Race morning is my favorite.
It's better than Christmas, it's better than vacation, it's better than the day I got to pick up my new bike and ride it. On most race mornings, I've spent the better part of the preceding days being crabby and stapled to my couch, and I finally get to let all that energy explode out of me. I blast music, I bounce off the inside of the windshield, and my shoes appear to have been overnight loaded with springs. It usually hangs around until I get into my corral and then I try to suck it all back inside me and save it for mile 11.
Saturday morning went perfectly. I ate and drank the things I needed to eat and drink, I had not one but two successful deliveries to the porta-potty wizard, I mixed up my race fuel and even managed to spray the poet with sunscreen a few times when he wasn't paying attention. For the first time in a long time, the entire mafia was going to be out there racing, all of us with different goals but all of us with a fire lit. I saw two of my girls in the armory and was overwhelmed with relief when I stumbled across the third on the way to the starting line. That checked my last box. I was ready.
I'm not sure how my predicted finish time put me in corral three, but I decided to stay there to get as far ahead of the heat that I could. I knew that meant thousands of runners would stream past me all day, but it also meant I would get to see most of my friends as they rolled by. And I did.
I think the best thing about the race was that it was generally unremarkable, and based on the recent disaster that's been going on in my brain, that's actually pretty remarkable. I set up my Garmin so my screen was telling me total time, total distance, and lap pace, and it was exactly the information I needed and none of it stressed me out. Based on the loose race plan I had for myself, I knew that I might PR, but I also knew that I might not, and I wasn't going to waste the whole race doing math trying to make it happen.
I went out at exactly the speed that I wanted to go out at - 9:30s - and I stayed there through the first four miles and felt amazing. I had to hit the brakes over and over to keep it there, and once I realized that there were mile markers on the course I turned off auto-lap and had to lap my watch to catch up, so my splits don't look like that is what was going on, but that's what I did. When I lapped my watch at mile 4, I decided that I would try and push just a little up the hills that were coming, and that worked well, too. I popped out of the other side of the Dupont tunnel and thought of where I was last year, and how my friend Cris jumped in and ran me up the hill, and I let her run me up it once more. At the top of the hill, I slowed at the water station to slug down half my flask of magic beans and chase it with some water. The whole day, I had been thinking about mile eight. When I got to eight, it was time to see what I could do.
And it all just went well. Miles eight through eleven were solid. I was holding a pace that didn't terrify me to hold and just felt slightly a little bit too hard. I tried to ease up the rolling hills and let my heart relax and breathe on the downhills. A lot of people think about the half marathon in terms of a 10-miler and a 5K, but I hate the 5K. The 5K sucks. So instead, I wanted to wait until I hit mile 11 to turn on the turbo boosters. I know that I can run two miles in 15-16 minutes at the end of a long run. I did it a month ago during the last long run I had before this race, and I was hoping that my body would respond to my brain and let me pull that out at the end of this race. But it didn't, and maybe for the first time that day, I could feel that piece that was missing from the last month of my training - the long run. Mile 12 was the slowest on the day, mostly because I stopped to walk a few times. My body tried to distract me with a cramping quad, and I ended up bending over and yelling, "STOP IT" at the top of my lungs directly at it. Once I went past the last mile marker, I pushed every single thought out of my head and rewound that stupid Jessie J song one more time and tried to just let it all go. I did not hear a single solitary person cheering during that last mile until I caught Jon and Beth right before the 13-mile mark, and when I twisted my head to look at them, I thought I was going to black out.
I stopped as soon as I crossed the line, and a volunteer patted me on the back and said, "great job!" and it felt like she hit me with a sledgehammer. I managed to grab onto the fence and hung out there for a few minutes while my body put blood back into all the places I needed it. But pretty quickly I felt just fine, and was able to stuff bananas and chocolate milk and granola bars down my pants before I went to find my family. And this is how I looked when they found me.
When all the dust of the day settled, the only thing I am left with is peace. I still haven't been able to put the parts together to race this distance in the way that I would like, but I am pleased with how Saturday went down. I had a lot of successes that were not related to the time on the clock. I got to wake up happy, run hard, then spend the day with my friends and family, and that has got to be what this is all about.
Maybe my glory days aren't meant to be fast, to be filled with PR after PR after PR. Maybe I'll never put the pieces together in the right order to run a 1:49 at this distance. I'm starting to realize that I'm okay if that is the answer, if that indeed is my journey. Maybe the glory about these days is the fact that I can love my body, I can move my body and I can use it to celebrate how lucky I am to be living this life.
And I am, indeed. Lucky.