Posts Tagged ‘marathon’


Tomorrow marks four weeks since my first full marathon, four weeks since I’ve run a single step. The marathon was incredibly brutal and completely amazing all at the same time (I am working on a blog post about it…will hopefully finish it within the next year) and left my legs in such a state of disrepair that I haven’t run since.

But today was warm. And sunny. And gorgeous. And I just couldn’t say no to another run. So after getting way too little sleep last night and cleaning six houses in as many hours, and while knowing that I had a late night ahead of me (New Year’s Eve, after all!), I came home near four o’clock, changed into a pair of running shorts (yes, running shorts! at the end of December, imagine that), laced up my running shoes, marathon tag still wrapped around my laces, and bounded out the door. A short stretch at the end of the driveway later I headed west on Garrett Drive.

I began with a brisk walk to warm up and took an assessment as I went: left knee- fragile, both hamstrings- tight, i.t band- unpredictable, toes- good, spirits- high!

Within two minutes my excitement and curiosity about the run ahead and the restlessness that had been building within me for four weeks, had taken over and my brisk walk had turned into a brisk run. My plan had been to walk awhile, then run a slow steady pace with intervals of walking. But I must confess that in my moment (by moment, I mean around twenty-seven minutes) of weakness, I abandoned this plan and ran, with no walking, the rest of the three miles around the block and back to my house, averaging a nine minute mile. Oops.

The first few steps were stiff and awkward- like my legs had been incased in concrete. For several minutes each step was a struggle- a struggle to move my joints enough to propel myself forward, a struggle to lift my feet high enough to leave the ground. My legs felt as though they had been filled with lead, felt as though it had been years since I had moved them. I began to wonder if the entire run would feel this forced, wondered how long my gait would feel so…unnatural. My hips and glutes ached with every step, as though someone had taken a baseball bat to them moments before I began my run. My lungs were about the only thing functioning properly, the only thing not in suffering as the miles added up behind me. There was no gasping, no heaving, no burning chest or aching side or churning stomach. To my surprise, they felt as though I hadn’t missed a beat.

So cardiovascularly the entire run felt great, muscularly though…ugh.

Eventually most of the concrete got chipped away. And by the last mile the tightness in my hamstrings had diminished, the deep pain in my hips and glutes subsided and my gait felt at least a little closer to what I would consider normal.

What a thrill to be running again. Inspite of the physical discomfort, my mind stayed in a very positive place before the run, during and for the rest of the night after- my knee hadn’t given out, my i.t band hadn’t locked up, and after the first two minutes, I had run without walking…what more could one ask for? 🙂

As I closed in on my last half mile the road said to me, “Welcome home.”

“Thank you, old friend,” I said in return. “It is good to be back.”

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Women's Half Marathon 2010

It is 11pm as I lay here on our living room couch and stare at this computer screen, pondering the day’s event, my blistered toes throbbing, my shredded muscles aching, my tired head pounding…

13.1 miles.

1 hour and 54 minutes and 30 seconds.

An 8 minutes and 45 seconds per mile average.

The hardest I have ever run in my whole life.

I can honestly say that I gave it everything I had and more, that with each mile, as I became more and more fatigued, and as my body screamed louder and louder for me to stop, I just dug a little deeper and somehow found the willpower to keep moving forward.

I exceeded my original goal (that being to break my previous PR of 1 hour and 58 minutes and 22 seconds), by 3 minutes and 52 seconds. And for this I know I should be thrilled.

But for some reason, just in the last few weeks, I decided that it might be possible for me to accomplish an even bigger goal of mine: to finish the race with an 8 minutes and 30 seconds per mile average.

I’m not sure why I thought this would be possible. I have done no speedwork and very few “run for time” runs. I have been running 4:1 intervals (run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute) almost exclusively since April (in an effort to combat a lingering knee injury) with only a handful of “run the whole time” runs sprinkled in and the longest run I have completed at a pace faster than a 9 minute mile was 6 miles. So I’m not sure why I thought I could run more than twice that distance at an even faster pace.

But I did.

Silly me.

I was wrong.

This bigger goal would have had me crossing the finish line at 1 hour and 51 minutes and 21 seconds. I missed this second goal, this bigger goal of mine, by 3 minutes and 9 seconds.

And though I have tried to be rational and positive with myself all day today, if we are being totally honest in this moment, then I have to admit- I am disappointed that I missed my bigger goal.

I realize that this probably seems crazy to all you non-runners out there (and for that matter, maybe to some of you runners too). I realize this. Give me a couple days and I may just agree with you. But at this moment in time, in my current state, I cannot yet see it that way…

So one of the voices in my head has made a list today- a list of all of the things that worked against my goal, all of that which worked to keep me 3 minutes from it (Besides not properly training for this specific goal. I guess that’s kind of a big one…), all of the reasons that it should be understandable, even ok, that I “failed”. This is the voice that always tries to encourage me. And today I think it is trying to protect me from my mostly irrational feelings of defeat.

It is working.

A little bit.

