It was hot out there - having to turn on your A/C on the way to a race at 5:30 in the morning is NEVER a good sign. It was humid - at one point we got spit on like a big ol' tease of rain that never showed up. We had strong winds - nothing like The Year of the Wind, but enough to actually cool us down a bit. At least the sun hid until we were mostly done. The redesigned course removed the biggest hill but added a couple of more rollers and the major hill on the course at Mile 7 or so was a freakin' doozy. But it is what it is and we play the hand we're dealt, right?
I got to the race site by 6:05 & sat in the car gathering myself before heading out to try to meet everyone. I left my phone in the car, though, so I was out of touch with everyone and kind of had to watch out for folks. I also took nothing but my PowerBar chews, 3 Vitamin I & my key fob. I was going to trust everything else to the race directors and my pacer Suann. Unfortunately, she was stuck on I-30 so she was worried about getting parked and situated in time. Even though they announced they were going to delay the start, I had no way to call her & tell her to relax. I also had no way to make sure I was on track with pace without her. I had decided to sit for a while when I got to the corral since I knew I was going to be on my feet for a long while, but then I thought I should stand up so I could better see everyone. Turns out I found Suann, Greg & Fiona at the same time, a few minutes before the gun went off. I missed seeing nearly everyone else, although Greg T had passed me earlier on his way to pace the 3:20 group (CRAZY) and asked where my posse was!!
Suann was awesome today. I only cussed at her once or twice!
By about mile 15, though, my legs were starting to feel the effects of the rollers, and it was getting harder and harder to recover from even small little inclines. My glutes & hamstrings were aching, and a couple of longer downhill stretches really affected my quads. But the knees were holding up fine and the heat was starting to accumulate enough that it was tough to keep cool. Fueling wise and even electrolyte wise we were in good shape, despite having several stops in a row either out of or not offering Powerade. We started to slow down by the 30K timing mat, though, with an average pace of 11;20 by then, and Suann was having to coax me to keep moving to each water stop, with the promise that I could take a break as soon as I got to there. We were basically moving water stop to water stop by then. She reminded me that it was mental pain, not physical pain that was making me want to slow down. Also keeping me in forward motion was knowing that I would soon be seeing the first of my support crew other than Suann, as Michelle and Greg were waiting for me at somewhere between mile 19 and 20. I had seen my friend Jan a few miles earlier, and even though she wasn't able to meet up with me again because of traffic, I was excited to see my posse.
When we turned the corner into the park at mile 19, I remembered that this was the spot where I met the boys last year, and I killed a good 10 minutes changing socks and shoes. I was glad to be still moving pretty well by then, but honestly, I was hurting pretty badly by then. When we cleared the park and after another bit through the neighborhood found Greg and Michelle, it was such a blessing. I knew that I only had a few miles left to go, and it was so wonderful to have their company. However, by then, I was about an hour past talking more than a few words at a time, and was honestly getting pretty good at letting the three of them get ahead of me just enough that it took them a while to notice each time I slowed to a walk or backed off. They were so helpful to have by my side (or in front of me) and I was amazed at how cheerful and energetic they were after their half-marathons. It was truly a lift, both physically and mentally, to have them come out. After a couple of miles, Michelle let us go on while she went back to her car, leaving Greg and Suann to shepherd me to the White Rock Girls, who were waiting for me at about mile 23.
I heard them before I saw them. As soon as they recognized us coming up the route, they all let out massive cheers, and Suann made me look up and see them. After quick hugs (honestly, I was wanting to linger and stop a bit, but they kept me dragging along even while hugging them!!), we got back to business, with Kris immediately launching into the pancake song, just like out at the Lake! They took turns motivating me and keeping me on task, refusing to let me back off or walk or cry. When we passed under an overpass, we did a group primal scream. I will never forget the feel of Mel's hand on the small of my back when I just felt like I couldn't move any faster, and she literally pushed me forward, keeping me in forward motion. Greg was giving me posture tips, Marci kept threatening to slap my ass if I walked (and actually did it once!!), and Fiona nearly made me cry when she told me I was the strongest person she knew. Actually, at one point or another, each of these amazing women, women who I respect and love for their own strengths of character and perseverance and determination, came up to me separately and told me that exact same thing, that I was the strongest woman they know, and that they were here for me, and they WOULD NOT LET ME FAIL.
