Ripping Off the Band-Aid
If chicking boys was my goal at Halloween’s Race 13.1 Charleston, then I succeeded with flying colors. Not only did I complete my first race in over two years(!), but it was the very first time that I was not only the fastest female but the fastest runner there – Period.
But – to be honest – the race was a bit anticlimactic. Given the circumstances, I was probably lucky to squeak out the 1:22:46 that I did, but I definitely didn’t jog away feeling really proud or satisfied with my performance.
The weekend started off solid – I arrived Friday afternoon at my hotel located on beautiful Middleton Place, an historic plantation located just outside of Charleston on the Ashley River. I was able to fit in a quick tour of the house museum and catch a glimpse of the lush gardens before trotting off to meet friends for dinner at the downtown Italian restaurant Indacco. For dinner, I carbo-loaded on bread and the mezzaluna pasta. I also had a glass of pinor noir, but the ridiculous butterflies that I had been experiencing that day stayed with me until bedtime.
For the most part, my butterflies were the good kind – The kind you got when you were in college and a cute boy sits beside you in lecture hall. But I did have one dark moment when my nerves got the best of me, and I questioned what I was even doing racing. That kind of stress is just not fun. But, fortunately, I put my mind and body to rest and got a good night’s sleep before Saturday morning’s race.
I awoke at 5 am, three hours before race start, to eat breakfast which consisted of a banana, a chocolate chip cliff bar, and a couple cups of coffee. I had some orange juice in the mini fridge but I totally forgot about it until I was leaving for the race and by then it was too late – I had stopped drinking at 6 am.
A few minutes before 7 am, DJ PJ stopped spinning (Polaroid is my favorite pre-run jam right now!), and I hopped in my car and drove the very short distance to the race start which was located on private property just across the street from Middleton Place. Even though I was staying so close to the race start, I was glad that I didn’t wait any later to leave since it took a bit longer than expected to get directed in to a parking spot. And I still needed to get my bib and warm up! But all was well – After tip-toing over wet grass and a muddy path (I did not want to start the race with wet feet!), I made my way up to the check-in tent and race start with plenty of time to spare. The sun was just starting to come up, and I was glad that the temperatures felt cool.
About twenty or so minutes before the start, I began doing a bit of light jogging and a few strides to warm up. I was almost ready to head towards the starting line when I heard an announcer come over the sound system to inform us that they were pushing back the starting time 15 minutes due to the traffic jam coming in to the parking lot. I was a bit thrown – I had scheduled my morning precisely and here the race directors were pushing back the whole start fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! I should have had my breakfast at 5:15, not 5:00 am. But yeah, you’re right, it really turned out to not be a big deal, and I’m sure if I were one of those still stuck in traffic, I’d be grateful for the delay!
Around 8:10, we finally began gathering in preparation to begin the task of running 13.1 miles. I took a place on the starting line and hoped I wouldn’t regret being overly confident. I had started sipping on a Gatorade a few minutes before and in the last couple of minutes before the start, I took the opportunity to slowly down an organic Strawberry Kiwi Honey Stinger energy gel.
Before I knew it, the race was off! Several runners including two girls sprung ahead and quickly put a little bit of distance on me. One of the girls, I was able to pick off in the first mile, but a pack of three – two guys and a girl aka the “Citadel” and the “Couple” remained out of touch until mile three or four when I made contact after slowly closing the gap.
The next several miles spent winding through the forest paths, I was grateful to have some company. It was a very strange race because I almost felt like I wasn’t in a race at all. There was no crowd support or music or even water stations for a while (which forced me to down a couple of gels sans liquid). I almost felt like I was on any other long run.
I’m not sure how long the Couple stayed with us but it wasn’t long before it was just the Citadel and me. The Citadel had led throughout the entire race and had really done all the work with the Couple lingering right behind. However, the trails made it very difficult for people to run side by side or pass one another.