So. The list.

reason 1) Not enough sleep or food. My nerves kept me awake. My nerves tied my stomach into knots, rendering me unable to eat more than a few bites for a breakfast. My fast pace kept my stomach in knots, preventing my usual mid-race consumption of calories.

reason 2) My race playlist got scrambled. Not sure how. But the songs I had in the order of when I anticipated I would need them were jumbled and mixed. So instead of pushing play and sliding the ipod into my pocket, I kept it in my hand and fumbled with it’s buttons after each song ended, my sweaty fingers sliding clumsily over it’s face, searching for the melodious energy I was depending on to keep me moving.

reason 3) Hills. So many damn hills. Picture running up and down a see-saw. Up. Down. Up. Down. With no relief. For 13.1 miles. Damn hills.

reason 4) A searing sun. A blinding sun. And all of the physical reactions that come with that. Squinting eyes. Building headache. Fire to my skin. Chills covering my body, racking my body from mile 10 until 2 hours after the race ended.

reason 5)  Negative energy from a fellow runner. I don’t think the negative energy was intentional. But nevertheless it messed with my head in the days leading up to the race. And knocked me off my feet around mile 9.

But as encouraging as this voice is trying to be, this voice is almost always accompanied by another voice. Sometimes the other voice is quieter. Today it is louder.

So here’s the list the other voice has made for why I should have met my goal today:

reason 1) I have been running A LOT. Running 18 miles just last week. Consistently running 3-4 times a week for 5 months (and off and on for 13 years before that). And I have been cross training/strength training faithfully (for the first time in my life) once or twice a week for 9 months.

reason 2) I trained through the heat and humidity of the summer and race day was significantly cooler and less humid than the weather that I trained in.

reason 3) I am in the best shape of my life. (Oh, but how I underestimated what it would take to run that fast for that long!)

reason 4) I am used to setting goals and meeting them. I really thought today would just be another one of those times. That no matter what it took, no matter how hard it got, no matter how much it hurt, that I would just do what it took to meet my goal.

reason 5) I can run 5 miles at an 8:15 pace. And I can run 18 miles. So based on that I should be able to run 13.1 miles at an 8:30 pace. Right?

And as all of these thoughts are swirling through my head today, so are my memories of the race. 

Most of the race was a blur. A blur of cheering spectators and encouraging volunteers, a blur of buildings and trees, water stations and porta potties, asphalt and running shoes, men and women all headed to the finish line. The weather was cool and breezy at the start. A little warmer than I would have liked by the end.

My supportive husband and mom, sister and sister-in-law, father-in-law and one friend spent their morning watching the race. I spotted them and their sign at miles 6 and 8. And they spotted me. Their encouragement gave me a burst of energy for the minutes following. Their support means the world to me.

The winner of the race did not look like a runner. Her 6 minutes per mile pace defied her bigger build and heavy footsteps. Surprised and perplexed would be the best words to describe how I felt when I saw her leading the pack by almost half a mile.

The pacers and the women running beside them were the only other runners that stood out to me. To see the pacers, relaxed and comfortable, running 13 miles for the sake of another and to see the women who were running beside them, women who had a goal, women who leaned on the strength of another, women who pushed themselves, knowing that if they could just keep up, that they could achieve said goal, is an image I will not soon forget.

My Garmin kept track of my pace for each mile. I have looked over it several times in an attempt to see where my 3 minutes went.

Mile 1: 7:56

Mile 2: 7:55

Mile 3: 9:42

Mile 4: 7:58

Mile 5: 8:50

Mile 6: 8:40

Mile 7: 8:29

Mile 8: 8:37

Mile 9: 8:18

Mile 10: 8:22

Mile 11: 8:12

Mile 12: 8:58

Mile 13: 9:54

Mile .1: 0:59

I think it is safe to say that mile 3’s potty break, and mile 12 and 13, were what did me in. By mile 12 I had run completely out of self encouragement, run out of all of the mental games I usually play, run out of juice, out of adrenaline, out of ability and out of confidence.

So I am left with three words and three things learned.

Word number one: Demoralizing. (How it felt to watch the runners around me and in front of me continue on strong as my depleted body slowed, their bodies becoming smaller and smaller as they charged into the distance.)

Word number two: Dismaying. (The experience of reaching the bottom of that last brutal hill -cruelly placed, as it was perhaps the steepest of them all- a few tenths of a mile into mile thirteen and looking up, then fighting with myself all the way to the top, as every few steps I slowed to a walk, then took off running again only to find myself walking again, seconds later.)

And word number three: Devastating. (The word that best describes the moment when I knew my goal had slipped through my fingers, slipped right through as I stood -or technically ran- and watched powerlessly.)

And my three things learned:

1) To set more realistic goals for myself. For pete’s sake.

2) That next time, if I want to run a 1:51:21 half marathon, I am going to have to train harder. Or at least better.

3) What they mean when they say “Running is 80% mental and 20% physical.”

Today’s race was harder than I was. The hills stronger. My goal better than I was.

And I am humbled. Which is probably good. We all need to humbled once in a while.

Note: At this point (mostly because I am a really slow editor but also because I don’t always know how to make time for my blog) it has been 2 1/2 weeks since the race and 2 1/2 weeks since the night that I wrote this. Just wanted you all to know that I am feeling much better now (both physically and emotionally). Thank you.

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Training for a marathon means…

…waking up early on Saturday mornings, knowing that the rest of my family will be asleep for three to four more hours…knowing that I could be sleeping three to four more hours too.

…sweating. A lot. Often.

…being best friends with my Garmin, my ipod and my shoes.

…choosing my breakfast based on how many miles it will last. As in- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich will last about six miles. A banana around two. A bowl of cereal three to four and a Clif bar nearly five.  …I still haven’t figured out what to eat on the days I run more than ten. I can’t fit enough food in my belly to last that many miles.

