BEAUTIFUL course through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, but…OUCH.
What made it hurt so much? I had been training for the past 12 weeks, and I was excited about this half-marathon. Perhaps lack of sleep and inadequate nutrition contributed to what I will now call “the hardest race of my life.” The day before the race, I was feeling very exhausted and found myself with a loss of appetite, so I wasn’t able to eat my usual pre-race meal. By 6pm, I started feeling chills which alternated with sweats throughout the entire night. I didn’t get much sleep, tossing and turning all night, looking at the clock every hour and trying to gauge how I was feeling. Still sweaty? Yes. Still have chills? Yes. I told myself, “Ok, as long as I’m not vomiting all night long, I’ll run this half-marathon.”
In the morning I felt slightly better but had to force feed myself a piece of toast and half a banana. By the start of the race, I felt 50% normal, but by that time had a lot of adrenaline to help lift my mood.
The first 3 miles were on road. I’m a middle-of-the-packer and found a cluster of others at my pace, and I was feeling pretty good by the time we hit the trail for the next 7.5 miles. The trail was gorgeous as it wound up, around and over the hills, and it felt great to be on trail. So great that I probably pushed myself too hard, passing runners when the sometimes single-track trail allowed. I was able to bound up many of the steeper parts with the exception of the last stretch up to the peak and then another climb to the exit of the park. For both of those sections I had to walk, a total of maybe 9 minutes of walking. And sometime between those last 2 climbs, things started to get ugly. My legs were getting sore and my mental focus was crumbling.
By the time we hit the pavement again, for the last 2.5 miles on road, I was HURTING, physically and mentally. 2.5 miles left and I wanted to be done. And I wanted to cry. And die. All I could see was a stretch of rolling road with hundreds of orange cones down the middle. I was shuffling and desperately wanted to walk, but I knew there was no way I could let myself walk in the last 2.5 miles. So I decided to take my last Shot Blok, and somewhere deep inside I found a little extra power and said goodbye to the woman I kept pace with for almost the entire race. I then started to focus on my breath and my goal, completely forgetting the excruciating pain in my legs. I had to focus about 100 meters at a time, telling myself to make it to the next stoplight. Once I got to that stoplight, I told myself to focus on a specific lamp post, and then the next stoplight, and then the guy in gray. Yeah, I could catch up to the guy in gray. After I passed him, I found a runner in red that I thought for sure I could catch up to. After catching that runner, with under a mile left, I targeted a less realistic goal — the lady in red. Let me just get a little closer to her even if I couldn’t catch her. To my surprise, a slight uphill less than 4 minutes to the finish line forced the lady in red to walk and shoooom, I passed her too. I sprinted the last downhill stretch to the finish line, crossed and immediately wanted to collapse onto the ground.
There were several moments during the race and on my drive home when I thought, “Damn. Forget this running thing. I’m going back to triathlons. At least in tri’s, I don’t have to run the WHOLE time.” It was, by far, the hardest event I have ever done. But then I got home, dipped into my first ice bath and read the wise words of SR, an amazing and committed mother, wife, radiology resident and runner, “You rock some and you walk some, but either way you pushed yourself to do something amazing.”
Ok, when’s the next running race?
Epilogue: 24 hours after the race, I now have a stomach bug.