When I lined up in the starting corral of the Rock N Roll Savannah Half-Marathon, I was afraid.
Every race comes with unknowns. You can train well and still not predict all the obstacles you may encounter on the course. Despite that, I usually feel ready when I’m at the starting line.
But that Saturday, I had no idea what to expect. My longest run of the previous 8 weeks had been 5.5 miles. Were my lungs and heart ready for 13.1? And my achilles had only just stopped hurting. Would this race un-do all my recovery? Would there come a point in the race when I would have to make that judgement call – would I have to quit?
My first post-injury run had been only two weeks prior, and I had been a nervous wreck taking that first jogging step. My achilles felt a little sore and tender, but with each run I noticed it less and less. And it felt so gloriously good to run again.
It’s funny – when I first injured myself, I was in a panic about my upcoming races. They seemed so important, and were the focus of my recovery plan. But over the weeks of therapy, I thought less and less about the races, and more and more about just going for a run. Running my neighborhood, running a trail, running on vacation – all the little runs I’d always taken for granted. I was so tired of feeling fragile, and just wanted to be able to run again.
I still had a goal of running the Rock n Roll, mostly because my best friends were running it too. And I wanted to prove to myself that I really could still do it. But the Rock n Roll finish line was no longer my top priority. The finish line I cared about most was a figurative one – the one at the end of long life of happy running. One race seemed small in comparison.
On race morning, as our corral crossed the start line, I had beside me the best running aide a person could hope for – a good friend. Nicole had nailed an impressive PR two weeks prior in the Athens Half, and for this race decided to just hang with me. I’d warned her I’d be slow. And possibly a mental basket case. But she signed on anyway, because she’s great like that.
The miles began to slowly slip by, and we talked. And talked. About everything and nothing. And the longer we talked, the less I thought about my achilles. The fear began to lift.
For the first time in any of my races, I could also look forward to seeing friendly faces in the crowd. At mile 5, my heart leapt to see Camille and her buddies on the sidewalk, holding signs and yelling for us. I stopped for a hug and a kiss, and my steps felt lighter.
Around mile 8, I was so pleased to still be pain-free that I really began to enjoy the race. Nicole and I laughed together at the creative posters (“I thought this was a Law and Order Marathon!”). We stopped for pictures. I rang the bell in Gordonston. I turned on some tunes and even sang a little (I’m sure the other runners appreciated that).
When a spectator was standing in the road, offering up a cup and yelling, “Beer! Beer!” I thought, “Why not?” She seemed excited to have a runner take her up on the offer. It was cold and delicious.
By mile 11 though, the fatigue was really starting to kick in and the remaining 2 miles loomed long. Then off to my right, I saw a bright pink poster that said, “Go Go Ginger!”
“How neat!” I thought. “Another Ginger is running this race – I’ll wave to them and pretend it’s for me.” Then I took a closer look and realized Boo was holding up the poster, flanked by Erin and Eli. Just when I was starting to fade, their smiling faces brought fresh energy.
In the final half mile, I saw another familiar face. It was Ernie, my physical therapist, having finished his race and come back to cheer for the rest of us. I ran over to give him a high five. “I’m so proud of you!” he said. I was proud of me too.
Then we made the turn to the finish line, and I couldn’t stop grinning as Nicole and I crossed under the arch together. If you just look at my finish time, the race was a personal worst as my slowest half-marathon ever. But considering all the difficulties of the previous months, I think it was one of my best finishes ever.
And finally, waiting there in our designated reunion spot, was the face I needed to see most. Lee had run his first half marathon and I’d been thinking about him all morning, hoping all had gone well. He had a finisher’s medal hanging around his neck and a congratulatory kiss just for me.
What a great day it was.