In the blink of an eye it was all over. Well, not really. It was more like in 13.1 miles it was over, but it was such a wonderful experience. To put it into words will never give it the full justification that running your first ½ marathon deserves. I have written and re-written this post, but I am unable to capture the feelings and the emotions that ran through us on Sunday. Every step was memorable and every single moment is etched into my mind as memories I will never forget.
The weather was 40 degrees upon arriving and the sight at the start of the race was breathtaking. Almost 30,000 runners were walking around, preparing to partake in the marathon and ½ marathon. Rachel and I walked through the crowds feeling like a team of two among thousands of other teams ready to accomplish their own personal goals. However, I felt like all of us were in it together and were somehow about to run as one harmonious group.
Music was blaring on the loud speakers and the start of the race was fast approaching. 10 weeks of training were about to pay off and we sat anxiously awaiting the start. The cold air, with its slight gusts of wind sent goose bumps through our bodies and we shook with what we thought were reactions to the air, but were likely our nerves attempting to get the best of us. I struggled with whether or not to wear my under armor long sleeve shirt, but Rachel in her infinite wisdom convinced me to stay with just my shirt. She knew that once we hit the first mile our bodies would warm up and the weather, no matter what it was, would become obsolete.
Suddenly we were standing in our corral waiting for our start. We were in corral #9, with a predicted finish time of 2:00. Neither of us had ever run 13.1 miles, not even in our training. The most we had run was 11.4. Two hours, we thought, was possible, but neither of us really believed we would get anywhere below it. As we stood, hugging each other tightly to stay warm in the cold air, we smiled knowing that in just minutes we would be setting out to accomplish our goal.
Over the loud speaker we heard “3…2…1” and with that the first corral was set into motion. The butterflies immediately began fluttering in my stomach knowing that our start was near. We clapped and we cheered. We were ready. We held hands and we inched to the starting line. Soon corral #8 was off and running. We were next and my heart began to pound with excitement. I turned to Rachel and said, “It all starts and ends here today…Let’s do this!” Then, the signal was given, “3…2…1” and we were off. I screamed out, “Game times Pain Times Babies!” We laughed and the run began.
Sure enough within the first .5 miles we were warmed up. Immediately we began passing people, although we were running at our slowest pace ever. We knew there would be thousands of runners, but neither of us realized the amount of people we would have to angle around to get ahead. It was apparent from the start that people were not starting in the correct corrals. They were running much slower than the time specified, making it much more difficult for those of us in our correct corrals. At the first mile we were a little over a 10 minute mile, which was much slower than we wanted. We looked at each other and said, we need to pick up the pace and so we did. We began darting in and out of runners, moving ahead quickly. People, we noticed, were stopping left and right. They looked tired. It was apparent that many had started too quickly, getting too caught up in the excitement. We had been warned by many to not start too fast and of course we had not.
After mile two we began settling into our run. We had made up a lot of time and our training was already paying off. We felt comfortable and alive. We ran past the Alamo and I suddenly felt inspired. It was surreal because it honestly felt like it wasn’t happening. The crowds cheered and we ran with vigor. After 3 miles we were surprised at the ease of the race. The weather felt perfect and kept us comfortably cool. I was surprised at Rachel’s energy as she kept telling me the run felt easy.
Before I knew it we were passing my high school. I started to get tears in my eyes and I had no idea why. I fought to hide my emotions. To my surprise the Central Catholic Button Band was on the steps playing and cheering us on. I looked at Rachel and I said, “There it is, my high school” as I continued to fight to keep my tears from rolling down my cheeks. Time, I realized, had flown by so quickly, but there, at 31 years-old, I was still healthy and alive, running with a beautiful woman. I thought about how lucky I was. I wiped my cheeks and kept running.
We continued to pass people, rarely watching anyone pass us. It was empowering because neither of us expected to pass many people. We would come upon a group and I would exclaim, “We finally found a group of people that are running our pace.” Then, we were suddenly ahead of them and continuing to increase our speed.
The music from the bands at each mile definitely did wonders for our mood. I was often drumming along with the bit or singing as we ran by. It helped keep our minds off the run. In addition, all the people cheering along the way and yelling out encouraging words pushed us more than any of them will ever know. We were so happy we had learned to run iPod free, because it allowed us to take in everything. I pointed out to Rachel that almost every person running with an iPod looked tired and were breathing the hardest. The problem is that songs often dictate your emotions and can affect your runs. Learning to listen to our breathing and just hearing the steps of the other runners became almost therapeutic. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to talk to other runners along the way.
Halfway through the run we finally began to get tired, but we passed a group of kids that were cheering. I ran by and gave them each a high five and they screamed, “Keep going!” Suddenly I felt energized and we picked up our pace.