The race advertised hard-packed dirt roads. I had envisioned something similar to what I have run on at the McAlpine Creek cross country course or the one unpaved mile on the McMullen Creek greenway. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong or more disappointed. To be fair, the recent flood and rain hadn’t helped. The course had been re-routed to avoid some of the flooded areas, but the race director warned us at the start that there were still muddy spots (where I seriously felt like I was spinning my legs without much traction!). He also advised us to watch our footing given the uneven terrain. What I didn’t realize until I was out on the course was that these paths had probably never had a runner run over them. Instead, they had two clear grooves from vehicle wheels and a big hump in the middle. The grassy areas were also not like the smooth turfs of football fields – Instead, they were bumpy, old plots of land. Thus, even though I spent the whole race staring at the ground and not enjoying the scenery (I hear we ran past a lake), I still stumbled and rolled my ankle about half a dozen times. I used enough profanity while trying to navigate the terrain that if the race director got wind, I probably won’t be invited back.
So, once it was just the Citadel and me, I hopped over in to the other tire groove and tried to start running beside him to share the work. And to be honest, it’s a bit harder to see the path when you are right behind someone! But as I chatted with the Citadel, he started letting off the gas and I thought he was pulling the chute. This was around mile seven or eight I would guess – definitely too early for me to have to run the rest by myself. I seriously pleaded with him to stay with me and then apologized for how needy I sounded.
Around mile ten though, the Citadel had done his duty and I was beginning to feel like a barn-sour horse running back to the stables. Unfortunately, I had caught up with the 5K and 10K runners who had a later start and I was having to weave around them as best I could.
I wish I could say that in those last few miles, I floored it and left everything on the course. But mostly, I just didn’t care. Perhaps it was the lack of crowd support or that I had securely wrapped up the win by then. Or maybe it was because instead of feeling like I was leading a race, I felt like just another 5K/10K runner. Obviously, the fact that my plantar fasciitis was killing me at that point and I hadn’t put in the training miles didn’t help.
As I neared the finish line, I held my pace steady and was passing by a 5K or 10K male runner. As he sensed my presence, he decided to sprint to the finish line and basically appeared to outkick me if anyone was watching. I halfway thought about picking up my pace, but I just thought it was inappropriate/immature…We weren’t even running the same race! So, the guy who stole my thunder crossed the finish line right before me and had his name and hometown called out just before the announcer called out my name and hometown – and only my name and hometown. There was absolutely no mention that hey – here’s the first half marathon finisher! Even after crossing the finish line, the race director asked me if I ran the half, and after I replied “Yes,” he just was just like “Ok. Thanks.” He only wanted to know for logistical purposes. There was not even a congratulations. I know it may seem silly or even arrogant to expect a Congrats on winning a race, but it still hurt my feelings a little. I just think it really summed up the whole race experience – Underwhelming.
I did see the Citadel cross the finish line about a minute after me, and I walked up to him and gave him a high five and thanked him for his help throughout the race. Even though the race directors may not have appreciated our efforts, the Citadel and I were each other’s cheerleaders – We knew what the other had just been through.
I spent Halloween night back in Charlotte handing out candy and nursing my foot. I honestly felt a bit like my dog – pretty pooped that is. (She had been playing hard at Carolina Doggie Playland while I was away)
Even though I didn’t run the race of my life, I am still very thankful about getting out there again and putting down something. And while I am ready and excited about healing up my plantar fasciitis and hopefully getting in better shape for spring races, I have tried to pause and appreciate the significance of my first race back after a long injury and illness-filled absence. No one said ripping off the band-aid was going to be easy. And to be able to just get back out there and compete again, really is a small miracle by itself.
And you know what’s also hard to believe? (I’ve really saved the best for last to reward those who made it through this very lengthy blog post.) I met Deena Kastor, you know – just the fastest American woman ever in the marathon and half marathon, a few days after my race at an Asics promotional stop at the Fleet Feet Sports of Winston Salem. Needless to say, I was totally star struck and totally uncool. 🙂