In 2009, my friend Peggy and I ran the Lake Country Half Marathon in Wisconsin. Well, we intended to run it. Around mile 3 or so, I started having trouble with my hip, and then my knee at mile 7. We finished the race, thankfully, and I got myself checked out. Long story short, I ended up having both hip and knee surgery over the next two years.
Today, Peggy and I once again ran the Lake Country Half Marathon. It was a beautiful day, and I was thrilled to be back in race mode after 2 years of rehab and a year of training to get back into the game.
I had three targets in mind for this race, so I would always have something to strive for even if I missed my top goal:
1. Finish the race in 3 hours
2. Finish the race in less than 3:23, which was our time in 2009 when I limped across the finish line
3. Finish the race
Now, going into this race, I knew I was less than prepared. I had just completed a sprint triathlon on Sunday, which didn't give me much time to recover and repair for the half marathon. I had also injured my toe just a little over a week before and it was still bruised. And I developed a head cold on Wednesday that made me wonder if I should even bother trying to run.
But I said I would do it, and that's enough for me.
Neither one of had a great breakfast - for some reason, we didn't really plan for the day. So, loaded down with Sport Beans and Gu, we made it to the starting line during the countdown. Never before have we cut it so close! We had no choice but to use the race course as our warm-up.
So, hungry, stiff, and unable to breathe, I joined the sea of people shuffling across the starting line. Our goal was to run two minutes and walk one minute, repeating ad nauseum until we crossed the finish line. Oh, and sprint past every mile marker. It worked pretty well for the first 6 miles.
Then I felt a twinge in my right knee. My left knee is the one that had the surgery, so I immediately stopped. I told Peggy I wasn't going to risk hurting my other knee, and would she mind walking the rest of the way? She said sure, don't get hurt. She's such a great friend and training partner!
So we stopped the run intervals and just went to a fast walk. I knew target # 1 was out of the picture. But we still had a chance for 3:23, since we started out strong. But as we continued, my body had other plans for me.
Although I was wearing the same shoes and socks that I wore on our training runs without issue, I started developing blisters on my arches. (Ouch!) At mile 8, Peggy observed that I was limping. My left knee was swollen and tender. By mile 10, my hip flexors were on fire. Peggy offered to call my husband and have him pick us up.
But with 10 miles down, I couldn't see throwing in the towel. I gave up on target #2 and decided that simply finishing was enough. I asked Peggy if she minded slowing down even more. She said ok. Love that girl!
Then during mile 11, I forgot something very important. All along the way, I had been taking water only from the aid stations. But I grabbed Gatorade because I felt I needed more hydration help. Big mistake.
I'm allergic to malic acid or some similar flavoring used in tart foods, like Italian Ice and sports drinks. As my throat closed up, I remembered why I never take Gatorade. In a panic, because I of course forgot my EpiPen, I chugged water. The swelling in my throat went down and I could breath again. Sort of.
What a horrible situation! Scared, exhausted, and hungry, I started to cry. I stood on the side of the road and wondered why I ever thought I could do this race again. The volunteers had all left, and we were the only ones on the course for as far as the eye could see. I wanted nothing more than to be home in bed.
But then Peggy yelled, "marker 12! We're only a mile away from the finish!" It was enough. I knew my husband and my parents were at the finish line, and I knew I'd never forgive myself if I gave up one mile from the end. I dug deep and managed to pick up the pace a bit. The swelling returned and I once again stopped to chug water until it subsided. And there was my husband, taking photos of it all. We had gotten close enough to the finish line that we could hear the music and see the remaining spectators.
At mile 13, I picked up the pace and ran past the marker. This time, my throat didn't swell and I found what little energy I had left, so I kept running. Peggy and I crossed the finish line together, got our medals, and then I went straight to the paramedics.
Last week, I blogged about how I didn't push hard enough at the triathlon. This time, I left it all out on the course. I gave it everything I had and I crossed that finish with nothing left to spare. It was by far the worst event I have ever participated in. But in a way it was also the best. I finished. I proved to myself that I do not cave in the face of adversity. I may not have shined, and in fact I stopped and cried in a fit of self-pity, but I didn't give up.
These are the days that show us what we're made of.