib had, not a computer-generated name at the bottom, but a Sharpie-block-printed name, time-consumingly printed by a race official who took seriously his promise to deliver a personalized bib. For this I was thankful, but I was reminded as I prepared my gear that this was not the race I was supposed to run, that I had trained for and prepared to run 26 miles, and my body–all but one stubborn six-inch stretch of it–was fine-tuned and raring to run it.

But sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and I knew it was foolish of me to pretend that, after a handful of sessions with a physical therapist, my shin was in any shape to endure the pounding of 26 miles. In fact, to be honest, I was nervous about running 13. I had last run about two weeks earlier, and both the PT and I thought there was a very good chance that this race would end with me walking, in pain, or both.

There were many reminders as Little G and I walked around Saturday that this was not the race I had prepared for. First, there was no reason for me to stay off my feet. I could literally walk around the downtown shopping district all day. I didn’t have to carbo-load or watch my diet. Thirteen miles, completed in under three hours even under difficult circumstances, wouldn’t tap into my sugar stores. Gear? Not critical–I’d most likely be through the chute and changing my clothes before the weather changed, or blisters developed.

Any issues that I couldn’t readily dismiss with the snobbishness of a sub-2 half-marathoner, I grudgingly acknowledged with the injured pride of a benched runner: this couldn’t possibly be treated as a PR attempt. For once, I felt comfortable breaking the cardinal rule of racing: Don’t try anything new on race day. After all, if anything did go terribly wrong and the wheels fell off, what was I chancing? As I stood in the chute, shivering in the early-morning chill waiting for the gun, I had no guarantees I’d finish the race at all. Throwing caution to the wind and trying something new seemed not to improve nor diminish my chances–at least, not any more than my injured shin already had.

With this new perspective, I hit the expo and bought a new double SpiBelt and some new Zensah calf sleeves, both in colors that would match my racing outfit. I might not have felt good, and I thought there was a good chance I’d finish the race limping, but I was determined to look tough and beautiful while doing it.

We laid out our gear the night before, as usual: clothes, socks, shoes, D-tags, bibs, belts, gels, hats. I packed my ipod, choosing to race with it for once to keep me distracted and slow me down.

If you’re a runner, you know the hours that came next–the quiet of sleep, and then the hours after the alarm goes off and you wake with your racing partner, and the still quiet movements of the hours before the race. The rituals of dressing. You put your gear on. You tie your shoes. You pin your bib on, you thread the d-tag through the laces. You do up your hair and get your visor on, putting the sunglasses on your head even though it’s 4am and pitch black out. You clasp your belt on, stuff it with gels. One last look in the mirror and you think,

This is it. I’ve been training since August for this, and today I find out if I did it. In a few hours, the plan comes together, all the mile repeats, all the six-milers, the three-hour runs, the bananas, the extra water, the schedule on the fridge. Today is racing day.

But for me, as I stood there and looked at myself in the mirror, I knew this wasn’t the race I wanted to run, and tears pushed at my eyes. I was disappointed, and though I’d prayed for weeks that God would take my disappointment and turn it to gratitude for missing a larger injury, for still being able to run, for having a great training partner, the truth is, the disappointment had not been replaced entirely. It was racing day, but not the one I’d dreamed of.

As we walked into the chute, it broke my heart to watch Little G go under the rope that separated marathoners from us mere mortals and watch her get lost in the crowd.

The race started, and the marathoners turned north as the half marathon course veered south. Tears poured freely down my face. This is not supposed to be my race. I had my ipod in; I’d pressed play as my feet crossed the mat but the sound of the start had muffled the music. But then, as the crowd thinned and we hit the waterfront, the music in my ears swelled, and I was thankful: God had chosen to redirect my thoughts through music. David Crowder Band’s “All This for Our King” was the first song on my playlist, and I was reminded this is just running.

Don’t get me wrong: I was still disappointed. But as the race progressed, I got to enjoy myself, to let go of the disappointment along with the miles and to enjoy, if not a race, at least a smooth easy run and the company of the other lunatic people who do this for fun.

The course wasn’t as straight and flat as we dream of, but for this, too, I was thankful–it kept me distracted. I watched the sun play on the water, studied Christmas decorations as we passed beautiful homes along the waterfront road. Porta-potties and water stations were everywhere along the course, and we were well supported with spectators.

At the turnaround, I felt myself tiring and weak, and was thankful to have only 6 1/2 miles to go instead of another 20. I could almost begin to count down the miles, though I resisted the urge to begin too soon lest I get discouraged by the number of steps left to me. At mile 10 I passed a large road sign, and I remembered this is where Little G had said I could let it all out, and I knew I couldn’t. I just didn’t have any energy left to push with; it was all I could do to keep from walking and stay with the group I was running with. At this point I was running about 9-minute pace and trying desperately not to get any slower.

But then, the miles started to tick off, and we were into the mile countdown. I ran to finish, hoping I could still get under the two-hour mark. Just before the 13-mile marker, I passed Little G as she headed out for the second half of her marathon. We slapped hands as we passed, and I headed in for my finish.

In the end, a sub-2 finish was not in the cards for me this day. I finished in pain, not from the shin splints but from the same cramps that plagued me at the Halloween Half. In the runners’ recovery area, I iced my shin and took Advil, and was thankful to have finished at all, and thankful to have made the right choice.

I’ll tear the race apart another day, but for now, three weeks later, there it is: how I ran the race I was meant to run, even though it wasn’t the race I wanted to run.

And how, in the end, the wisest runner may be the one who runs the right race at the right time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. run4change permalink
    December 28, 2010 11:38 am

    I looooove that you said this, “I’ll tear the race apart another day, but for now, three weeks later, there it is: how I ran the race I was meant to run, even though it wasn’t the race I wanted to run.

    And how, in the end, the wisest runner may be the one who runs the right race at the right time. ”

    That is just so darn true and thanks for reminding me of it.

  2. the Ringmaster permalink*
    December 29, 2010 11:13 am

    Thanks, J. I’m praying I come back from this injury a wiser, if not a faster, runner.

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