Sunday I ran 13.1 miles in the AthHalf in Athens, GA.
I went to this race for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to run in support of my friend who I had been trying to talk into doing a half for years. When she finally made the decision to do one, I wanted to do it with her.
The morning of the race though, I got very nervous. I liken it to the feeling of what I remember about going into labor the second and third times. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about - the moment when the first really strong contractions kick in and you suddenly remember how very painful this whole labor and birth process is.
I swallowed hard and by the time we made it to the lobby of our hotel, I turned on the smile for the other friends who had joined us, three of whom were running their first half. Can you believe that I taught three of these fine young ladies when they were in high school?
It was a brisk 42 degrees and I was freezing which helped to numb me up for the beginning of the race. When it was finally time to start, I was ready and excited. Those first few miles went by fast. I felt good, the crowds were thick, and the hills weren't too bad.
You see this picture? It was taken in the first two miles and I was happy. I was feeling like this could be the race that I run without pain. Don't I look like I love running?
And that's the way I felt for the first eight miles. The weather was perfect, the fans were encouraging, and the legs were working. I had miles where I was running faster than I had run through my whole training. It was great.
And then came mile nine.
The hills got steeper, the legs got tighter and my spirit sank. I went from a running mantra of, "Thank You Jesus! Thank You Jesus!" to, "Please Jesus! Please Jesus!"
Here I am limping into the final mile, the one where you're supposed to kick it in and fly home basking in the glow of the knowledge that you just did what you did. Instead I was dreading the finish line. I was hurting. I was slow. I knew that there would be no one at that finish line who understood why I was not excited to cross that line.
The last bit of the course was running through the hedges in the stadium of the University of Georgia. It sounds very cool and it was except for the fact that nobody was in the stadium. It was the loneliest last lap of a race ever. By the time I came to the end of the tunnel, I wanted to throw in the towel. My legs hurt so bad I had to walk up the tunnel ramp, the one that was a few feet from the finish.
This is me limping to the end, trying to smile because I didn't want to ruin my friend's first race and I knew her son was going to be taking my picture (vain through the pain, don't you love it?).
I remember giving her a big hug and telling her, "Congratulations! You did it! You did it faster than what you thought. Way to go!" Then I remember trying to lose my friends in the bustle of the food tent so they wouldn't see me cry. I know how pathetic that sounds. I know that running that far is an amazing feat no matter how you get the job done. I knew all those things and more, but after running that far, I didn't have the energy to hold back something as lightweight as tears.
So this picture is the one she insisted on getting, even as I was still trying to wipe my face. Not my best moment.
Thanks be to God, I pulled it together after a few sniffles. See me here? Can you tell how very proud I was of my sweet friend? I was not too far removed from the moment that I couldn't recall the feeling of finishing my first half and it's wonderful. Do you see it on her face?
Not only that, but then we celebrated with the youngest of our friends who placed second in her age group at a fast as lightening pace (in my book anyway). Ah to be young!
Then it happened, my very favorite moment of the race. I picked up my bag and my phone rang. It was my brother Kevin who was in Athens for an event on Saturday and stayed the night just so he could come to the race and support me.
This was about ten seconds after I spotted him in his suit. He was celebrating the victory of completing something he knew from experience was hard for me. He didn't care or even ask about my time. He just hugged me and cheered.
Now there's the joy!
Just seeing his face made everything better for me. He reminded me of how far I had just run and how awesome it was that I did it.
I have talked many times about my family and how we support each other. This was one of those moments when I was reminded of the gift that that support is to me. I felt loved, encouraged and at peace.
Kevin, I know that you sacrificed a lot to see me that day. I want you to know that your presence at that moment turned a pitiful, self-indulgent disappointment into a more appropriate celebration. You saved me from myself and I will never forget it.
A big congratulations to my friends who ran that day. The one I ran for has already texted me wanting to know if I thought she could be ready for a full marathon in March. Amazing! I told her I was sure she would be and that I will be her biggest supporter. Only this time, I'm going to support her morally, not physically. I'm determined to stick to the half until I figure out how to do it without pain.