“I. Did. It.” I panted (ok, more like dry heaved) to myself after I sprinted across the finish line. Wow, that sounds way more glorious than it really was. To be honest, the only reason I sprinted across that finish line was because I happened to look down at my watch a few hundred yards out and realized I was about to miss my goal time. After shouting an expletive I won’t repeat here, I mustered every last bit of energy left in my body to haul cookies towards that timing mat. I did not want to go over 1:50, and I sailed over the mat at exactly 1:50. Boom. I proceeded to hop, hobble, limp, and practically crawl past the medal table where they immediately asked for my age. “Uhhhh, um…” and the volunteer kindly repeated this now most challenging of life questions. “Thirty-six. No wait! I’m 35,” and she handed me my medal with a smile.
I stuck the medal, still wrapped in its plastic, into my sports bra. I swung my arms, desperately trying to get the blood to flow back into my fingertips as I lapped the parking lot behind the finish line. And that thought pulsed through my brain with every rapid heart beat: I did it! I ran 13.1 miles and I narrowly hit my goal time. I couldn’t help the face-splitting grin spreading itself across my wind-burned cheeks, arms swinging back and forth, the feel of the cool plastic-wrapped medal pressed against my heart.
But let’s back up a tick. Standing at the finish line, bedecked head to toe in my new favorite Nike outfit, I pressed the buttons on my Garmin watch as we began to move. Mark was by my side, having decided that morning that he would try his hand at completing the 13.1 miles himself. The weather was perfect. My week-long willing of Mother Nature to not rain worked. It was a gray, slightly breezy Cleveland day, and the trees in the metro parks swayed gently around the 500 racers lined up at the start. I wished luck to a few of my friends who stood beside me, planted a swift kiss on Mark, and was off.
The race course was all road, two loops through the beautiful Cleveland Metroparks in Strongsville. The first turn we took was to circle through the parking lot of the Chalet, where I used to go tobogganing with my Girl Scout troop in elementary school. I glanced down at my watch to see I was running at a steady albeit fairly speedy pace, but I felt good, so I decided to keep it up. I passed the first water station and headed back out towards the main road. I had decided to run with my own hydration belt as I have never mastered the art of grabbing cups from volunteers and slugging back water or Gatorade without choking and spilling on myself. I made a mental note to drink my chocolate coconut water/bcaa mixture every 20 minutes to ensure my energy levels stayed up and that I didn’t get dehydrated. I made my way to the outside of the pack so that I could high-five my husband as I passed him. I was glad he was there…and I will admit that I was also happy to be kicking his ass. “Competitive Jenny” – my aggressively ambitious alter-ego – was in full gear, snarling away and ready to dominate this race.
It was during the first six and a half miles that I allowed my brain to wonder away a bit from thoughts of hydration and pace. I became keenly observant of the people around me. I marveled at how many people were carrying on casual conversations with friends while maintaining a steady pace. I quietly counted to myself the number of women ahead of me. I noted all of the racers listening to music. I noticed all of the different race apparel. There were racers wearing sponsored singlets, people dressed for the arctic tundra including balaclavas, people wearing basketball shorts and cotton t-shirts, a group of high school cross-country runners wearing adorable rainbow tutus (who I passed, Competitive Jenny laughing confidently striding by people half her age).
It was during the next three and a half miles that I did not allow my brian to stray from any thought other than pace, stride, form, and hydration. And it was during the last three miles that I wanted to die. Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but those last three miles were t o u g h. I tried to convince myself that I was just running a 5K, but my body was not having that shit. In the middle of the course, there was a bend in the road that banked one way then another. On the first loop, I remember thinking that it would be very challenging the second time through. The curve of the road was enough that I felt I was running up the side rather than on a flat surface, so I compensated by using precious energy to cross the road to the flattest area. The second time through, however, was as challenging as I had predicted. By this point, the balls and heels of my feet were beginning to feel quite sore. I had slowed down a bit after mile 8, and was now in need of picking up speed in order to hit my goal time. I also experienced some temporary discomfort in my right knee (no doubt due to the curve in the road), which made it all the more challenging to pick up my pace. I was too stubborn (and a little nervous) to use any energy to zig-zag to a flatter area as I had before, so I painfully stuck it out. It was about this time that I heard a man behind me bust out an impassioned “So if you care to find me, look to the Western sky!” Yes! I thought to myself, as a tall bearded man strode past me, belting out “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked. Competitive Jenny roared to life. Ain’t no one gonna sing my favorite musical and pass me by doing what I do best! I gritted my teeth, did a few high butt kicks to stretch out my knee, lowered my chin, relaxed my shoulders, and fell right back into my stride.
