My journey as a long distance runner who started the sport later in life.
It was a nice day for a race, sunny and finally warming up to seasonal norms. I ran alone because I wasn’t sure if I would finish, or pace well, and I didn’t want to hold anyone back. That second lap of the course was a little mentally challenging, the turn away from the finish line happening at about 10K. I knew it would be hard, so I kept reminding myself that what I was about to do was the same as the route I frequently train on during LSD runs, so what difference did it make if it was lap two of the same? It was comfortable and familiar, right?
Many people were out, and if the cap was 1800 they must have exceeded it (the chip time results page later confirming this: 2195 runners). I saw our pediatrician in the starting area and we exchanged pleasantries. He’s a great doctor, but I told him I was happy that I hadn’t seen him in a while: It meant the kids were doing well! A former student sidled up to me during the race also. We talked for a while, and we have paced the same in the past, but then she told me she was trying to maintain 6:30/km, so I told her to run along without me, that I was probably pacing at 7+/km, and off she went.
I was running a sub 7/km pace for a long time, but I knew it wouldn’t last. I am usually a negative split runner. I couldn’t help but feel a little claustrophobic, even at the 10K mark. All of us seemed to be pacing the same and it was so crowded. A few times, with my splint making life complicated, I skipped out on the water stations to avoid being bumped and jostled. I was also foot planting delicately in these zones to avoid slipping on the spent and discarded water bags. I wanted water at one station, but just couldn’t get there for all the runners and so I resigned myself to going without. A fellow runner saw this happen and later sidled up to me and handed me a cool, refreshing-feeling water bag and kept on running without a word. I said, “Gracias,” and, “Muy amable,” after him and spent about 1K getting all misty with gratitude that someone I didn’t even know would notice me and think to do something so kind.
At about 13K a familiar face smiled at me from across the track. A fan club of one, my friend cheered me on, became my personal paparazzi, snapping some great shots of me in action with my silly broken fingers in a splint (like the one below). Even better, she ran with me for about 1K up an incline, and then we parted ways.
I was determined to get around the last part of the second “out” to be finally pointing towards the finish line on the way “back.” The route went through two underpasses, and I easily sprinted up each resultant hill. As I approached that final turn I noticed that the other side had a super fun water mist archway and I hurried my pace. How fun was this? I wanted to be misted with water ASAP!
The water mist archway was at around the 16K mark, and from there I started to wonder what the heck I was doing. I knew from my Garmin that my pace was bad compared to previous races. I was still 5K away from being done and my fellow runners had finally thinned out. I started to feel like I was one of the last people in the race and wondering if a wagon would come and round us all up at a certain time. I started to worry there wouldn’t be enough of the cool medals. I wanted a coffee. I wanted this to be done now. All the negative self-talk and worrying was my wall for this race. I never hit a physical wall, but the mental wall was really getting to me. I started to walk. Guilt finally made me start running again: There was only 4K left at this point, was I really going to give up so easily?
I got to the rotunda where the Calzadas meet and I saw an incredible sight: The opposite direction was FULL of zippy-looking runners and I realized that it was the 5K race onslaught coming through. They were only about 2K in, but if I didn’t start to run faster they would be coming around to my side and that made me nervous. I didn’t feel like tempting fate on my silly broken fingers. I upped my pace though I was still 3K out. I could not let them catch up to me because: a) I didn’t want to return to claustrophobia and careful protection of my broken fingers; and, b) I didn’t want them to run out of medals before I finished.
I managed to finish the race at a chip time of 2:29:10, which is on par with any other half marathon I have ever done. When I walked to the medal area my heart sunk to see them digging the dregs out of a box and they were not cool carved animals, but simple textual mass-produced medals with plain ribbons. I felt resentful because the cool medal was part of why I had decided to do this race despite the fingers. I looked at the medal very closely and saw something I couldn’t live with: It said 2K. 2K? Are you kidding me? I ran 21K with three broken fingers against the advice of two specialist doctors and I get a medal that says 2K? Not today.
I went back into the finishing area through a gap in the holding gates and approached two people who were standing near medal boxes but back from the main medal station. I could see that they had some medals, and some of them looked hand-carved. I explained to the man that I had run 21K, not 2K, and that this medal was wrong. He basically said that they had made a mistake and forgotten the “1.” I showed him my splint, said I had broken three fingers four weeks ago, but did the race anyway because I wanted the cool animal medal. He dug around in his box and found me a cool squirrel and asked if it was okay. I said it was great and we traded, I thanked him, and he puckered and blew me a kiss.
With no one familiar around to catch a ride with and with me feeling like I was wearing a highly sought precious item, I didn’t want to catch a taxi. In this circumstance I did the only thing that felt right: I continued to enjoy the day as I walked the 2K between the finish line and my home.