Friday, November 13, 2009

Run Like A Kenyan!

I was on about mile 11 of the Des Moines Half Marathon when a Kenyan blew by me. He was going to finish the marathon in less time than it took me to run half a marathon…talk about a reality check. “I need to run like that,” I said to myself as I studied his form.

I’m not sure what convinced me I could run 13 miles. It didn’t seem that long ago that I thought a 5K was far. This year, though, had been about raising the bar and jumping over it.

I had run the “Run the Flood” in June. It was my second 7-mile race and I thought, “What’s another 10K on top of that?” It seemed like a crazy idea, but at the Hy-Vee Triathlon Expo I found myself drawn to the booth for the Des Moines Marathon. The guy told me the Half course was flat and a good one for a first-timer. I took the information home and found myself poring over the details while in bed at night. I couldn’t actually run a Half Marathon, could I?

After weeks of indecision, I knew I needed to make the commitment or forget about it. I signed up, knowing that would force me to do it. I would need to increase my running mileage while also keeping up with my triathlon training. I followed the written schedule, which topped off at 10 miles. How would I know I could run 13 miles in a race if I had never done it in practice?

The race was Oct. 18. I traveled to Des Moines the day before and went to the expo, where I met Terry Hitchcock. At age 57 he ran 75 marathons in 75 consecutive days. The guy looked like Santa Claus and he certainly didn’t have the body of a runner. He invited me to come to his seminar. Talk about inspirational! If he could run 2000 miles, I could certainly make 13. I won an autographed copy of his book, which I chalked up as Positive Sign #1. (Yes, I believe the universe sends me signs!)

That night I headed out from my hotel room in search of pasta. It’s true what they say…there really IS a Starbucks on every corner. The only places to eat in the area were fast food so I ended up going to the Wal-Mart deli and getting chicken strips and potatoes and gravy. So much for my pre-race meal!

The next morning I headed to the race site in the dark. I always have to be at a race site early so I can use the bathroom at least four times. It was in the 30’s and cold so I sat in my vehicle in the parking garage. My legs were shaking…was it the cold or my nerves? I freak out before every race. I suddenly was filled with a singular thought…I had never run 13 miles before. I started to panic. I looked outside the garage and the building across the street said “The Kenyon Company-1907.” It was a different spelling of Kenyan, but I considered it Sign #2. A calm overtook me. “Let’s DO this,” I said with determination and I headed to the starting line.

I looked for MWX member Cole, who was walking the race with her sister, but I saw no familiar faces in the crowd of thousands. I found my place with my pace group, my heart pounding with excitement. Although it was legal to wear music, I left the ipod at home. I knew this race would be mental for me and I needed absolute focus.

The race started and we were off! I settled into a nice, easy pace and I kept repeating the mantra “one mile at a time.” I wasn’t going to think about 13 miles. I was just going to run one mile and then run another mile and then another.

At mile two I took off my nylon pants. (Yes, I had shorts on!). I had never ditched clothing during a race before, but they said the clothes would be collected for the needy. I didn’t mind losing the pants because they weren’t mine! Months ago someone had left a bag of clothing at the edge of my front yard. I don’t know if it was dropped accidentally or dumped there, but it contained a pair of nylon running pants. Maybe it was fate those pants were left there!

I had been afraid that I might not make the turn-off and end up on the marathon route. Like I could “accidentally” run 26 miles! No fear, a girl with a bullhorn told us where to turn. We headed into a park and there I was greeted by Disco Man. He was wearing bright clothing and a wig and singing “Play That Funky Music.” I was having fun now.

About mile 6 I felt a knot in my leg. Brief moment of panic. “Suck it up,” I told myself. Per Coach Rosie’s instructions, I did a 60-second walk at each water station. It kept me going mentally to know I would have that short break.

As I made the loop in the park I passed Disco Man again. He called out words of encouragement as he started singing “Green Acres.” I just wished he could follow me the whole race! At the midway point I was feeling strong. At mile 9 the music was blaring “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. It was another sign! I had sung that song in the car on the way to Club Nationals in Oklahoma. “I’m really going to do this,” I smiled to myself.

About mile 10 things started getting tough. I was feeling it in my legs. I tried to pretend I was just running a 5K, but the last few miles seemed long. I was feeling hungry and the energy chews were not doing it. As we turned down the home stretch I wanted to sprint the last quarter mile, but I could only muster a run in the final 25 yards. Thirteen miles hurts.

Like a zombie I wandered over to the food, plopping down in front of the porta potties. I didn’t care where I was at; I didn’t have the energy to move. Eating made me feel better. I went back to the parking garage to get warm clothes and was told the elevator was out. Are you kidding me?! My legs didn’t want to climb stairs.

I wore my finisher’s medal like a badge of honor for the rest of the day. I had missed my goal time by two minutes, but I knew I had accomplished something big in my life. Me, the non-runner, had run 13 miles! I felt empowered. I can do anything!! It was a great way to end my season.

Keep Tri-ing!