The day of the race dawned way too early. I was awake and moving before the sun rose. Heck, I was at the start line before the sun rose. And before that I was waiting in the very long port-o-potty line because even though I used the bathroom three times before I left the house, my nerves called for one more before the race.
The starting area was well lit, but surrounded by shadows. There didn’t seem to be enough street lights, and the darkness made the corrals packed with people strangely intimate. The pace areas in the corral didn’t make sense. No more than five feet of space for each division, even the 9 to 10 and 11 to 12 paces of the more casual runner. I settled in near the middle, though well behind the 17+ sign, and people who felt they should be closer to the front bumped and slid their way through the still and content part of the crowd.
I saw many runners with ear phones, music devices strapped to their arms. I don’t run races with music. I used to run with music more often, but now I tend to limit that to indoor track runs or watching TV on a treadmill. When I’m outside, I like listening to the outside noises, especially when I run along the Boise Greenbelt. The river rushing by, the birds, the rustles in the bushes that might be snakes, squirrels or foxes, all of it contributes to my run.
I waited, alone in a crowd that seemed full of pairs and groups, for the race to begin. A slight delay was announced due to the police double-checking the roads were safe for running. And then we were off. I walked to the line with the crowd, in no hurry, and began to jog across the time chip line.
The first time I ran a half marathon, I let the crowd pull me into a faster pace than I could sustain. I did the first mile in a quick (for me) nine minutes and never quite recovered my pace. This time, I made myself relax as the crowd surged ahead of me. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to run, but run or walk, I was going to finish. And that meant pacing myself.
Before I finished the first mile, despite having gone to the bathroom no less than four times already that morning, I had to pee again. I’d studied the course and knew that there would be a bathroom opportunity around mile 2. So I jogged on and made do. But then I saw the set up. The port-o-potties were off the course on the out-going leg. And there was a line. No way, I thought. I’ll hold it until the next one.
Of course, I didn’t know exactly where the next one would be, but I figured, worse comes to worst, I could always run into the Warm Springs Clubhouse and use their bathroom.
I ran on in the road, picking out people to stay with or catch. I wore a hydration pack, because I was concerned about staying hydrated. I saw two other women with such packs and tried to keep them in sight. As we veered off the road to detour through the Old Idaho Penitentiary, I passed one and then the other on uphills. Running or hiking, I do love my uphills.
I passed a group of four women wearing knee high Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles socks and I couldn’t keep quiet. “I love your socks!”
I saw that the course was on the Greenbelt from the course map, but what I didn’t realize was that we would run out on Warm Springs Ave and then turn to the Greenbelt to come back before the Parkcenter bridge. The road heads up as the Greenbelt comes down and I joked to another runner, “No fair, we have to go uphill both ways.”
When I caught sight of the turnaround, I saw they had a stash of port-o-potties along with the cheering volunteers. I ran right past the arrow pointing out the turnaround, crying out, “Pit stop!” so the volunteer would know I wasn’t just running off course for fun. Though there were fewer potties here, there was no line.
Heading back on the Greenbelt, I re-passed a few people, but for the most part I struggled simply to keep running. My body was beyond aching, and at every water stop I tossed the water directly on my head. The sun was hidden by clouds, but I was still hot.
I passed the half way check point and began to promise myself a break. If I could just make it to mile eight, then I could take a walking break. My right leg’s perennial ITB issue was bothering me, though it wasn’t a deal breaker – yet.
I was aware of the first official photographer that I came across, at a bend in the Greenbelt where it angles away from the river to accommodate the golf course. That awareness did not make my picture any better.
Just look at all those fresh 5Kers. Running along without a care in the world.
It was also around the time that I heard the anthem that I realized that the half marathon course was ending exactly like the 5K course, which I had run before a few years ago. It starts with a long slog uphill to the train depot. Which means that I was going to be finishing with a long slog uphill to the train depot. I walked that hill. I walked that hill real good.
I ran and walked along Crescent Rim Drive. I was slow and tired and in pain. I resented almost everyone running around me. But then I reached the downhill.
Downhills used to be my nemesis, but I’ve learned how to use them. I let myself go, running down the hill with the aid of gravity, thinking I could run it all from there, so little to go, less than half a mile.
But my body protested and I walked down Americana until the final turnaround that led to the finish line. That final segment, I ran. I high-fived every single person on the right side, not caring if I looked silly. I just wanted, needed, to feed off that encouragement so that I could finish strong.
The good news is I was hydrated enough to cry as I crossed the finish line, even though I hadn’t drained very much from my bladder. I’d managed to pour enough water on myself to soak my shirt and pants, and I was still hot. I staggered into Ann Morrison Park and received my finisher medal. Then I saw my husband and stumbled over to him. Upon reaching him, I sat down on the curb and contemplated whether I could just stay there for the rest of the day, or maybe week.
He got me up and going. I collected my post-race food and made him take a picture of me with the medal.
And so, I know that I can do a half marathon following a period of inactivity and a two week running ramp up. I can finish it and not break myself. But I’m probably not going to go into another long distance race with such little preparation again.