The night before I ran 13.1 miles, I broke all the rules of carbo-loading, indulging in a pasta-less dinner at our fancy Southern hotel restaurant. Many courses and two glasses of wine later (cheers to more broken rules), Megan and I returned to our hotel room where we carefully laid out our race attire, set alarms for 6am, and fell asleep to the familiar hum of HGTV’s Property Brothers.
I had set the bar very low for sleep on this trip. Between a 7am flight out of Seattle, the 3-hour time change and a race start time of 7:30am (4:30am PST!!!), I was ecstatic to be merely present and vertical at the starting line.
Our Savannah hotel room had the advantage of being located directly along the race course, nearly hovering over the starting line. Over a room service breakfast of cold cereal, bacon and coffee, we took our time stretching and spying on the slowly accumulating cloud of runners chatting, shivering and stretching on the roped off street three stories below.
Wardrobe-wise, we debated on which camp of people we wanted to fall into: those who are happy with what they’re wearing at the beginning of the race, or at the end. We sucked it up in our sleeveless running tops on a chillier-than-normal Georgia morning, and chose the latter (the right decision).
I was informed that, as far as races go, this was a small one (about 1,200 participants, I would later find out). Having nothing to compare it to, I enjoyed being able to casually join the cluster of runners in my estimated speed group, and was off and running within seconds of the start of the race.
In those precious few pre-race minutes, milling about in the street among a sea of spandexed women with bib numbers safety-pinned to their chests, snapping pre-race selfies and chatting excitedly before beginning a largely speechless journey, I soaked it all in. I wasn’t nervous, anxious or worried about anything. I was just so happy to be there, in this place, in this moment. I was standing squarely in the intersection of dreams and their hard-won achievement. Nothing that happened over the next 2+ hours could change that. I had arrived.
I can still feel the dissipating chill to the early morning air, as weak sunlight fought its way through the handsome and historic Georgia oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. Their canopy felt comforting, nurturing and charming, and their shade would sustain me through much of the run.
The beginning of the race felt like a train slowly pulling out of the station, chugging along slowly and steadily at first, then quickening and strengthening as runners broke free from the initial swarm of people and found their own space, their own pace. I was intentional to start the race at an unnaturally slow pace, so as not to get carried away with the momentum and burn out early (advice I’d received from seasoned runner friends and made myself listen to). I knew my body and how it runs well by this point, and I knew what pace I could sustain. I trotted along those first few minutes in a gradually loosening tangle of women, with the sounds of Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime” coursing through my ears and setting my pace, establishing my intention. I hadn’t really planned a song to start running to, but this one was perfect for me. Lord knows all of us in the Northwest could use A LOT more summertime, and in a way, this experience felt like the official start of that season for me.
The song also deals with regret and taking hold of experiences while the sun is still hanging up in the sky…and I intended to do just that.
Miles one to three were easy breezy. If I’m pacing myself and not running for speed, I can run that distance and carry a conversation without a problem. Around mile two or three is typically where I tend to find my pace, and things sort of get harder and easier at the same time from then on out if that makes any sense.. I always find there to be this certain “X Factor” with running. Meaning, all else being equal, some days a run simply comes more easily and more naturally than others. Thankfully, the X Factor was working in my favor this particular morning. None of my long-fought worries came to light – no side cramps, no having to stop and pee, no sickness or starting the race on no sleep.
Early on, within the first few miles, I just knew I was going to easily exceed my goal finish time of 2:20-2:25 (about average for a women’s half marathon). I mentally readjusted my goal to 2:10. My second big goal was to not stop at all, for any reason. It’s a goal I had had early on in my training, but had let go as the weeks stretched on and the runs became longer and more grueling – I just didn’t think that goal was controllable or sustainable for thirteen miles and over two hours of running. Nor did I think I could sustain my normal solo running pace of about 10 minutes/mile.
But I did. I accomplished or exceeded both of my major goals. I ran the entire way (even at water stations, I would only slow to a lesser jog, but never stop – yes, I was that sloppy, stubborn person sloshing red PowerAde all over myself in the name of not stopping). I never stopped for a bathroom break, a walking break, or a water break for 13 miles. I was pretty proud of that.
I far exceeded my initial time goal, and missed my revised goal of 2:10 by 13 seconds (but didn’t beat myself up). I had also managed to sustain my pace at an average of 9:57/mile. There were two sources of time for this race – the huge banner/digital timer you run underneath at the finish line, and an electronic time “chip” embedded within your race bib. Apparently, for this race at least, the chip was considered more accurate, putting my finish time at 2:10:13, while my clock time was 2:11:00. And there’s more than you ever wanted to know about my personal race time. 😊
OK back to my experience mid-race… Around the mid-way point I got a second wind and surprised myself at the number of people I began to pass. It also definitely helped that the song that made me hands-down THE MOST HAPPY to run to throughout this whole race, came on around this time. Please brace yourself as even I cannot contain my amazement at my level of sophistication and maturity at the mere mention of this beloved song: Miley Cyrus, “Party in the USA.”
You guys, this song made me CRAZY LEVELS of happy. I was 7-ish miles in, with my hands up, they’re playin’ my song… noddin’ my head, movin’ my hips. Like, yeah. I’m not kidding. Thankfully Megan and I had spread out by this point and she was spared a lot of embarrassment. Because that’s what friends do.
Post-Miley, I started to slow down a little and didn’t have quite the bounce in my step. You just can’t top “Party in the USA.” Such a buzz kill. I soldiered along for a few miles, and by mile 10 I needed that double-digit mental boost. The 11th and 12th mile were hard-earned, and by the last mile of the race I couldn’t decide whether to attempt to somewhat sprint it or slow down even more for my sanity.
At that point, you are just putting in the time.
I paced myself pretty reasonably until the huge finish line clock came into view, and I saw it was already at about 2:10:40. You better believe I ran my @$$ off that last 20-second stretch, with a last-ditch effort goal to beat 2:11. I crossed that final, glorious line with tears in my eyes, a voice announcing my name and hometown in my ears, and two cowering teenage girls innocently handing out bags of snacks and water and hanging medals around the necks of haggard, delirious runners. Speaking a mere “thank you” was all but out of the question as my muscles nearly exploded from the 2+ hours of exertion finished by an exhausting sprint.
Crossing the finish line…
I finished 333rd out of 1,210 runners. (3-3-3, Dad!! Can you believe it? Sorry, inside joke regarding my tendency to roll R’s.)
I stumbled down the sidewalk, reacquainting my quickly stiffening muscles with the slowed, easy pace of a walk. I numbly downed an entire bottle of water and a banana, and focused on nothing more than breathing and pacing in circles for about 5 minutes. My friend crossed the finish line a few minutes later. We took some pictures to celebrate, and walked the length of the park, drinking more water and marveling at how weird it felt to not be running.
The rest of the day was filled with pool time and books, recovery, beer, very greasy burgers, and karaoke. I decided to retire my go-to Shania Twain karaoke song, “Any Man of Mine” after one last encore in Savannah. I’m planning to use my birthday this summer as an excuse for a ladies’ karaoke night – please let me know if you’d like to be invited!
I just might sing some Miley Cyrus.