…not drinking that third glass of wine at dinner the night before a run. Because running and alcohol DO NOT MIX.

…encouraging others to run. Because if its this good for me, it might be this good for you too.

…having an unusual awareness of the status of my knees.




…drinking water. Lots and lots of water.

…getting a heavy (and oh so fantastic) dose of endorphins five or six times a week.

…spending more time than most on weather.com. And relating all weather conditions (sweltering heat, freezing temperatures, cloudy days or sunny skies, rain and snow, wind, humidity) to what affect it will have on a run.

…knowing what time the sun rises each morning.

…worrying about my toes.

…having a greater awareness of and appreciation for other runners.

…knowing that getting up when the alarm goes off, after going to bed after midnight, is not going to feel good…and getting up anyway.

…fantasizing about the mornings when I wake up to sunny skies, sixty degree weather, low humidity and a slight breeze.

…having several hours a week to think. And pray. And meditate. And “be still”.

…learning a lot about myself- like who I am and who I want to be. And also, and maybe more importantly- what I am truly capable of.

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River Park

I watch as the minutes tick by…11:30…11:45…12:00- going to sleep after midnight, crap!…12:10…12:15…all too aware that each minute of talking means one less minute of sleeping. But my husband is important to me and so is this conversation. So I keep talking. And listening…

At 12:30 exhaustion envelops us both and we agree we should call it a night.

5:00 a.m. My alarm goes off for the first time. I push snooze for thirty minutes before forcing myself to stand up and look out the window. Cloudy skies. “Maybe it will storm and I can go back to bed!” is my first thought. (shameful, I know!) I stumble into the den to check the radar on weather.com. My sister-in-law/roomie enters moments after me.

“I’m checking it,” I say, knowing why she has come in here.

The computer decides to mess up for awhile. So I sit. And wait. And try not to freak out. It finally pulls itself together and takes me to the website. It appears as though all of the storms have passed.

“Crap”, my roomie says as she turns to hurry back to her room. She has ten minutes to change into her running gear, gather herself and her things and get out the door. I’ve got twenty-five. I stand up and get movin.

I head straight to the laundry room, remembering that my running clothes are in the dryer. I lean down to look for my shorts and tshirt and notice a funny pain in my neck. I straighten up and stretch it, trying to pinpoint where the sensation is coming from and why. I realize it is one of those “slept on it funny and now can barely move my head in any direction” pains. Of all the mornings for this to happen!! I ignore the discomfort and lean down again.

Twentyish minutes later, dressed, face washed, hair put up, shoes laced, cooler packed and running gear gathered, I am out the door.

I jump on I-65 and turn up the music, gathering my energy for the hours ahead. I eat half of my pbj and banana and drink as much water as will comfortably fit in my belly. C calls to see if I am there yet. Two minutes away, I tell her.

At 6:26 I pull into the park parking lot. I see C walking towards me. I exit the car to greet her and scan the parking lot for B. I have no idea what kind of car B drives or what she is wearing. There are dozens of cars and hundreds of runners walking towards the pavilion. I call B.

“Where are you?” I ask her. “And what are you wearing?”

“I am in the parking lot across the street. I am walking towards the pavilion.”

I turn around.

“And I am wearing a…uh…mustard colored shirt.” she says as I see a girl in the distance look down at her shirt.

“I see you!” I tell her, then set my phone in the car and lock the doors.

She reaches my car. I greet her with a hug and a smile, so glad that she has joined me at such an early hour for a Saturday morning. The three of us join the crowd at the pavilion. I introduce my old friend, C, to my new friend, B, and we listen in as my sister-in-law, T, speaks to the crowd. She tells them about the forks in the route, the water stops, and the hills and offers her encouragement to those who will be running their seven miles today for the first time ever!

C runs to the restroom during this time and is gone when the crowd takes off. I watch the path to the bathroom and hope she will return soon. I see her moments later but we are now some of the last ones to get started so we end up behind the walkers, behind the run/walkers, behind the slowest of the pack.

We start with a brisk walk to warm up and quickly begin to pass the groups at the back of the pack. Within a quarter mile we have left the park, crossed a bridge, passed the soccer fields and entered the wooded stretch of path. When my Garmin hits 5:00 (minutes) we transition into running. Right away I notice that B is comfortable around a 9:30 minute mile, while C is leaning towards a 12:00 minute mile. This poses a bit of a problem as the plan was for the three of us to run together. We get seperated by a few feet. I end up, kind of between the two of them, not sure whether to speed up to stay with B or slow down to stay with C. We stay this spread out for four minutes, at which point we stop to walk and end up beside each other again.

(Note: I have been doing a run/walk- run four minutes, walk one minute, repeat- since May in an effort to protect my knees after battling injuries in both since last August. I got the idea from jeffgalloway.com. So far it seems to be working, as my knees have held up great these last three months!!)

I suggest meeting in the middle and ask them both if that is ok. They agree that is a good idea.

After our minute, we start running again, settling in around a 10:30 pace.

We spend most of the next few miles talking, C and I catching up on our week and her sharing about some struggles she is dealing with, and both of us getting to know B (who we have both met within the last three weeks). Two miles pass quickly. I continually check on my friends, trying not to discourage them but gently reminding them that however far we run this way, thats how far we have to run that way. (B has never run more than three miles. C hasn’t run more than three in many months.) They continually insist that they feel great, that they want to keep going. So we keep going.

