Remember how on Friday I was all like, "Strategy, splits, hydration, blah, blah, blah?"
Well, by night as I sat in our backyard eating salted watermelon, I devised a new strategy. It was clean, simple, and to the point.
Run like hell.
I liked the ring of it.
Saturday started before the sun at 4:45am. A tiny scoop of oatmeal with raspberry jam has become my new favorite pre-race meal. I arrived at the starting line too early, a result of a lead foot and way too many green lights. As I paced the parking lot nervously, scanning the crowd for familiar faces, I knew my odds were good; there were over ten friends from boot camp running that morning as well. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to - running in a real race with my boot camp comrades. After having spent the last three months running hills with these folks at 6am, this felt like a Boot Camp Field Trip. Or at the very least, a final exam (which is kind of silly because boot camp never ends.)
We eventually found all of our people and divided up among our corrals. I had listed "1:50" as my finish time, which put me in the first block. As I looked around at the thin, angular people around me, I felt like a giant. I just hoped they didn't throw me an annoyed elbow after the gun went off. I know, I was surprised at my seeding too. Whatever, dudes. You can run around me and my massive bulk (comparatively speaking).
I had been advised to run well over race pace for the first two miles to bank some time. If I got out ahead right in the beginning, I wouldn't have the unpleasant chore of trying to make up time towards the later end of the race. Besides, I knew the course well - it was not exactly conducive to PRs. While the first two miles were downhill, the next five were up. It's about an 800 foot elevation gain, which is no big shake if you are just out for an easy run. But when you are attempting to run about 30 seconds per mile faster than your usual comfortable pace, well, it adds up quickly. The last 6 miles are a "sweet downhill" according the race website, but in reality, they are more like "just not uphill anymore." It's flat(ter) but by no means a "sweet downhill." The loop at Red Rock has sweet downhills. This was just even ground.
I knew if I made it to mile 7 within my split times, I would be okay. But that meant a strong start and a ridiculously strong push up those hills. I said a silent prayer, turned my music on (first song: On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons), and kicked up my heels.
Mile 1: 7:45
7:45??? I didn't even know I could run that fast!
Mile 2: 7:53
OMG! Two sub-8 minute miles in a row? What the wha? I really am on top of the world!
Then it started to go uphill. Oh, heavy breathing.
I knew I had to get to the 5K (3.1 miles) between 26 and 27 minutes. Anything later than 27 minutes and I would jeopardize the entire goal.
Mile 3.1: 24:00, a full three minutes ahead of schedule.
It was at that point that I think I actually exhaled for the first time since the race began.
Then we started chugging really uphill. My iPod nano fell out of my pants. I almost choked on the top of a gel wrapper. Some random woman out walking her dog, probably terribly confused as to why all of these people with bibs fastened to their shirts were charging at her, didn't pull her dog back fast enough and I almost wiped out in the leash. (hello, dog walkers! Get off the course!). I somehow made it to the Crestdale bump at mile 5 in one piece. Next challenge: get to mile 6 before 54 minutes.
I flew in under 51 minutes.
This was starting to get silly. I mean, this is the same girl who forgot how to breath on the treadmill three weeks ago. This is the person who hit the STOP button 24 times in the course of one speed work out, inspiring the pity of Nicolas Cage and frustrating her to no end. This is the same lady who once tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and cried not because it hurt, but because there was no one there to help her up.
Who was this runner? And how was she doing this??
(one major shout-out goes to the very wise, very experience Kerry G, boot camp trainer. The night before the run, she texted me some serious inspiration: "Just relax, breath easy, and let your legs goooooo!" Oh, you speak Frozen? I speak Frozen, too! Let it go? I can do that!)
I did. I somehow how let it all go and found myself flying through this course. By mile 9, when my very sweet friend Tonya passed me in Cottonwood Canyon with a gentle tap on the arm and a warm hello, I knew I had this in the bag. I relaxed. I could literally log 10 minute miles for the rest of the race and still come in well under two hours.
Mile 10 involves this yucky 60 foot hill that is straight up, and it's a good thing I relaxed when I did. Ole lefty, the calf muscle that caused me so much consternation during the full marathon, chose that very time to seize up into a ball of agony. I instantly flashed back to November and I was suddenly running MLK in the dark of night, next to Reinier, swearing a blue streak. This was not going to happen again.
Despite what my brain said, Lefty didn't listen. Righty chose to join the party. Cue the swearing.
Mile 11 was my slowest mile, save for miles 6 and 7 that actually involved hills.(According to the elevation profile, Mile 11 is decidedly downhill.) In that moment, I told myself would delete my entire Facebook account as well as this blog if I didn't come in before two hours out of complete and utter embarrassment, because there was no way I was posting my time if it was a second later than 2 hours. See? This is the box I painted myself into. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I gritted my teeth for miles 12 and 13. I thought about all the stuff I had given up to do this - sleep. Sanity. Animal-based food products. My mind flashed to a birthday party (adult, not toddler) held earlier this month at the very trendy Brooklyn Bowl. There were bottles of Vevue Cliquot that flying open with reckless abandon. Waiters carrying all the craft beer and cocktails you could imagine. Piles of that famous fried chicken, grilled flatbreads, fries with gravy, and deviled eggs (OMG deviled eggs! My FAVORITE!) kept appearing from the kitchen. It took everything in my power to have a bite of hummus, one beer, and head home by 9:30. I still can't believe I left all of my friends (and all of that revelry) for running.
That birthday party was not about to be in vain.
Mile 13: 7:58...(I. LOVE. EGGS.)...
and a finish of 1:52:02.
I hugged Scotty hard, not just because I was happy about my time, but because I was so relieved the race was over. This one, by far, has been the most intense race of my life. It required almost as much mental energy as it did physical. While the full marathon was an exercise in perseverance, this was more like an all out, balls-to-the-wall, no-guts-no-glory kind of race.
These are the people to whom I owe the race. They are my friends, my hill day comrades, my inspiration. The gentleman standing next to me (third from the right) just ran the LA Marathon on his 63rd birthday with a time of 4:18. The woman next to me who so graciously passed me, just had her third baby 12 weeks ago. (no joke). She's running Boston next Monday, returning after last year when she finished forty minutes before the bombs went off. And the girl in all black, smiling shyly? She won. As in, the whole race. First female finisher overall with a time of 1:24. She'll also be running on Marathon Monday down Boyleston.
These people get it done.
I don't know how I got so lucky. But I do know that where you run and how you run is not nearly as important as with whom you run. And for that, I'm eternally grateful I found this little tribe.