Yesterday, a day after turning 36 and four months to the day of losing a very important person in my life, I completed my first half marathon.
To say the race had a significant meaning to me is not saying enough.
I´m a bit sore this morning and I´m probably going to lose a toenail. I had a difficult time getting out of bed, and my legs want to remain in the same running position that they carried me through on yesterday. My lower back is stiff and my shoulders and neck ache from being held in the same angle for over two hours.
But the memory of crossing the finish line erases all of that.
The morning was beautiful and perfect for a long run: In the mid-50s, fog rolled in from the Pacific for the entire length of the run. As I ran I watched the ocean waves breaking against the sand on the left hand side of the course and the birds in the wetlands on the right. I took in pieces of scenery like they were snapshots, storing them in the photo album of my mind: the early morning surfers, the seagulls flying in a V formation over the ocean, the oil rigs digging into the ground across from the Pacific.
I also watched the participants, which came in a variety of shapes, ages, and sizes. One man that was in his seventies or eighties wore a black shirt that read 100+ marathons.
Several girls ran in front of me for a while, talking about their wedding dresses, the place they would wed, and where they were going for their honeymoons.
One man carried two American flags throughout the entire race.
A younger girl and her boyfriend headed toward the finish line beside me. She was running out of steam and he was encouraging her along. "You did it," he told her, and it was almost as if he was saying it to me.
Some people joked. One particularly funny man that I ran beside for a while spotted the fastest of the runners as they made their way back toward us after turning the bend. "Just think," he said, "the race is almost over for them." We were forty minutes into the race and had a good hour and a half to go. Two men in front of us stopped to walk after hearing this joke and I laughed and told the first guy that he wasn´t doing so well as a motivational speaker.
After we had made our turn and were headed back, passing the runners that were jogging at a slower pace, I heard one lady encouraging her friend. "Don´t beat yourself up. You´re doing a great job."
The course was great. It went north on the Pacific Coast Highway, up through the Bolsa Chica wetlands area, and then circled back. We turned and ran through part of the city at one point. People stood on their porches watching and cheering the runners as they drank their morning cups of coffee. Some held up signs for their loved ones. I saw a lot of moms and dads with babies on the sidelines, probably waiting for their respective spouses to jog by. One man met his wife along the course and offered her water and encouragement.
I took all of this in as though they were there to encourage only me.
The first six miles went by quickly. Then I hit a wall around mile seven. Instead of focusing on the race, the other runners, the scenery, and the business and personal issues that I wanted to think about while I ran, my thoughts revolved around how I would finish the race if I still had an hour left to run.
I made it to mile eight, which started up a pretty good incline, and as I pumped my arms to climb the hill I decided my strategy would be to take one mile at a time. I asked myself if I could run for ten more minutes and the answer was yes. I didn´t want to think that I had fifty more minutes of the race to go.
At mile nine, we got gooey gel packs and water. A man watching yelled out, "You´re 75% done! You can do it!" I imagined my husband and daughter waiting at the finish line.
At mile ten, I knew I only had three miles to go. Thirty minutes. Compared to two hours, thirty minutes would be a breeze. My toes started to hurt, which normally happens around this mile, but I ignored the pain by watching the small silhouettes of surfers as they bobbed along the water.
At mile eleven, I ran a little faster, and at mile number twelve I ran even faster, adrenaline popping up from some unknown area in my body, pushing me toward the end.
I could say that it was easy, but it wasn´t: not all of it, anyway. My knee hurt some in the beginning, and I felt a little dizzy at one point, probably from lack of sleep the night before. I got really hungry around the hour and a half point, and I ran out of my own drink before crossing the finish line, which meant trying to chug water out of a small cup while running (which never works.)
At times I got stuck on how I would get through, or what would happen if I couldn´t. That´s when I used my recent blog post strategy of remembering that it was all in my head. I just needed to keep my focus and my positive thoughts. I knew all along that my body could do it, and that I had trained over the last two months for this race. My legs were ready. My feet were eager. It was my mind that had to be trained.
I knew that all I had to do was keep thinking that I could do it, and I would do it.
And I did.
I feel great about the accomplishment. I feel now that I can do anything that I set my mind to doing.
I just hope that the memory of crossing that finish line will stick with me over time when I need that little reminder.