Along the way we drank water and Cytomax. Neither of us had ever had Cytomax and it proved to be a lifesaver. It definitely quenched our thirst but it also felt like it gave us energy. The funniest thing has to be watching runners attempt to drink cups of water as they continue to run. Yes, it does spill all over you, but you really don’t care. All that matters is that you have some type of drink in you because it does wonders. The hard part was also slowing down to grab the water and Cytomax, because neither one of us wanted to slow down at all. But, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
At mile 8 we were coming out of downtown and entering the King William Historic District. At that time we were getting excited because we knew we were basically just running 5 more miles, something that we were very used to. Thus, we picked up our speed again. We had a good laugh when we noticed one man was running with a thong under his shorts…yes…a thong! We just kept laughing because he was ahead of us and it helped keep us going. We finally got tired of seeing it because honestly it’s like a car accident, you can’t look away! So we sped up ahead of him. At that point we were still passing people left and right. It was surprising because we figured people would be passing us by then.
The run became daunting at mile 9 when a woman running next to us was breathing heavily as she ran. It made us extremely tired hearing her gasp for air as she was running. Her partner was pushing her, but you knew she was going as hard as she could. Mentally it was difficult for us to hear so we ran to the other side of the street to avoid hearing her. I know it sounds mean, but it was tiring to hear.
Mile 10 soon approached and you could suddenly see people looking at their watches and trying to speed up. We knew we were on pace to get close to 2 hours, so naturally we sped up as well. We could hear people pushing each other to go faster, some more encouraging than others. Just a word of advice to some people trying to encourage their partners…Don’t say, “Come on, we can make a great time. It’s what we trained for, you either want it or you don’t. You might as well quit if you can’t run it in 2 hours.” When I heard a guy say this to the girl he was running with I was pissed. I wanted to turn around and say, “At least she is running and doing great! Leave her alone and run by yourself!” After he gave her his crappy excuse for encouraging words she actually slowed a bit. We never saw them again.
When we hit mile 11 I was ecstatic. I turned to Rachel and said, “For sure we are finishing this race, now let’s see if we can get under two hours.” I could tell Rachel was getting tired, but she was fighting hard. She stayed by my side through mile 11 and pushed like I have never seen before. She still didn’t look completely tired and I kept telling her how great she looked. She was not breathing heavy and her pace looked completely relaxed.
We turned down Durango street and you could see the Alamodome (the finish) in the distance. We hit mile 12 and I began to speed up. We were going to cut it close if we wanted to run under 2:00. Rachel told me to run off ahead because she didn’t want to slow me down, but I didn’t want to leave her behind. We had come so far together and I was so proud of her. She encouraged me to go off ahead, as she always does and I moved forward as my strides became longer. The distance between us increased and suddenly I was running beside the Alamodome. I looked back for Rachel but she was nowhere to be found. I then turned to my left and to my surprise she was next to me. I called out our time and said we could make it but we would have to push faster. Again she told me to run off ahead and by this time I could see her getting tired. I moved forward and began a leisurely sprint before the second to last turn. Fans were above us looking down and screaming. They were telling us that we were almost done and that the finish line was ahead. I made the second to last turn and realized it was a big hill. People were stopping at it and walking. Runners were slowing down. I thought about all of our training and how our park is full of hills. I pushed hard and began a full out sprint up the hill. I weaved in, out and around people. I was determined to finish strong. I made it up the hill quickly as my breathing became less tired and more angry. I made the last turn and I could see the finish line. I began to run at an all out sprint. I wasn’t just going to finish, I was going to finish strong!
Before I knew it I was crossing the finish line. I immediately turned back to look for Rachel and sure enough she was only seconds behind me. I grabbed her when she crossed the finish line and pulled her close. I gave her a big finishing kiss and told her how proud I was of her. We looked at our watches and it looked like we had both made it under 2:00, but of course we didn’t know for sure.
Nothing can ever describe that feeling when you get your medal. We wore them with pride. We walked around after the race on Cloud 9. All we could talk about all day was the race and the feelings that embodied it. The feeling was amplified when we first saw our times.
My Finish Time: 1:58:51, which was a pace of 9:04 a mile.
Rachel’s Time: 1:59:13, which was a pace of 9:06 a mile!
Not only had we finished, but we did better than we ever thought possible. It was our first ½ marathon, but it’s definitely not our last. Did we catch the bug? The second we started the race we did. I encourage anyone who has ever thought about running to just do it! You will never regret it. It will make you feel alive and accomplished.
STAY TUNED FOR MY DOCUMENTARY ON OUR EXPERIENCE. I HOPE TO BE DONE WITH IT IN THE NEXT WEEK.