I woke up Sunday morning – race day – with the thought that 5:15 a.m. was way too early to be awake.I stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom to get ready, even taking a hot shower to wake myself up, something outside of my normal racing routine.I ate some oatmeal and half a banana and headed out the door at 6:00 a.m.I could already feel it was a “non-running” day, and I was just hopingpraying I could shake myself out of the slump before the gun went of at 7:30.
Try as I may, it didn’t happen.Race or no race, I wasn’t feeling up to running miles, especially 13.1 of them.I met my pace group at a hotel downtown – in the heart of the festivities – and even the usual race-day hum of excitement and anticipation didn’t phase me.I couldn’t help thinking that today was supposed to be the day I was running 26.2, but because of a knee injury and less than optimal training, I was only running half that.I knew I was setting myself up for failure that morning, but I couldn’t seem to get my mind in the right place to run.So, I gave up – literally before I even began – and my goal went from keeping up with my MIT crew to get another PR to just finishing.And I wasn’t even at the start line yet.
We trekked to the start line as a group.They say there is strength in numbers and I’m fully convinced I would have never of made it to my corral without my girls – and Duane our fearless leader – keeping us together.The corrals were so crowded – the streets were jammed worse than during morning rush-hour traffic – there was literally a point when we were holding hands to keep from loosing one another.Somewhere in the distance up ahead (we were in the last corral) there were announcements, a live band, fireworks, TV cameras, and the sound of the gun.
We were off.But not really.It took us more than six minutes (I think) to get to the line.I spent most of my time looking ahead of me to Duane and behind me to the rest of our crew to make sure everyone was still together.Finally, we crossed the start line and we were really off this time.I had gone 10 feet at lightening speed to catch up with our group and I was tired.“Great,” I thought, “This is going to be a long race.”And with that thought, I ran plodded along until we reached Mile 1 where there was water and Gatorade.I was huffing and puffing like, well, like I had never run before and I watched as my girls – and Duane – slowly pulled away from me.Suzi kept looking back at me as if to say, “Come on, we’re not going to leave you,” but I waved her on with a giant smile on my face as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’m doing fine, I’ll catch up.”In all actuality, I was not fine and I didn’t even want to think about the energy it would take to catch up once they were out of my sight.
By Mile 4 I knew I was in trouble.It was the first time I thought about wanted to walk off the course.And I had never thought that before.I was thinking how the four miles back would be a heck of a lot shorter than the 9 miles – forever – I had left.I half walked, half limped through the water station and drank like a camel, which couldn’t possibly turn out well for my stomach later, and moved on.My pace group – or anyone from it – was nowhere to be found.For many of them it was their first Half and I hoped they were doing well in spite of what I felt like was my bad attitude.Slowly, but surely, I walked/ran most of Miles 4 and 5.I knew I had to finish, knew I could finish.I had done it before though – four times to be exact – who would really care know if I finished this one?It wasn’t like I had never done it before.I told myself I didn’t want to be running.
My knee hurt, my muscles ached, I was thirsty, I didn’t like yellow Gatorade and my thoughts were just one complaint after another.My fuel belt was bothering me, even though I had stopped three times already to adjust it, and my shirt was too loose.People were passing me left and right while I was passing no one.People were cheering me on from underneath their blankets, steaming cups of coffee in their hands, but I didn’t care.I made it a point to glare at them when I went by.Why?Because I wanted to be where they were and I didn’t want to be running.Quit now?Why not?
It was somewhere between Miles 5 and 6 that my feet were feeling like lead and I was feeling like a gigantic loser when I heard someone yell, “SARA…is that you?!?!”Now, as you know, Sara is a pretty common name, but there was something in the way she said it that made me turn around.It was Emily – from my pace group Emily.She had just come back on the course after waiting in line for the port-a-pot for seven minutes (seriously?) and she said she was glad to see me.I was ecstatic to see her – someone I ran with every Saturday – and we quickly started comparing notes.She lost the pace group some time after I did, she had to use the restroom and couldn’t wait any longer, her legs were tired and heavy, her heart rate was skyrocketing, and she was just feeling tired.It was Emily’s first Half and she wanted to make it in less than three hours.She was trying hard to make it.I lost the pace group early on, couldn’t get enough water, had knee pain and hip pain, and was just struggling to stay on the road.We ran – we walked – we ran together – and then we walked some more.Emily’s heart rate evened out and as I watched her pull out ahead of me – a smile on her face – I was thinking how happy I was that she was out there running, pushing for her goal and encouraging me to keep it up too.I saw myself in her, during my first half, and I told myself I was thankful to be running.
