Want to feel euphoric?
Run your guts out.
Work hard, (NEVER to the point of injury.)
Complete a challenging work-out.
Today I completed the Long Beach Half Marathon. However, for the first time in my running life I ran:
—without proper preparation due to a 17 day vacation and grandma duties
—ten days after being in serious pain due to sitting in a car for vacation-sightseeing, as well as a 15-hour return plane ride.
I sent in my $120.00 to Long Beach Marathon because I wanted a reunion with the “Saturday Runners,” a group I used to race with, completing full marathons in New York, Chicago, Portland. I’ve almost dropped out of the group due to family demands, but I’m not willing to lose contact altogether.
Catherine, a social worker and Caroline a scientist, are the indisputable leaders. Catherine soft and wise and Caroline, tough, and exacting.
A knock on the door at 5:20 a.m. got me out before I gobbled my favorite pre-race food--a peanut butter sandwich. But when Caroline says, “Lets go!” we move—fast!
The dark Sunday morning yielded a nearly empty 405, so we sailed into strategic marathon parking, close to the start.
Runners routinely use extra pre-race time to head for the port-a-potties. Happily, we were early enough to make two visits. Sadly, the potties were already out of toilet paper. I remembered too late how another runner packs a roll of toilet paper for every race.
So without the benefit of peanut butter or toilet paper, I said bye to friends whom I was sure were faster than I, and lined up for the start.
I like to race alone, an usual state for me. I’m gregarious. Not in races. I do not want to chat, worry about friends, or high five spectators.
My wave of runners moved up to the starting line. The horn sounded. I started my run to the mantra, “This is easy,” and it was. My watch read 10:45 pace.
My race rules were:
—No reading signs or shirts. (takes energy)
—No looking at other runners. (I surge ahead when I spot a senior female. Without prep, so recently injured, I did not think I could afford a surge.) I place first in races, but gave up the idea today.
—Keep visor low and eyes down. ( Not in top shape, I don't lift my feet high enough off the ground to avoid ruts in road or sidewalk. I fall DOWN.)
For weeks before the race, I put myself to sleep visualizing each step--a clear fast race. “I’m in my dream,” I told myself, running my race at a comfortable pace.
I popped a Shot Blok (gummy electrolytes and caffeine) into my mouth and decided to pop another every second mile. Mile 2: water, shot block, and back on the course. Repeat at Mile 4.
My strategy worked until I dropped my Shot Bloks at Mile 8. So, I fished a chocolate bar out of my fanny pack. Still running without pain, I felt continuous energy but noticed my pace slowed to 11-minute-mile. By then, I left my early mantra and adopted the strategy of rhythmic counting steps between lane lines in the road. “One-two” steps on blacktop between lines and “one” on the line.
Momentarily sneaking a look at a a senior female, I broke my rule. Left her behind. Spotted another walking and took satisfaction, running past her. However I felt I was running at my old pace—nine minute miles. I secretly hoped to regain my 2-hour-half marathon time.
Then the 2:20 pacers holding their prominent signs breezed past me. I did not keep up with them.
In most of life, I am reflexively self-critical but not racing. I raced my race, keeping a steady pace, never sinking into the dreaded “used up feeling.” “I’m doin’ it,” I told myself.
At Mile 11, I began the countdown. Shoving chocolate into my mouth, remaining spry, passing runners who bonked.
A hot morning, I had dumped cups of water over my head and when a guy on the course gave out baggies of ice, I emptied the cubes down my shirt.
So, all wet, I came though Mile 12 and 13. Thrilled to see "The Finish," I crossed the line as my name was announced.
Yeah, I was glad to stop, but also elated—thirteen miles under my belt and still standing.
Found Caroline and Catherine in the complimentary beer garden sitting with our group. My stomach wouldn’t allow me to drink beer but I celebrated. I hugged the fastidious Caroline, who recoiled. “You’re WET,” she said, “Get away from me!” Gentle Catherine was more charitable, “Get in line to get us some beer,” she told me.
My official pace was 11:14 mile. My finish time, slowest ever by almost half hour, was 2:27:19. I got an age-group first place. No speedy 70-year-old overtook me.
Later, I read that the average female pace for the half-marathon was 12:45 and that includes everyone decades younger than I.
I could grieve over my slowing but at nearly 73, I’m a minute and a half faster than the average lady.
None of the statistics or first place mattered upon completing the race. My happiness had to do with achievement. Smart runners advised me not to run, unprepared and recently injured. I wanted to join old friends for a good race and finish strong.