The running group that we have unofficially joined for this run has a water stop and their turn around at mile 3.5. When we get to mile 3 I ask C about her time crunch. I tell her we’ll need to turn around now if she needs to be back to the car by 7:45am. She asks what mile we are at and when I check my Garmin and she realizes how close we are to water she says she wants to run the extra .5. I tell her we will have to book it to make it back in time. She says ok.

We cross a bridge and take a sharp right. With a field of grass now to our right and a road, up a steep embankment, to our left, it is the second time in the last three miles that we have exited the wooded path for a brief stretch. The skies are cloudy. The air is thick. The temperature is slightly cooler than it has been at this hour of the day.

We continue on the path beside the field. Soon it turns left and takes us up the hill to the road. We run on the road briefly before spotting the water station a few hundred feet in front of us, on the side of the road, right before we would enter the woods again. There are a dozen ladies standing, drinking and/or stretching around the water cooler. C gets to it first, leans down to fill up her cup then stands to take a sip.

“Woah, I feel dizzy,” she says after taking a few steps away from the water cooler. She sits down in the middle of the road.

“You ok?” I ask her.

“I think so. Just really dizzy. Is my face red?” she replies.

“Uh, yes. Very red. I will get you another cup of water to drink. And you probably need to pour some on your wrists and neck to help cool yourself down a little.”

I fill up two more cups and walk back over to where she is sitting, squat down and hand them to her. She pours one slowly over her head and neck, gasping and letting out a yelp as the cold water hits her skin. I give her a minute to recover then slowly pour the rest on her wrists.

We stay in this position for a minute or two at which point T comes walking up. I stand and walk over to meet her.

“Is she ok? Did she fall?” she asks me. “No, just dizzy. I think she’ll be fine in a minute,” I say.

T walks over and talks to C. C stands up, ready to try again but asking if we can walk a minute first. B and I finish our cups of water and the four of us begin walking. “I was hoping to run with you for a while.” T says to me. “That’d be great!” I reply.

We walk for five minutes, the four of us together, before we begin running again. T and B run a pace they are both comfortable with, much faster than C is ready for. I stay with C. T and B disappear into the distance.

About one mile into our second half of the run we enter a tunnel. On the other side of it I can see the beginning of a fairly long, fairly steep hill. I exit the tunnel, ready for the challenge and take off up the hill. Within moments I realize I am alone. I look back (carefully, as I can still barely turn my head without pretty intense discomfort) and see my friend. She is a few feet into the climb and she has slowed to a walk. I turn around and begin running backwards.

“Come on, girl! You can do it! No walking this thing! Let’s go!”

She protests.

I yell some more encouragement.

She hesitates, seemingly torn between accepting my challenge and listening to her body’s desire to slow the pace and hold stingily to its remaining reserve of energy.

I yell some more.

“Let’s go girl! You can do this! Let’s get up this hill! Just think of it as a metaphor for your struggles right now and let’s kick this hill’s ass! I mean, annihilate it! Find the strength to climb this hill and let that empower you to go home and climb those hills too! You can do this!”

Some part of what I say seems to motivate her because she takes off. She catches me quickly and I turn around. We climb the hill side by side. She makes it to the top with me. I am so proud of her.

Right after our hill crests, the path turns left, then stretches straight and flat for about two tenths of a mile. The first thing I notice as we make this left and begin this straight stretch is that the sky in front of us (and stretching as far as we can see) is gray. Dark gray. A storm is coming.

C slows to a walk again, this time telling me that her i.t band is acting up. I slow and walk with her. We are almost to mile 5’s water station.

I see T standing at the cooler with B. I sprint ahead, hoping to catch T before she has time to take off, and ask her if C can ride back to the park with her instead of running the last two miles(T’s car is parked a few feet from the water station). She says, “of course”, and as soon as C catches up to us, the two of them walk to her car.

I ask B if she wants to  join them. She insists she wants to run the last two miles with me.

The wind picks up and the temperature drops, the gray sky is rolling in quickly. I can sense that the rain is very near. I start to worry about my Garmin.

“You wanna run fast?” I ask B.

She grins and says, “Sure!”

We take off.

It begins to sprinkle. I check my Garmin.  We are maintaining a 7:30 minute mile, about the fastest I can run for any longer period of time. The rain drops get fatter and fall faster.

I begin a steady and continuous monologue when I notice that my friend is having trouble talking and running at the same time. I encourage her to just run and breathe. Breathe and run.

“How do you have so much energy!?” B interrupts with, breathlessly, after a little while of listening to my chatter.

“Um…I don’t know! I do this a lot. I run a lot. I think I’m just used to it, I guess.” I say with a sheepish smile. She smiles back, raises her eyebrows, kinda shakes her head.

We maintain our 7:30 pace for several minutes before B says, “I’m sorry but I gotta slow down. You can keep going! I know you are worried about your Garmin. You don’t need to wait for me!”

“No, that’s ok. I want to stay with you.” I tell her. We slow to a 9:00 minute mile.

It begins to pour. The rain soaks my hair, my shirt, my shorts, my shoes. It runs down my face and into my eyes. I squint and wish I had thought to wear a hat. The cool drops feel refreshing on my skin. I say a prayer of thanks for this cleansing rain.

B begins to walk and gives me the same urging as before- to keep going without her. I tell her again that I want to stay with her. I walk too.

