This obviously wasn’t the race I wanted, the race I trained for, but it was the race it was.
I spent a lot of time on Sunday thinking “3:44. That’s a stupid, ugly number,” but a lot of that anger has melted.
I’m cutting a lot of the pre-race info for length, but my mom met me at the hotel, we drove the course, and got dinner at Mangia Trattoria. My stress levels were through the roof and I kept apologizing for my catatonic, gloomy mood.
If the night before was panic attack-level stress, the morning of was pretty zen, to the point of being flat. The alarm went off at 5a.m. and I had slept surprisingly well. I threw on my gear, and tried to make coffee in the hotel room by turning it on and leaving the water in the coffee pot. Whoops. I ate my dry, plain bagel and sipped on some Gatorade and coffee while my mom went down to put stuff in the car, and then we were off. The start line was about 20 minutes from the hotel, but traffic was a bit rough the closer we got. At 15 minutes to race time, I was still trying to find parking, but my normal stress had evaporated. My left hip/groin had been really tight and given me trouble for weeks (to the point where I thought I might have to bag this race altogether), and I was relieved to find that it loosened up completely in the 6-ish block walk to the start area.
At this point, I had about 8 minutes until the start of the race, and I still REALLY had to use the restroom. The lines were really long, but out of nowhere, I spotted my friend Pedro. “Pedro! What are you doing here?! Can I cut in front of you?!” We both PR’d the port-o-let, and got positioned into the starting corral not far from each other (he was running the half). The weather was warm enough that I didn’t need any of my throwaway gear. I had taken off my long-sleeve shirt, and was holding arm-warmer socks and a pair of gloves in a bundle, thinking I would throw them to my mom in the first mile or so. As I was fiddling with my stuff, I was tackled by Hood to Coast teammate Lauren, who was there to spectate for a bunch of teammates. The unexpected familiar faces in the starting corral were really nice, as I expected to be fully on my own for the duration. I only had a few minutes in the corral before the gun went off, and normally that would leave me feeling pretty anxious.
I had decided that for this race, instead of looking at the avg pace function of my watch like I did at Twin Cities, I would set it to show the current lap time only. This way, I could take my effort a mile at a time and adjust as needed.
I did a fair amount of jockeying and dodging in the first ½ mile. The one thing that struck me was that I didn’t get my usual “Oh my god, I’m actually doing this” feeling. I started to tear up at Twin Cities, and even at the half marathon I ran as a pacing run, but I didn’t have that at all this race. My mom was nowhere to be found in the first mile (I remember feeling annoyed by this), so I reluctantly ditched my bundle on a street corner. The first few miles were through downtown, residential Kenosha. I saw an old woman in her nightgown standing in her doorway on the phone, and I laughed thinking about the conversation that was happening. “Doris! I’m watching the runners! They’re right outside my door! Yea! Runners! Are you seeing this?!”
At this point, I should mention that TRWU (Team Race With Us) had decided to spectate this race in support of my BQ goal. Chanthana had sent me a spoiler video the night before, along with some words of encouragement, and I was excited to see what they had in store. I hadn’t connected with them as to where they would be positioning themselves along the course, but Jenny told me to “expect to see [them] A LOT.” Pedro had told me he thought their plan was to make the drive in time to catch the second half.
The first few miles were uneventful. There were a decent amount of spectators, I was feeling pretty on point, and the weather seemed perfectly cloudy and cool. Around mile 3 or 4, I heard horns up ahead. Because I wasn’t expecting TRWU to be there so early, I thought, “Cool! Someone else with horns! That’s fun!” As I came closer, I saw that it was Lauren! She blew her horn in support and I gave her a few air punches. In the celebration, I missed seeing my lap time, but carried on and hoped for the best.
About a mile later, I had caught up to Pedro (and gave him a good fright when I smacked him on the ass). I asked what his goal pace was (sub-8s), and although a nagging voice in my head said, “Mmm too fast, Hillary,” it felt so good to have someone running there with me that I told him I would stay on his hip for a few miles. I clocked a 7:47 for mile 5 (whoops), and we headed into a section that was made of what I’m lovingly calling “end of earth pavement.” (See video below.) I had known to expect it from my drive the night before, but it was bad. I heard a honking noise and remember thinking, “There must be ducks around here somewhere…” I had been keeping my eye on the pavement, but I glanced up and saw Manny standing on some rocks with a vuvuzela, and at that moment, I knew TRWU was here.
I was SO excited, and as I saw them, I came in for an airplane side-five, air punches, and the biggest smile. Unfortunately, the side-fives triggered my manual lap, so miles 6-7 were broken up into strange, artificial chunks of time (miles with * are 5-10 seconds slower than actual time).
Chanthana (@chanthana) May 04, 2013
The course featured a hairpin turn at around 7.5 miles, and another side-five from Pedro (running a few steps ahead at that point) triggered more lap issues between miles 8 and 9. We continued to run together for a few more miles, spotting TRWU again around mile 9. This time, they channeled Alexi Pappas, running alongside me screaming, “YOU’RE A MERMAID!” “There’s a girl in front of you but your hair’s longer!” and “You can do anything for CHEESE!” I ditched my lucky TCM headband with them (it was starting to get really warm), and carried on. Pedro warned me that he was going to take off around mile 10, and I told him he owed me an ass slap when he did. As he took off, I yelped at the serious smack on my backside, and two guys running next to us exchanged shit-eating grins. Right around this time, I saw my mom for the first time in the race, which was a really nice surprise (at this point, I just assumed she was wandering around lost in the woods of Kenosha). I spotted him again (the half marathoners had a hairpin turn around mile 12), and he shouted some encouragement.
