Friday, February 19, 2010

The First 13.1

The morning was chilly and crisp. I hopped out of bed without the weekday morning dread and glanced over at the clothes I’d layed out the night before. Today was Austin Half Marathon Day! In five hours I’d be crossing the finish line on Congress Avenue!

While I’ve never had any doubts about finishing, I did have concerns about the weather. I haven’t had much experience running in cold weather and finding the right combination of clothes to wear for a 13.1 mile run is a challenge! Fortunately, I had a good luck charm.

Three weeks earlier I cheered for my friends running the 3M Half marathon. At some point, a woman shed her blue fleece jacket right in front of me and tossed it on the ground. Knowing I had my half coming up, I picked it up and it was just my size! So I wore it to the Austin Half and planned to “pay it forward” so someone else could have a chance to wear it, too.

So there I was- running up Congress Avenue with my borrowed fleece for miles one through three. Things felt good. I dropped off my fleece somewhere around Bird’s Barbershop. The air felt good. The Austin Half is special because at nearly every mile, a non-profit team is there to cheer you on and a live band is not far away. There is something to look forward to at each mile!

I knew I was going to have a great race when I rounded the turn from Ben White to South 1st Street and I could hear “Sweet Caroline” coming from the LIVESTRONG water stop. The volunteers gave me some extra cheers when they read my name on my bib. “There she goes!” yelled one of them.

I walked the water stop at mile 6 and ate a few shot bloks. I was still feeling pretty fresh after the long South 1st downhill and was ready to being the second half of the race. “The Question” came up for me around mile 7.5. What ever made me think I could do this? What was I thinking? I cleared my head of the negative thoughts and attempted to appreciate the fact that the weather was amazing and that I was fulfilling a goal I never even knew I had. The doubt quickly evaporated. When you push your boundaries, you in effect, remove them.

I also began to truly appreciate my friends who were racing, volunteering and simply there to cheer me on. How wonderful it is to see friendly familiar faces and hear encouraging voices when you’re in a tough spot. They were my witnesses.

The back side of the race, the rolling hills of Enfield, was the real challenge. Not only did I have to stop to take my first potty break ever, but I also walked for about a minute. I didn’t want to walk, but I started to feel really frustrated and I needed to collect myself. It was a good decision. I resumed my run and climbed up the second-to-last hill under Mopac. I had to really dig but I knew the BIG challenge was coming.

When Enfield changes to 15th Street, it might as well turn into Mt. Shasta. But its all mental. The hill is just a hill. I considered walking it for a brief moment, but it was actually easier to run up than walk. About ¾ of the way up I could hear my friends cheering for me and that fueled me enough to finish strong.

When I topped that hill, I kicked into gear and I ran my last mile with just about everything I had left. Counting down the streets: Guadalupe, Lavaca, Colorado and Congress! I ran down the West side of the Capitol and into the finish line alley- the cheers were incredible! Then, across the finish line and it was over. My first 13.1!

My final time was 2:59:41. My goal time for a half marathon is 2:15, so I have some work to do. But considering that two years ago I could not run ½ mile without stopping, this is pretty impressive. It hit me on my way home from the course. I think I was listening to “Hard Sun” as sung by Eddie Vedder and I began laughing. Laughing then crying. Even as I write this, I reach out to touch my finisher’s medal and I get a little lump in my throat.