The canopy of tree branches over our path keep us slightly more protected than we would have been without them. I hug the side of this tree lined path. I turn my wrist upside down in an effort to keep my Garmin out of the rain. It doesn’t really seem to help.

We run again. Then walk. Then run some more. B asks how much further. “Only half a mile!” I tell her. She picks up the pace.

The rain slows to a drizzle. We exit the woods. We are back at the soccer fields. The dark clouds have passed. The sky is still gray, but a much lighter gray.

We cross the wooden bridge, pass the park with its slides and swings and slow to a walk when we reach the parking lot. We use a picnic table to stretch for a few minutes. I congratulate my friend on her accomplishment- 7.33 miles!! I am so proud of her and very impressed that she has more than doubled her previous record of 3 miles. I ask her how she feels.

“Good. I can feel it in my legs and hips though. I’m probably going to be sore tomorrow.”

We stand at my car for a few minutes while I eat the other half of my pbj, grab my water bottle full of nuun and put my headphones over my ears. I recommend some stretches for her to do when she gets home and give suggestions for what to eat for her “after run meal”. She wishes me luck and heads to her car. I turn around and head back to the trail.

I have 4.67 miles to go to reach my planned 12. It is 8:32 a.m

I settle into my comfortable routine- walk five minutes to get started again, run four minutes, walk one minute, repeat. A variety of favorite tunes fills my ears.

At the end of the first mile I come to a fork in the path. The first 7.33 took me right. I veer left.

I am in and out of the woods. I run through several tunnels, parking lots and beside multiple soccer fields. Around mile two I exit the woods once again and am overwhelmed by what I see. The sky has begun to clear. Patches of deep blue peek out from behind the thick, white pillows scattered across the sky. A field- bright green, flat and completely empty other than a cluster of very tall, very full, very green trees smack dab in the middle of it- stretches a quarter mile to my right. A brown, wooden bench sits to the side of it. The field and the path that I am running on are completely encompassed by the thick woods that surround it. For as far as I can see in every direction there is only grass, trees, sky, the one bench, and the path I am running on. I have found a little piece of heaven on earth. I check behind me (again, carefully, with awful neck stiffness). I am alone. There is not one other person in sight. I speak prayers of thanks to my Father and Creator for the beauty and peacefulness of this moment.

Three minutes later I am in the woods again.

It is almost time for me to turn around and head back when I notice a giant hill to my left. It keeps my attention and I feel a sudden, inexplicable urge to leave the running path and sprint up this hill. I veer left and begin my climb. My curiosity about the view from the top gives me the energy to push up and forward. My lungs burn. The song through my headphones is so appropriate for the moment that it gives me chills- “I made it…I made it…” says the chorus. I reach the top. A breathtaking view has awaited me.

Rolling hills, clusters of trees, an old wooden house, miles and miles of green land and blue sky. Again I can’t help but speak a prayer of thanks. What a mighty God I serve. What a magnificent creation we were placed upon. I am overwhelmed.

I stand and drink it in, lost in the moment…

Eventually the urge to keep going strikes my senses. It is time to head back.

When I leave the woods again, I see that the sun has come out from it’s hiding place behind the clouds. The morning has brought it’s first wave of heat. My skin bakes beneath the sun’s rays.

The 2.33 miles back are the fastest of my twelve. I am energized, I am at peace, every part of me feels alive.

I reach the xterra, pull the keys from the pocket on my handheld water bottle and unlock the doors. I am drenched with sweat.

I throw a towel over the driver’s seat and unload my mp3 player, my headphones, my water bottle and my Garmin onto the seat beside me. I feel the achiness in my lower body the moment I sit down.  I take a quick inventory- I’ve had 56 ounces of water, consumed 500 calories and burned 1100 calories. My stomach growls. I begin to fantasize about what (and how much! 🙂 ) I will eat when I get home.

My next thought, as I turn onto Franklin Road and head back to my home, my family, my life, is that today has been one of those days that reminds me why I love to run. And I thank God. Thank Him for this part of my life, for the friends that share it with me and for those moments in my day when His beauty leaves me breathless.

It was twelve amazing miles.

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

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It is Tuesday morning. I have just read a facebook post of a friend who is running the Country Music Half Marathon on Saturday morning, four days from now. She is overwhelmed about her upcoming feat for a number of reasons-  it is supposed to storm throughout the race, she has not been feeling well for the past week, and she is running the half alone (not something she planned on when she signed up months before). An idea forms.

It is Tuesday night. My hubby has gotten a copy of the race map and is working on a plan to coordinate getting three runners and a dozen spectators to the marathon on Saturday- a dozen spectators/friends/fans, seven possible locations (including the starting line, the finish line and five stops in between to wave and cheer and scream for our friends who are running), three runners, three vehicles, and a stack of signs, umbrellas and cameras- A LOT to coordinate for our six hour, Saturday morning adventure.

But I ask my hubby (knowing that this will complicate things even further but thinking that it would be SO worth it if it worked out) what he would think about me jumping in and running fiveish of the thirteen miles with my overwhelmed and somewhat emotional friend. He responds that that would be great, but lets see how practical/possible that is, considering all of the other factors involved. We get distracted. Our conversation ends, unfinished. Three days pass.