I don’t remember much of Miles 6 and 7.I do remember running the miles and walking through the aid stations.I remember feeling like, somehow, after seeing Emily, I was glad I didn’t quit.
Until I reached Mile 8 and I suddenly realized I was on my own again.In my head, I counted the miles I had left – five to be exact – and I wanted to quit again.Just like that.It was that part of the course where there is no entertainment and spectators are slim, just regular people going about their regular Sunday routine except they can’t get out of their driveways and they can’t park on the street.There might be a person here or there stepping out to pick up the morning paper or let the dog out, but all in all, no one is really out there to cheer on the runners.Usually, that doesn’t bother me and I kind of like the quiet, but on this day, it was perilous.It was be so much easier to walk into that gas station and call someone for a ride back downtown.At least that’s what I was thinking when I rounded the corner and saw my Dad standing there clapping for me and taking my picture (of all things)!I stopped for a minute and told him I was tired and I that I wanted to quit and he told me to keep going and that I was looking good.He said, “Make sure you drink something and keep going, Sara, you’re almost there.”I started running again and as I did, I heard my dad – as well as some other spectators I didn’t even know – cheering for me to keep it up.Once again I told myself I was thankful to be running.
It was just before Mile 9 that I heard my name again, “Sara!?!” I turned around, “Sara!!!!”It was Suzi this time.She ran up to me and I think I hugged her I was so happy to see her.She was tired, her legs were cramping and she wanted to quit too.In fact, she said she almost had walked off the course before seeing me.I couldn’t believe it.We started running and we both said there was no way we were going to quit now.There were fewer miles to go than we had already come.We could do this – together – just like all of the Saturdays before.We started chatting as we ran the course, walked through the water stations and kept going.No matter what, we kept going.I told myself I was thankful to be running.
Somehow, Miles 10, 11, and 12 flew by.When I wanted to walk, Suzi kept me running.When she wanted to walk, I picked up the pace.We kept running – kept each other running.As we headed into the home stretch, I told myself, I was thankful to be running.
I had run this course before (last year) and by Mile 13, Suzi was asking me how much farther we had to go.I told her for most of that mile that it was just over the top of the hill when we took a sharp left and headed down the chute.Of course, I started feeling stronger than I had for the entire race and I wanted to pick up the pace.Yet, I was completely content running with Suzi and there was no way I was going to leave her behind.She urged me to go on and finish, but we were finishing this race together.And I was thankful to be running with my friend.
We did finish together and while it wasn’t my best time ever, it was my time – because I finished.We crossed the line and there was no doubt we were glad to be done, as we headed to Celebration Village where our friends, family, and pace team would be waiting.As Duane greeted us and we heard the triumphs of our teammates – Emily finished in just over 3 hours – I was thankful to have run.More than ever was I thankful for the support of my friends, family, and teammates.More than ever was I thankful to be a part of a team.A team that knew exactly how I was feeling, and exactly how I was hurting, and exactly how great of an accomplishment I had achieved.There were pictures (see them here) and hugs and laughter.For all of these things, I was thankful.
So while I didn’t make a PR and I didn’t even run the whole race, I learned more about myself and why I run than ever before.I run because I can and because it brings me back to the things that are important to me – health, family, friends, happiness, and dedication. There are so many people who can’t run, who won’t run. Did you know that only 0.8% of Americans will run a Half Marathon? That only 0.1% of Americans will run a Full Marathon?I am thankful to be running.And this race has reminded me why.It’s not about running; it’s about what running is.What it is to me and to everyone else who runs because we can.For our own causes and our own reasons – running unites us all and we should all remember that above all else – we are thankful to be running.