I managed to catch up to a group of people I had been playing cat and mouse with for the past five miles. In the group, there were two other women who I targeted. Competetive Jenny stayed on their heels, silently biding her time. I maintained an even pace, saving my depleted stores of energy for the final dash to the finish line. One of the positives of doing a loop course instead of an out-and-back was that I already knew exactly how the finish was laid out. I knew there was a sharp turn about 300 yards from the finish, so there was no point in killing myself only to have to come to a screeching halt at that right angle. I picked it up a bit, passing most of the group. As I rounded the sharp turn, I took one last glance down at my pink Garmin and a wave of panic sloshed through the pit of my stomach. I was seconds away from missing my target time! Competitive Jenny howled at me to get my ass in gear. I lowered my head, tightened my arms against my body, and sprinted to the finish, every muscle and tendon in my body shrieking at me stop. Competitive Jenny told them to f*ck off. Go! Go! Go!
And you know the rest. By the way, it’s a very dirty trick to ask one’s age after they’ve just run 13.1 miles and sprinted across the finish line, but then again, the mental stimulation was a welcome change from the monotonous pace, form, stride, hydration. After walking around, cooling down a bit and throughly stretching, I pulled the medal out of my sports bra, peeled away the protective plastic wrap, and slipped the ribbon around my neck. The heavy square medal adorned with birds and tree branches (which of course I LOVE) gently beat against my diaphragm with each step I took towards the pavilion to retrieve my bag. I limped my way back towards the finish line when I saw the familiar bright orange of Mark’s thermal shirt rounding the second to last bend in the paved trail that weaved up to the finish. He was walking as I approached him, but he ran the last few hundred yards after the last sharp turn. I half ran, half dragged myself behind him, my incredibly sore feet not allowing me to keep up with him, but it was an awesome sight to be able to see him cross the finish line so strong.
We rested for a spell, then made the painfully slow journey back to our car. Wanting nothing more than to curl up into a ball and slip into a coma, my only motivating factor was that I knew I would soon be eating Bay cakes and bacon from Bay Diner: the meal I had promised to spoil myself with after I completed the race. They were, of course, the most delicious pancakes and bacon I had ever eaten in my entire life. Poor Mark looked positively green sitting across from me. The race took a lot out of him, and I knew he just wanted to go home, lie down on the couch, and watch some football. I asked for the check while reaching across the table, snatching the rest of Mark’s bacon: Competitive Jenny was still really hungry. We grunted and sighed as we stood up from our tiny table, the other diners stealing curious glances at this broke-down couple. We practically crawled to the car, then made our way back to Casa de Dietrich where I begrudgingly got out the foam roller and proceeded to torture myself for 45 minutes. After that, I pretty much spent the rest of the day lying inert on the couch. It was glorious – glorious, I say!
So, the burning question is did I like it, and the answer is I did. I loved the course, despite the banked curves that caused me some grief in the home stretch. The Metroparks were beautiful and the weather was perfect. The race itself was very well-organized. I was incredibly happy with my time, and despite the soreness and foot pain post-race, I was elated with how good my body felt throughout the race and how I recovered afterwards. Having said all that, I can easily and safely say that I will never run another half marathon ever again. I have zero regrets, and I am quite pleased that I completed this race and ran it so well; however, distance running just isn’t my jam. Additionally, I thought I would love training for a single sport, and though I did enjoy it, I found myself really missing my swimming. I even missed biking, which says quite a bit.
Now it’s the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve eaten my weight in delectable holiday fare, and am in desperate need of some cardio. December is going to be all about the strength training as I head into the beginning of triathlon training season in January. I can’t wait to sit down during my Winter break to plan out my next couple of months of training and to tentatively schedule some races. But first, another cup of coffee and slice of pie. Hey, don’t judge me, or I’ll sic Competitive Jenny on you.