It is Friday night, around 11:30. We have just returned home from hanging out with Chaz’s sister and her husband. My brother and his wife are on their way to our house to make a slew of signs for our three runner friends (nothing like waiting until the very last minute to do something we planned weeks ago!). Chaz and I are in our bedroom. I am sitting in a chair, folding laundry (not sure why I chose that hour to work on the baskets of laundry that had been stacked up for a week. Probably because they were driving me CRAZY and I couldn’t stand another second of staring at the mountain of shirts, shorts and socks.) Chaz is laying on the floor in front of me, map in one hand, marker in the other. We are discussing directions to each destination, who should ride in what car, how to get from point A to point B in X amount of time…etc., etc. I bring up running with my friend, again. Chaz says he thinks that will work, that I could park and wait for her at mile four and run the fiveish mile out and back while everyone else piles into the other car and drives over to mile thirteen to watch for Josh. He suggests keeping my phone and a key with me so that I can join the others after my fiveish miles are up. I get excited.

(Note: I have run this half marathon three times and loved it each time. I had planned on running it this year but did not because of a knee injury. I have not been running for six weeks, with the exception of a successful five mile run last week  that gave me just enough confidence to believe I could do this five with my friend.)

It is midnight. My brother, his wife, and another friend of ours have just shown up. At this point I am excited, nervous, and suddenly realizing that I have a lot of stuff to do before I can go to sleep. Our six a.m wake up call looms. I rush around, locating my running clothes, running shoes, energy bars, water bottles, Garmin, Tylenol, a box of crackers, a dry change of clothes for after the run, a small bag for toiletries, and a myriad of other, random items. I throw most of this in a heap, planning to finish the packing process in the morning. I join my husband, siblings and friend in the den.

My sis-in-law, Meaghan has a marker in hand. There is a stack of poster board on the floor in front of her. I sit down on the couch.

The five of us spend the next two hours in hysterics, talking about anything and everything and coming up with the most ridiculous group of signs we can think of. So. Much. Fun. Seven signs later we force ourselves to stop talking, stop laughing and go to bed.

My head hits the pillow three and a half hours before my alarm is set to go off.

It is six a.m, Saturday morning. I hear my alarm, roll over, and realize that Chaz is not in our bed. Or in our room. Moments later he hurries in.

“They’ve moved the starting time up,” he says, rushing around, continuing to get himself ready to go. “Storms are coming. They’re trying to get everyone started as early and quickly as possible. Josh is almost here. I’m going to drive him to the starting line. I need you to take the others. Call me when you’re in the car.” My head spins a little, as I am still half asleep. I lay there, trying to take in what he is saying. A moment later I realize that I need to get up. And that I need to hurry.

I jump out of bed and get myself ready in record time. I fill up my water bottles, throw my pile of items, plus a few more, into my bags (yes, it took more than one) and get myself, my keys and my bags to the front door. My brother pulls up in his car with his crew. Our other runner friends pull up moments after.

I climb into the driver’s seat of our other runner friends’ car (one of them being the friend I plan to run with) and we get the show on the road, my brother and his crew following close behind. I don’t say anything to my friend about running with her. I want to surprise her. I hope, the whole time I am driving, that she doesn’t think twice about the fact that I am wearing running gear.

I spend the next forty-five minutes navigating through crazy amounts of traffic, first getting my runners where they need to go, then parking their car at the finish line then jumping into my brother’s car, before finally arriving at mile four where we park on a side street and all run to the spot where our group of spectators will wait and watch and hopefully catch a glimpse of our three runner friends as they come flying by.

We miss Josh. Catch a glimpse of Matthew. And wait for Kelly. Five minutes pass. Six minutes. Seven. I am afraid we have missed her. My heart swells with disappointment. Most of our group moves on to mile nine, hoping to catch a first glimpse of Josh and a second of Matthew. I stay at mile four, with my sister and her friend, giving myself five more minutes to try and spot Kelly before I will give up and move on. My confidence wanes as I realize the chance of finding one person in the thousands that are passing us is very, very slim. I fight my discouragement and try to accept that it was just not meant to be.

But alas, perhaps it is meant to be! For right then, right in my moment of resignation I hear my little sister scream, “Kelly!!! Echo, there she is! Kelly! Kelly!” She doesn’t see us. She doesn’t hear us. I take off running.

She is on the other side of the river of people running up the long hill that is this two lane street. I dart through a dozen of them and catch her a few yards up from where I have been waiting with so much anticipation. I yell goodbye to my sister (she doesn’t seem to hear me) and fall into step beside Kelly.

“Can I run with you?” I ask.

“Yes!” she replies.

I ask how she is doing. “Pretty good,” she says. I ask how the first four miles were. “Pretty good,” she says again. We continue up the hill. I say a few more things, ask a few more questions, then look over at her red, sweat drenched face and follow all of it up with, “Never mind, you don’t have to answer. Lets just get up this hill.”

At first I am not sure if my presence is helping or hurting, if I am a good distraction or a bad one. She is very focused on her running and because of this I am having trouble reading my affect on her. I say something about this. “Just keep talking to me,” she says. So I do.

(Another note: My knee started aching within the first mile and I panicked. “If I’m hurting at mile one there’s no way I’ll make it to mile five!” I thought. But I decided then that I was not going to stop no matter how bad the pain got. Or let Kelly know how much I was hurting.)

I talk about the weather and the race, the houses we are passing and running itself, I bring up the book we have both just finished reading for book club…anything that comes to mind really.

She interjects at times. Other times she just breathes and listens.

We continue this rhythm for about four and a half miles. At that point I check my Garmin. “We are almost back to Horton. I’ll have to stop there,” I tell Kelly.

