We had big plans for the Surf City Half Marathon yesterday. Big Plans. 2 of my girlfriends, Amy and Jen, have been flirting with the sub 2 hour half, and were fully committed to making it happen yesterday. I volunteered to pace them and cheer them on the entire way. I know, super nice of me, right? Not exactly. I knew with my knee I wasn’t going to PR, so at least this way I had a purpose for the run. Not so sweet after all ;).
We started in our correct corral, which never happens, and were off without a hitch. Well, unless you call me making us stop over to the side before we crossed that start waiting for my Garmin to pick up a signal a hitch. We started off at an 8:45 pace, which was a little faster than I was hoping for, but with all the weaving through people it just turned out that way. We finally settled at our 9:15 pace after mile 3.
We took our first Gu after mile 5, and immediately you could tell it didn’t sit well with Amy. As she slowed down a bit, I told Jen to take off and go for it. And that she did. I could see the nerves written all over Amy’s face. The doubt was creeping in, the pain was becoming real, and the fear of failure was coming on strong.
I immediately regretted having her wear her Garmin.
It was time for me to pull out my coaching skills and get her through what might just be a mental wall.
You’ve got this Amy. You’ve worked hard, and you have earned this time. We are out here to fight for this today. You aren’t running, you’re f-ing(I said the real word) racing. To go faster than you have ever gone, you have to push harder than you have even pushed, and it’s going to hurt more than it has ever hurt. But that’s what makes it worth it. Trust me, and go with me, and you can do this!
Tears started to form in her eyes, and I knew it was a lot more than mental. I would run a few paces ahead of her, and point for her to come right by my side. I thought if I could just get her next to me she could hold on to it. But it doesn’t work that way. Her body wasn’t going to cooperate. Her body wasn’t the one that wrote the check that said she would run a sub 2 hour half marathon.
My heart sunk. I remember how I felt at mile 23 in my very first marathon, the point I knew my goal time was out of my reach. Where you question why in the hell you were so vocal about your goal, and how you would have to explain to everyone that you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do. The perfect combination of embarrassment and disappointment.
As we made the turn just after mile 8 to head all the way back down PCH, it became clear to both of us that the sub 2 had slipped out of our reach. Amy broke down at the water stop and started to sob. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, please don’t be disappointed in me.’ I felt horrible, and it was time to be honest.
I shook Amy by the shoulders and told her to STOP! That this was her race, and that the fact that she was even out here running was a miracle. She ran the Tinkerbell half just 6 days before, and in between the 2 races had a nice run in with the stomach flu. So we were going to dry the tears, enjoy the gorgeous day and race, and focus on how delicious the beer would taste in the beer garden.
We started up and saw 2 of our friends cheering us on. Amy started to cry again. I don’t think Amy realizes what an inspiration she is to our friends, and that it has nothing to do with a sub 2.
We struggled all the way back, and spent a lot of that time running holding hands. I wanted Amy to know I was there for her, and that we were crossing that finish line with smiles on our faces, together. And hell, maybe we could set some sort of record for the longest hand holding during a race.
Just after mile 12 we saw Amy’s family- her husband, both kids, and 2 best friends with their kiddos- screaming and cheering like maniacs! The tears started up again for us both. This is what is was all about. Mommy was out there working hard, and not giving up. And that is a lesson that can only be taught by example. Amy could’ve given up the minute she realized she wasn’t going to reach the goal she set for herself for that day. But she never did.
After an orange slice, and a big gulp of water, Amy started to choke. Literally. She couldn’t breathe, and the small gasps she was getting in were a high pitched squeal. I tried to stay calm while I was freaking out on the inside. Where was the medical cart? How would I get them here without causing a scene, or causing Amy to panic? Hmmm, I wonder if the EMT is cute. But as quickly as it came on, she found her breath, and we were off again.
She grabbed my hand and said, let’s do this. And she was serious. She picked up the pace(7:47 to be exact), we were passing people left and right, maintaining the tight grip we had on each other’s hand. We were in this together, and she was ready to finish strong. She never let up until we crossed the finish line, and we collapsed into each other’s arms and tears.
She had finished what she will tell you is the hardest race she has done to date. We cried because it was finally over, because we got to cross together, I cried because I had never been more proud of her in my life. And I think she cried for the same reason. And guess what? Our time was 2:09:24. A solid 30 seconds faster than she ran the same half last year.
It’s hard to recover from a race like that. Hard to see the silver lining sometimes. But, that it what running is all about. It’s like a relationship. There are ups and downs, a lot of drama and struggle, but man when it’s good….it makes it all worthwhile.
I reminded Amy of that, as Kim and I nursed her running ego wounds the best way we know how.
It didn’t happen that day, but the great thing about running is that redemption is always right around the corner. You ALWAYS get another chance to be better.