July 7, 2009

Going Halvsies

Okay, Sauvie Island, check it out: Maybe...maybe...we could go half on a marathon. What do you think?

To say that I did not plan well for race day is an understatement. My head hit the pillow no earlier than midnight the night before, my body spent and exhausted after 4 hours of flying and schlepping through airports. My belly ached, courtesy of having In-N-Out burger for dinner (Note to self: fast food does not equal adequate pre-race nutrition.) I overslept my alarm and woke with a start at 5:15 AM, desperately rushing to get out the door.

Reaching Sauvie Island in time for the 7:00 AM start was no small feat. Traffic came to a standstill near the St. John's bridge, and we inched along infuriatingly. I watched, anxious, as the minutes ticked by: 6:15, 6:20, 6:30, 6:40. When the clock struck 6:45 and I could see the start line, I practically fell out of the car and sprinted over.

I had a mere 15 minutes to register, pick up my number, and wait in the horrendous lines for the port-a-loo. The start time was delayed a few minutes, so I lined up at precisely the right moment. A young musician played a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful" on the tuba, and we were off!

I smiled as I took my first few strides. The start was slow, as the pack bunched up around me. I swished past some of the slower runners and watched as the crowd thinned out. It took me a couple of minutes to settle in, and then I remembered The Plan I'd hatched in my mind to run smart on this day.

A half marathon sounds hard if you think of it as 13.1 miles. If you break it up into two 10-K's, with a mile at the end, it seems more manageable. I planned to spend the first two miles settling in, keeping the pace up but not killing myself. After that, I needed to kick it up a notch and steadily increase my speed. After the first 10-K, I planned to stop for a few seconds and refuel. The last 10-K? Run like I stole something. The last mile? Finish strong. Whatever I do, don't bonk.

The first two miles were scenic and casual. My mind was all over the place, going over every subtle nuance of the road, and how I felt. Once I passed the 2nd Mile marker, something inside my brain clicked. My eyes narrowed. My jaw set. I picked a focal point and set my gaze intently on it: The Guy With The Red Shirt. My arms pumped, my feet turned over, and my body fell into a hypnotic rhythm. I engaged in a zone of mental clarity and focus unlike any other I've experienced. Throbbing music swirled in my ears and propelled my feet forward.

Nothing else matters right now
, I told myself. It's just you and this road. You will finish in two hours. You will do it.

I kept this intense focus locked throughout the first 10-K. I never let The Guy With The Red Shirt out of my sight. When I reached the 6 Mile marker, I stopped briefly as planned. I drank fluids, I ate a packet of chocolate Gu. I checked my time thus far: 58 minutes. Excellent, right in line with my goal. Gotta keep up the momentum. I took off for the second half, willing my focus to stick. Don't break the trance. Keep the body moving, pick up those feet. I remembered the levitation game I played as a kid, and adopted it as my mantra:

Light as a feather, stiff as a board.

If the first half was mostly Body, the second half was all Mind. I tried not to let myself give in to the pain. The sun beat down on my body relentlessly, and the bug spray mixed with sweat stung my eyes, but my feet and arms kept moving like clockwork. I forced myself to try and keep up the momentum, even though The Guy With The Red Shirt was so far ahead of me that I couldn't see him any more. People all around me eventually broke their stride and walked, but I didn't stop once. I pressed on. I kept the focus and mental clarity that had me in a trance.

The Guy With The Red Shirt finally stumbled into a walk, and I sailed right past him.

When you hit the 10 Mile marker, you can stop for a second and refuel, I promised myself. You can have a Gu packet and finish that last bottle of Cytomax. Just keep going. Just get there. Then you only have two miles left. Run fast, faster than you ever have.

I hit the marker, refueled, and took off for the home stretch. Everything hurt terribly, but I tried to breathe long and slow into the trouble spots. When I hit the last mile, The Plan told me to go all out. I tried desperately to pick up the pace, but I struggled. I could see the finish, just around a big bend, and thought I would never make it. Focus. Breathe.

A burst of adrenaline surged through my body when I approached the finish line. Hundreds of people lined up with cameras, signs, and smiles for their loved ones. I flew past the finish and slowed down to a walk. I hit "stop" on my heart rate monitor and wheezed heavily as I stared at the resulting data:

Miles run: 13.1
Time: 2:07:01
Calories Burned: 1477

They put a medal around my neck and I felt like a winner. They put strawberry shortcake in my hands and I realized I could eat whatever I wanted.

I had definitely earned it.


  1. YAY nice job =). And thanks... I'd forgotten the trick of breaking the run in to smaller pieces trick. Works wonders... a 10K is always do-able, right? SF 1/2 is in 2 wks!

  2. Good luck, lady. You're going to kill it!

  3. Very impressive considering the fact that you just cruised in from SoCal, Party Centrale...