“Thank you so much for running with me!” she responds. “This was so encouraging!” She gives me a side hug while we are still running. I am reminded how sweaty she is. But I hug her back. “You are so welcome! Thank you for letting me!

Moments later I see the street sign for Horton.

“Good luck!”  I say to my friend. “I’m really proud of you!” We both wave as I run to the side of the road and out of the river of runners. Almost instantly Kelly disappears into the crowd. I sprint to my car. My knee is throbbing.

(Another note: Kelly wrote this note to me later that day and it meant a lot to me so I wanted to include it here! – “Echo, words can’t begin to describe what a blessing your impromptu run with me was today. Thank you for your amazing encouragement throughout my training, and especially today.”)

As soon as I start the car I call my husband. He stays on the phone with me, giving step by step directions as I navigate through unfamiliar Nashville streets. I drive quickly (but safely!), knowing I have very little time before Josh reaches mile thirteen.

Several turns later, Chaz gives me the last of the directions and we hang up. I park as close to the race as I can get and run (so much further than expected!) to meet my friends. I miss Josh at mile thirteen. I make my way across the four lane street to mile eighteen. Our group is in front of a Shell station.

Half of them are standing. Some are sitting on the curb. The stack of signs is laying behind them in the grass. I sit down beside my sister.

She fills me in on what all I missed during my hour and a half absence. Then I turn my attention to the race.

The first thing I notice is how different the energy is at mile eighteen compared to the energy of the first half of the race. The “half marathon side” is so much livelier- lots of talking and laughing, singing and high fiving. The “full marathon side” is much more intense- very few smiles, very little talking, no singing.  Most of the runners have focused and determined expressions. Many of them do not acknowledge (or maybe its that they don’t notice) our shouts of encouragement- the few who do give half smiles or nods before turning their attention back to the road in front of them.

The intensity of what I am witnessing evokes an unexplainable emotion within me. I tell this to my sister-in-law. She says she feels the same way.

Dozens of runners pass. At one point a fit, probably thirty-something, woman runs past us. For a few hundred feet she is joined by a man with a camera and a young girl, probably eight or nine, both of whom were standing to the other side of us, neither of whom I noticed before they began running. “Hi, honey,” she says to the man with the camera as she waves and gives a tired smile. He follows closely, running beside her, the camera on her as they go. I can hear them talking as she continues up the merciless hill she has been running on for as far as us spectators can see. He asks her how she’s doing, gives his encouragement, tells her he is so proud of her. The tenderness of their interaction, watching her young daughter running as fast as she can to keep up with her mama, and the fatigue but determination on this woman’s face move me. My eyes well up with tears. I look at my sister-in-law. She’s watching the family as they run up the hill. She is teary eyed too. We make eye contact, roll our eyes at each other and laugh at our excessive emotions.

As soon as we recover and the lumps in our throats disappear, we grab our signs and our group spreads out. A few of us walk up the hill. A few of us walk down.

Then we see Josh. He too looks focused and determined. His pace is quick, his steps are strong and steady.

We cheer wildly, overwhelmed with excitement to see our friend doing so well. We hold up our signs. Josh smiles and waves. My brother, Sky, jumps in beside him for a couple of strides to ask him how he’s feeling. I look at Meaghan. We are teary eyed again. Josh crests the hill. We will not see him again until the finish line. We take off for our cars.

On the way, Sky tells us that Josh is averaging an eight minute mile. That gives us just over an hour to get to the finish line.

Chaz and I ride in our van. Everyone else piles in Sky’s car. I climb all the way into the back and use this time to clean up and change out of my stinky sweaty running clothes. I put on jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt. The rain has brought some cool weather with it. I slip my running shoes back on and throw on a rain jacket over my t-shirt. Chaz does his best to make his way through the traffic and find parking amidst the chaos. We do eventually park.

This parking spot is even further from where we are wanting to be than the last one was. We half walk, half jog to the finish line. It begins to rain soon after we reach it. We open the three huge umbrellas that we brought and huddle just a few feet from the finish line. We wait for our friend, unsure of our timing, unsure how long we will be standing in the gusting wind and pelting rain. Many, many runners pass- old and young, male and female, some limping, some jogging, some walking, some sprinting, some hobbling, some holding the hands of their young children as they cross the finish, some actually holding their young children as they cross the finish, some stopping to hug or kiss a loved one standing on the sideline to watch and cheer, some with smiles, some with tears, some pale, some flushed, some bloodied, some barefoot. Every one of them is soaking wet.

At one point I see my other sister-in-law, Tammy, who is a runner and a trainer (though she is not running the race this year, only attending to support all of the runners she has helped train). Tammy and another runner are supporting a petite, young woman between them. The woman has her arms around Tammy’s and the other runner’s shoulders. She is barely moving her legs. They carry her across the finish line. I stand and watch and wonder what happened to this woman. And why the other runner was willing to sacrifice her own race for that of another.

(Note: We found out later that the rookie runner, who was on pace to qualify for the Boston Marathon- a BIG deal in the running world- had collapsed at mile twenty-five. She had stopped for water- at the water station that Tammy was waiting at- and just fallen to the ground. “I don’t think I can get up.” she had told those around her, from where she was lying on her back on the ground. In response, Tammy had lifted her from her spot on the grass, and the two of them had set off for the finish line. Shortly after, they had been joined by the other runner.  “You owe me a dinner in Boston.” Tammy- also a Boston qualifier- had said with a grin when the three women crossed the finish line together, getting the young woman to the finish line in a qualifying time despite her agonizingly slow last mile.)