What I didn't know, but kind of guessed, and they all knew for sure, is that I was off pace for my goal. They kept telling me I had to push, that I had to give them a little more, that I could NOT slow down. But none of them would give me lap times or in any way give me any indication that I was off pace. They just kept pushing and encouraging and running with me. Kris gave me her arm and pulled me up the last little hill at mile 25. And when I wanted to walk, they would all yell at me, telling me we had come too far for me to slow down now. So I kept going. It hurt. A lot. My right knee was achy by then, not really sharp pain, but definitely was making itself known. My glutes & hamstrings were screaming from the hills, as were the quads. My back ached and I had that awful powerade sweetness in the back of my throat. At one sharp descent onto the trail, my left knee bit me, and it hurt. A lot. Sharp pain. But they kept me moving. And I laughed as much as I could given my state, because these people are a hella lot of fun to be around. Even when you're at mile 25 of a hot, sticky race. Especially when you're at mile 25.
Lots of people noticed my posse and commented that I had this finish in the bag with so much support. I think a lot of runners who passed me thought I was a first-timer, based on the advice I would get as they leapfrogged me. I was obviously hurting, because I kept getting unsolicited advice about fueling and such. But the best comment of the day I heard and could barely respond to was "You have some amazing friends." Yes, I do. I most certainly and unequivocally do.
When we got to the chutes, they peeled off and let me go through on my own, but I could hear them cheering me all the way through. Suann had to find a friend who had run the ultra, but she showed me her Garmin before she left me. She had thought my PR was 5:15, so she thought I had PRd even if I hadn't made sub-5. But my PR is 5:13:57, so I was less than a minute off that. I told her I wasn't disappointed, that I had left everything on that course. It was hot, sticky, hilly and brutal and I did all that I could, and actually a little more than I thought I could, because I couldn't stand to disappoint my amazing friends.
I stopped to get my medal and my finisher photo, and immediately felt a little woozy. My legs were numb & tingly, and I saw a few stars in my eyes and felt lightheaded. I sat for a while and my girls & Greg came over and that's when the waterworks started. I was just so happy that they had done so much for me. A photographer came over and took photos of us hugging and crying - I don't know if I'll be able to find those, but honestly, even though I was still in pain, and nearly about to pass out, I have never felt so amazing. We went through the building where the food was; by the time I got there, all that was really appealing was a little container of Blue Bell ice cream. I was very happy that they let me get a men's finisher shirt in an awesome royal blue instead of forcing me to take a pink women's shirt, that while pretty cool, I would never wear. Then we made our way over to pick up shirts and sat on a bench for a while and recouped before heading out.
On the way to get our shirts, we turned the corner and a tent was playing about the most appropriate song ever, the theme from Friends. When we hit the 24-mile marker, Marci, Mel & Kris all said all that was left was an episode of Friends. And when you stop and listen to the lyrics of that song, as trite & heavy-handed as it may be, they really rang true for us today:
While this race did not go as planned, and I struggled more than I wanted to, I learned so much not about myself, but about these wonderful people that I have been so lucky and so blessed to have come into my life. In their own ways, they each motivated me today, and I am forever grateful to them. Today's race was not about the time on the clock. It was not about the new course (which, by the way, I really do kind of like). It was about the friends who were with me, every step of the way. And that made the entire journey worthwhile. I will take another day like today in a heartbeat over a PR. Because I have rarely felt so loved and so supported and so much a part of something really special as I did today.