This Sunday, I ran my first race of the year...the first race since Brian died. This wasn't a race I planned on doing; it just so happened to be a 10 mile race when my training program called for me to do a 10 mile training run this weekend. My friend and training partner Laura planned on the race, so it would be a good way to get the long run in with a known training partner.
Even though this race was in my mind for a couple weeks, I was really looking at it as a training run instead of a "race." It was part of my preparation for the "real" race, the Des Moines 1/2 marathon. It is the sort of distance I should have respected more, though. I treat Dam to Dam as a "race" -- I hydrate and eat well, I have GU packets to give me carbs during the run -- and, as a 20k (12.4 miles), that race is only 2.4 more than what I did on Sunday. I didn't do any of that this time -- I wasn't taking this run seriously because it wasn't a "race," it was a training run. Similarly, when friends and family offered to come support me and cheer me on, I declined. I didn't think I'd need the support for a 10 mile training run.
I even had family in town this weekend -- my sister and her boyfriend came to Des Moines for her birthday, which was Sunday. Brian's brother has the same birthday as my sister, and he was moving into a new place this weekend on top of it, so his parents (my in-laws) came to help out and to see him. I'm sure I could have gotten any or all of them to cheer me on if I had asked, but it didn't seem necessary to interfere with the moving process, to deprive college kids of the opportunity to sleep in, etc. So I told everyone, "No, I'll be fine. Thanks for the offer though. This run really is no big deal." And that's what I thought...until the middle of the night before the run.
For some reason, I just couldn't sleep Saturday night. I started to think about the race and how weird it was going to be to finish at Nollen Plaza in downtown Des Moines -- where I've finished so many races before -- without anyone at the finish line cheering me on. I started to feel very alone, even in bed. My teddy bear is nice and all, but sometimes no matter how tightly I squeeze him, it still just feels like stuffing and fake fur. Suddenly, this was one of those nights. I cried, I tossed, I turned, I flipped on the TV, I had a text conversation with another sleepless friend who probably wasn't expecting an immediate response at 2-something in the morning. Ellie got in bed with me for a while and nuzzled around, which helped a little. Finally, I dozed off, TV still tuned to the NFL Network (hey, that's been my default since the regular season started). I think I only got about three hours of sleep.
Sunday morning, I was too tired to be worried about the race and the emotions for a while. Once I arrived downtown and got registered, I got my bib number pinned to my shirt, walked around a while, and then took my pants off (I had my running shorts under them!) and took them back to the car. Seeing all the runners in their various specialty clothes, wearing belts that hold water and carb-gel supplements, waiting in the line for the port-a-potties among hundreds of others who are anxious for the starting gun...well, then it really starts to feel more like a race than an training run. Then there's the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and the much-awaited bang that jolts hundreds of people into a run. Yep, this was going to feel like an actual race...and it was going to be tough.
Laura and I ran together and I could tell from the get-go that the pace we were running was going to be doable, but tough. We started and ended in downtown Des Moines (race course here: http://www.capitalstriders.org/assets/races/CapitalPursuit10m-5k.pdf). As we were turning to head north out of the downtown area, about a mile and a half into the run, I looked up at the building at 801 Grand, the tallest building in Des Moines. I saw a lone hawk circling around the building. I felt it was Brian, watching the race and encouraging me from the sidelines as he would normally do.
The race went very well from there. It was a gorgeous day, a challenging but mostly comfortable pace for me, a pretty and relatively flat course, and good company for running. Yes, my friends/training partners and I talk while we run. Not the whole time, and certainly not as much toward the end of a race, but enough to keep from getting bored. For the most part, it was a wonderful race.
However, during the last 1/2 mile it did get hard. We ran by ING, where Brian used to work. There were people sitting on the ING bench outside, and I thought of our friend Bobby. He recently told me about how he would wait on an ING bench in the skywalk when he was waiting to meet Brian for lunch. I thought about how I'd never again pull up to the building and wait for him to come out when we had plans after work. Then I saw the finish line and thought of how he wouldn't be at the other end of the chute. I started to feel like crying; my breath was choppy. At the same time, I just wanted to get through the race, to finish strong, to prove to myself that I could make it there (to the goal) and so I'd be done with the damn race already!
Laura knew I was struggling; I think I said it, but if I didn't, my face and body were telling the story. She encouraged me, reached out and held my hand, and told me, "We started this together. We're going to finish it together. Brian's with us today. He's been with us the whole time." This was a strong emotional and physical challenge, and she pulled me through. I made it across the finish line in time to log a sub-11 minute pace.
As you've already read, I didn't really prepare my body for this race either. I probably didn't come into this with the right hydration level or with the right food/fuel in my body. Combine that with pounding waves of emotion and the fact that I picked up speed upon seeing the finish line...and you've got a recipe for physical breakdown. Thus, while I crossed the finish line in a good time, I also did so with some complications. I threw up right after I crossed the line. Luckily, it was just a small amount (having no food in my system), and I was able to lean over the side of the finish chute to get rid of it. It wasn't even enough for me to feel embarrassed or feel terrible. Once I got some Gatorade and caught my breath, I was fine. It was just weird though -- that's the first time I've ever thrown up from pushing myself running.
Anyway, it was an emotionally taxing experience that even manifested itself physically. I had shared my anxieties about the race with Laura, and shed a few tears, right before the race. She said she thought it was good for me to do this race before the Des Moines Half Marathon, to get in "up to your knees" before jumping right in. It felt more like I was in up to my belly button (because it's so intense when the cold water reaches your navel!), but the point was -- it was a good stepping stone on my way to my first "real" race; the Des Moines Half will still be hard, as it is a bigger race and it is the end goal of this course of training. I thought her comment was spot-on, especially after I ran the race. It was harder than I had thought, so I'm glad to have gone through it before "the real thing."
It turned out that this weekend's race was a good training run...physically and emotionally, I am more ready for the real thing next month.