Soon after the three women cross, we see Josh round the last turn of the race. We cheer again, so excited for him and his accomplishment. He gives a little smile and flies by. We watch him finish. We are awed and so, so proud.

Our attention turns as it quickly dawns on us that none of us talked with Josh about where we should meet after the race. We realize that by the time he walks through the maze of barricades and tables (piled high with medals, food, cups of water, bottles of Cytomax, cheap flip-flops, towels, “space blankets”, and first aid gear for all the finishers) on the other side of the finish line, he will be far from where we are currently standing. We debate what to do. We finally decide that a few of us will stay put (we figured we at least have some hope that he will head back to where he saw us last), a few of us will go to the letter H (the first letter of Josh’s and my brother’s last name) (there are lettered sections covering the lawn at the finish line, to help friends and family to meet up with their runners) and a few more will head to the letter V (the first letter in our last name). We scatter.

I wait at the spot by the finish line with my sister and her friend.

Then we see Josh’s wife.

She has just arrived. She has just missed him. (He encouraged her not to come at all because of their daughter being sick but when their daughter seemed a little better she decided, at the last minute, to come anyway. Needless to say, she was very disappointed about missing him cross the finish line.) She is standing in the rain, holding their six year old in her arms. We gesture for her to join us. She hurries over to where we are and ducks under my umbrella. I start telling her about our morning.

Eventually we see Josh in the distance. He has spotted us. He makes his way over to where we are standing. I call the others to say we’ve found Josh and tell them to head in our direction. Those of us standing with him congratulate him and talk excitedly about what all we’ve seen and how proud we are of him. He seems really subdued. I assume this is because he is exhausted.

But after another minute of talking with him I get the feeling that it is more than exhaustion that is weighing on him.

Then he tells us what has happened.

“They diverted me. They diverted a lot of us. I didn’t realize it until I crossed the finish and heard people talking about it. There were no signs. But I know I was diverted. There is no way I finished that quickly. Its not possible. At some point they diverted me. I’m guessing I ran twenty-two or twenty-three miles. Not twenty six.”

(Note: We found out later that the race officials moved up the cut off time for the race because of the storms. Anyone expected to cross the finish line later than the cut off time was diverted and ran about twenty two miles instead of the full twenty-six point two. )

Those of us listening are stunned. What an incredible disappointment for a runner running his first marathon. We express to him how sorry we are about what happened but that we are still so so proud of him. He smiles defeatedly and thanks us for our kind words. He spends most of the next few minutes standing in silence. When the rest of our group shows up they approach excitedly, talking animatedly and congratulating our friend. It takes them a minute to realize that something is wrong. He tells his story all over again. They react the same way, with sympathy and encouragement. We head back to the car.

We are sharing three umbrellas. Not enough for our large group. Some of us walk in the rain. Chassi carries their daughter for a long time before running out of strength and setting her on the ground, “I’m sorry baby, but I just can’t hold you anymore. You’ll have to walk.” she tells her. Josh sees their interaction and walks over. He picks up his daughter. I watch him, knowing that each step is hurting more than the last. He too eventually sets her down, also saying that he’s sorry but that he  just can’t hold her any longer. We are waiting at a crosswalk. She stands quietly. I walk over and lift her into my arms. She is wet and shivering. I wrap a jacket around her and tell Josh that I will carry her the rest of the way. She lays her head on my shoulder. Sweet girl.

We split at the crosswalk- Chassi to her car on the other side of the stadium, the rest of us to the parking lot where both of our cars are parked. I can sense the emotion within my friend as we walk side by side down the sidewalk. I hate that his race has ended this way.

We climb into the car, all of us wet and worn out (though none of us to the extent of our friend). The ride home is quiet. My brother calls me from his car. “Ask Josh if he wants to run the final four miles once we get back to our neighborhood! I will go there right now and set up a course! We can all stand out there and watch him finish!” (as ridiculous as this idea sounds, my brother is serious. This is how much he loves our friend, Josh.)

“Please tell him- I don’t think so. But thanks. You are a good friend.” Josh responds. I relay the message. Sky accepts it reluctantly.

It is still raining when we get back to our house.

We unload ourselves and all of our gear from the van and pile it all on the kitchen table. Then we pile ourselves onto our couches. My sister, her friend and Josh’s daughter turn on a movie in the den. Josh and Chaz and I lounge in the living room and wait for Chassi to arrive in their car to take her family home. She is lost downtown.

Our guests take turns showering  and/or changing into dry clothes. A deeper exhaustion sets in. We talk with Josh about all of the events of the morning and discuss future plans for future marathons. He is already ready for more.

Chassi arrives but doesn’t stay long. We bid our friends farewell.

After a much needed, savorable, hot shower and when finally wearing warm, dry clothes, I drag my tired body to our bed and collapse onto my pillow, beside my husband who is already laying on his. My mom (bless that woman!) has our children and is keeping them until evening so that Chaz and I can nap. My eyes close quickly, though not before a few more thoughts run through my brain-

1) This entire adventure was amazing.

2) I am so proud of my friend for the self-discipline and dedication he possesses that made it possible for him to do what he did this morning.

3) Next time I want to be out there too…

So, Indianapolis……here we come!!!

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