And then? I was alone. I made small talk with an older guy, and we discovered that we were running for the same goal. I remember thinking that I had no interest in running with this man for another 2 hours, so I picked up the pace a bit and settled in a few feet in front of him. Miles 11 and 12 felt incredibly long. The sun had popped out unexpectedly, and I could feel that I was starting to get salty. I was a little worried, and my calf at some point in the race threatened to seize up (that was a new one for me).
I had been taking gels every five miles, but I could feel that my body was craving a little bit of help, and so I took my third gel a half a mile early. At this point, the race leaves downtown and heads into the more residential Pleasant Prairie. I remember seeing a port-o-let at mile 14 or 15 and thinking, “Man, I think I need to stop, but I’ll gut it out for a few miles and see how I feel.” I was told that there would be port-o-lets at every water table (spoiler alert: there weren’t.) At mile 15, we hit the first mile of gravel road on the course. It was uncomfortable, and there were ENORMOUS potholes littered throughout. At 16, we had about 1/2mi of respite before another ½ -3/4 of a mile of gravel. It was around this point that I think I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my goal. Although my average pace was hanging on to 8’12, I knew I didn’t have enough in me to maintain for another 10 miles. And then I hit more gravel. My mom and I had driven all but about 2 miles of the course, and I was pissed to find myself on more limestone. Around this time, I saw TRWU again and tried to put on a good show. To them, I was still on pace, and I didn’t want give up just yet.
I saw them again about a mile later. They came crashing up to the route, screaming, “Hillary! We’re here! WAHOO! *insert horn blowing*” I had to laugh a bit, even though I was hurting and starting to fall into the rabbit hole of disappointment. It was at this point that a runner turned to me and said,
“ I’ve been running within ¼ mile of you this entire time, and your friends are awesome. Psychotic, but AWESOME.”
He asked my goal time, and I remember becoming really agitated when he exclaimed, “Me too! We’ve got some work ahead of us!” I didn’t say “F*** you, I’M still on pace,” but I wanted to. (*Side note: This guy came in at 3:35:02, so maybe I should have swallowed that pride and attempted to stick on his hip for a bit longer.)
This entire time, we’ve been weaving back and forth along these back roads, always able to see stretches of the final 10k, which I found incredibly frustrating. The hairpin turnaround came around mile 19, and there was a timing mat placed about ¼ mile after the turnaround. The only timing mat on the course, and it wasn’t even at a mile marker. I hated that mat, and I hated that turnaround. I also had to poop. I had refrained from eating any fruits or vegetables all week because I was terrified they would give me stomach issues on race day, and here I was at mile 21 and I had to poop.
I think I saw TRWU one more time around this point. I remember sticking out my tongue as I ran past, knowing that they knew, and not having the strength to pretend anymore.
I finally stopped at the only toilet within miles around mile 21. (In fact, I stared it down for 1/4 mile, praying no one would pop in (Poop in? Ha…) before me. They didn’t.)
Throughout the last ten miles of this race, I had felt twinges of shaky vision, and I knew that the heat was getting to me. I PR’d that toilet (maybe 30-45 seconds?), but the act of going into an enclosed space and sitting down really made me woozy, and my legs were twitching like crazy. I stepped out and knew that my last wheel had fallen off.
Thus began what felt like the slowest 8k of my life. I tried everything I had. I channeled what Alexi Pappas does in hard workouts (envisioning your teammates shouldering the burden), I tried begging (If I see TRWU again I’m going to beg one of them to just get me to 25.), I tried shaming (These people did NOT come up here to see you LOSE!), I tried reasoning (If you cross that finish line late, you’ll just regret every workout you ever missed.), I tried transferring (Your legs are tired, so just run with your heart.). I even allowed myself maybe 20 seconds of pity walk around 23 until I reminded myself that I had a 5k left. A 5k. And walking it wasn’t going to get me anywhere any faster. I took Gatorade at 23 or so. I had taken my last gel early out of necessity (around 19), and I was in desperate need of some calories. My thighs and butt felt like someone was biting large chunks out of them with every step. I had hit the wall like a bug on a windshield.
I tried not to count the people that passed me, but at least 4-5 women from my AG picked me off. I had no idea how I was doing overall, but in my head, and in the stupor of mile 24, I still thought I might just be a few minutes off of my BQ goal. The last two miles felt like a lifetime. I kept telling myself that my heart just wasn’t big enough to carry my broken legs. I let myself go there.
I remember seeing Kevin around mile 26. I don’t remember what he said, but he was shouting and I couldn’t really even muster a strong 200 meters. I saw my mom somewhere around the same time, and I remember telling her to “Meet me at the finish. Please. Hurry,” which is something you never tell moms because they assume the worst. She had my drop bag, and I remember being so worried that I wouldn’t have it IMMEDIATELY. I remember not being able to see the finish line because the course continued to curve around several times in the last 1/2 mile. I kept thinking “WHERE THE F*** IS THE FINISH LINE?!”
I crossed the finish with a fist in the air and a hand over my heart. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t emotional. When I saw that I had finished in 3:44, I was shocked. I didn’t understand how I had finished so far away from my goal, and I was glad at that moment that I had been too tired to look at my elapsed time in the last few miles. It would have shattered me. My poor mom met me as soon as I finished, panting. She had sprinted over, bags flying everywhere, at my “please hurry” insistence. I felt horrible.
Regardless of what happened in the last hour of this race, all of that was erased when TRWU met me at the finish. These guys far and away surpassed any expectations I had for this race. Their enthusiasm, their support, their efforts, and their early-morning commute… I really can’t thank them enough for everything.
Of everything I was feeling in the hours after the race, some of the strongest were embarrassment and stupidity. I felt like I had let everyone down and I was so embarrassed that I had made such a big deal out of a goal that I came so far from achieving.
At the end of the day, I had a good race with an ugly finish. A six minute PR is something worth celebrating. So are great friends.