After a difficult time falling asleep, I am now convinced I have overslept. I look at the clock. Repeat until…
I turn off both alarm clocks, which had been set for 5:15. I go to the guest bedroom where my race day clothes have been carefully arranged. The coffee begins to brew downstairs. I get dressed. I eat a banana. I pin my race bib on my shirt. #24066.
Beth’s dad arrives to shuttle us and two other runners to the starting line. We’ve been warned about road closures, but surprisingly have no trouble getting downtown. With an hour and a half to go until race time and with chilly, windy weather, we duck into a nearby hotel and enjoy their couches and restrooms.
We leave the warmth of the hotel and move toward the corrals. Beth is in corral 10 and I’m in 24, so we get a quick picture and then a quick hug at the starting line before heading our separate ways.
The starting gun fires. I can barely hear it, I’m so many, many blocks back. I’m chatting with the other fine folks of corral 24, bouncing up and down to stay warm and ease nerves. Up ahead, a river of runners begins streaming down Bay Street. It will be almost 40 minutes before I make it to the starting line. I’m nervous but excited. I’m ready.
Corral 24 finally reaches the starting line, and after a brief countdown we’re off! The crowd spreads out quickly and nicely, and suddenly it’s time for my first walk break. I’ve been training with a 2:1 interval – 2 minutes of running followed by a 1 minute walk break. It takes every ounce of willpower I have to stop running because I’m hyped up and ready to take off. But I’d been warned that giving in to early-race excitement could lead to mid-race burnout. I know these early walk breaks are key to preserving energy for the final miles. I have a plan and I’m determined to stick with it. As soon as my timer tells me to run again, I’m thrilled.
We wind our way through West Savannah and I’m so pleased to see how many residents have shown up to cheer for this mass of complete strangers. I position myself at the edge of the road so I can touch all the outstretched hands and am the recipient of dozens of high fives.
I find myself overwhelmed, being surrounded by so much positive energy. I find myself in disbelief that race day is finally here. I suddenly feel emotional. I tell myself there is no crying on race day.
More quickly than I can believe, we reach the 5K point. Photographers are positioned on a crane above the road and I give them a triumphant cheer.
By the time we head into downtown, just past mile 7, my nerves have vanished and are replaced with assurance and confidence. It’s not that I don’t think I’ll get tired. I know I’ll get tired. But those first 7 miles flew by and I am nowhere near ready to stop.
I had three goals going into this race. Number one – finish. By mile 7, I feel like unless something unforeseen happens, I will definitely finish. Number two (and the least important) – finish in under 3 hours. I’m not sure about my pace at this point, but I’m increasingly less interested in it. Number three – enjoy the race. This one is the trickiest, because it’s not something over which I have ultimate control. I can’t make myself like the race, no matter how badly I want to like it. My secret fear had been that I would train so hard for so long and then find the race day to be miserable and disappointing. I was scared I wouldn’t want to race anymore.
By mile 7, that fear is gone. Even if the next six miles are treacherous, I’ve enjoyed the first seven enough to make up for it.
After mile 9 I tell myself I’m close enough to the end that I can drop my walk breaks without jeopardizing my ability to finish. I don’t drop all of them but I drop most of them for a while.
At mile 11, I’m really beginning to feel the fatigue, although I’m actually surprised it took this long to feel so tired. I had hoped not to walk during the last mile, but I find myself periodically breaking stride to catch my breath. I am ready to be done.
Then finally – FINALLY – we turn the corner onto Drayton street and I can see the finish line. Suddenly my energy is back and I’m passing people – not because I want to beat them but because victory is so close. I step over the finish line meter that will register my official time of 2:43:50. I want to cry but I don’t.
After receiving my finisher’s medal, I search the huge crowd in Forsyth Park for Lee and Camille, the two people I want to see most at this moment. I finally find them. I’m tired. I’m sore.
I’m so happy.