Originally, when Fran and I first decided to train for and run a half marathon with Team In Training, we chose Avenue of the Giants as our event. Tracey and Terri, a couple of friends from way back in college – also TNTers! – had told us they were running Avenue too, and the stories of the beautiful course through the HUGE redwood forest, home to “8th, 6th, 4th, and 2nd tallest trees, and the “Champion Coast Redwood” at 370 feet tall!”
We began training with the team, built up some miles on our feet and confidence in our heads, and a few weeks into our training, Coach Ed started encouraging those of us training for the Avenue half to consider training for a full marathon instead – Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego, that the majority of the team was training for. Eventually, most of us switched to San Diego, and most of us agreed to do the full marathon instead of the half.
When we made the decision to do San Diego, we decided we still wanted to run the Avenue of the Giants half, but we’d just run it as a part of our training for the full marathon, and we’d register for it on our own, rather than as an “official” TNT event for us.
During our training leading up to the event, both Fran and I struggled with some injuries (which you may have read about in recent blog posts), and the week before the race, I was going to be in Colorado all week for work. That week, Fran was fantastic, and got all our gear packed and ready to go, while I was away doing the work thing.
I flew back Friday morning, Fran picked me up, we loaded the car, and we drove up to Livermore to Terri’s place (and her husband Marc and boys Alex and Harrison!), where Tracey met us and we were all to spend the night. We went out for a pasta dinner, Tracey and Terri told us stories of past races and tips for our upcoming race, and we all settled in to sleep.
Early the next morning, we all loaded our gear into a big rented RV, ready to drive up to Humboldt. We were slowed slightly by the smell of propane from the RV, which we discovered was due to the rental person forgetting to turn off the fridge, emptying the reservoir of propane. A fuel and propane fill up later, and we were on the road!
The road to Humboldt is beautiful, but long, and 5 or so hours later, with Tracey and I taking shifts at driving the RV, we passed the race start and registration area, and checked in at our campsite, where we met up with Marc, who was able to join us due to last minute luck and parents that were able to watch the kids for the weekend. A quick trip back to the race start to check in and gather our race numbers, t-shirts, and goody bags, and it was naptime.
Fran and I borrowed Marc’s car (a sexy zoomy Mustang GT!) to drive up to Fortuna for the official TNT pasta feed, which Jenner had given us her tickets for (thanks, Jenner!). We arrived and met up with mentors Heather and Bill, waited for a while in the breeze outside while the previous seating had their turn, and had a very tasty pasta dinner. I won’t spoil the details of the pasta feed, but it was definitely motivational, and we left dinner not just fueled up with carbs, but with lots of emotional sustenance in the motivation tank, too.
Race start on Sunday morning was 7am for the full marathon, and 9am for the half-marathon (runners and walkers started at the same time), but we were clued in that we should arrive before 7am for parking. I set my alarm for 6am to wake everyone in the RV and give us time for coffee, breakfast, and plenty of time to poop before driving to the parking area and race time.
My phone alarm decided to play a little joke on us – the already excited and twitchy racers – by going off 2 hours early at 4am instead. After a couple minutes of confusion by all and apologies by me, we went back to sleep for a couple hours and got up (again) at 6am to do coffee, breakfast, poop, and all those things.
At the race site, we met up with Heather and Bill, as well as our teammate Dorie and her brother Brendan, and Andrew and other teammates of Tracey and Terri. We used the porta-potties a few times more, to reduce the need to wait in lines for them later during the race on the course, and excitedly shuffled toward the starting gate. Fran and I positioned ourselves a ways back in the pack, knowing that we weren’t going to be finishing first, and leaving room for the speedsters.
A few days before the race, Fran had decided that she’d run the start of the race with me at my pace, both to warm into things more slowly (remember we were both coming off injuries), and to be able to have some of the race experience with me, since my pace is much slower than hers. So we’d be starting and running together for a while this morning.
Around came 9am, and the starting horn sounded, and we were off!
The huge mass of bodies shifted and moved forward, and us along with it. We heeded the advice of our friends, mentors, coaches, and others, and made sure to start off SLOWLY, and not get carried away with the excitement of the start, as so many people do, then end up burning out quickly.
Even with the slow start, the first 3 miles were a bit rough for me. Not having run for a couple weeks prior, while trying to rest and heal, my muscles were a little stiff, and I needed to stop and stretch a couple times and Fran made a porta-potty stop. I confess that I worried more than once during this time whether I’d be able to finish the race, or whether my feet would behave and do like they were supposed to. Once we hit mile three (not unlike our longer runs while training), things started to loosen up for me a bit.
We dedicated miles 3 through 6 to my cousin Brendan, who just underwent his bone marrow transplant for Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma, and thought of him while we ran through the strong, tall, healthy trees. It was in this section that we started to see the first of the full marathon runners coming the other direction, having already reached the 6.5 mile turnaround, and come most of the way back on the hockey stick-shaped double out-and-back course. Fran and I enjoyed cheering and clapping for the runners as they ran towards us, and (most of them) seemed to really appreciate the added boost of a quick “good job, way to go” as they sped toward the middle of the hockey stick before their second half.
Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 miles, Fran was ready to run at her usual pace, so she started to pull away, and I gave her a wave and a “you go, honey!” and watched her cute little butt disappear into the distance. I think I saw her pass by in the other direction just before mile 6, when I got a quick kiss as we cheered each other on.
At mile 6, I was relieved and surprised at how easily the previous three miles had gone by, and dedicated miles 6 through 9 to our TNT honoree Greg, who had received his bone marrow transplant a year ago, but sadly had just suffered a relapse of his cancer and is fighting a hard battle to drive it back into remission. The race path at this point was a sunny patch and a bridge over a beautiful river, and I thought warm, powerful, thoughts toward Greg, and thought of him bridging this obstacle too, just as he has in his past six years of fighting his cancer.
After the bridge, I was really ready to see the turnaround, and the half mile from 6 to the turnabout felt like a really long way. A funny thing happened though… once I turned and ran over the return gate (a rubber speed bump with sensors in it to pick up the signal from the chip in our race bibs) everything changed… suddenly, it was a lot easier to look at the race as halfway done, rather than 6 miles to go, and before I knew it I saw the mile 7 marker.
I nearly lost it.
I thought of how far I’d come in my training – from my comfy couch and my “ugh, no thanks – I’m not a fan of running” to the fact that I’d just finished half of my first half marathon, my legs felt fine, and I knew I was going to finish this race. Rather than start sniffling and crying with joy, I choked back my emotion, lifted my head up high, and ran through mile 9 really appreciating the race.
It was about this time that I started to see our Walk Team coming the other direction (remember, we’d doubled back), and we cheered each other onward with the customary TNT cheer of “GO TEAM!” and I got a quick hug from walk mentor Mary Ann that was perfect timing and exactly what I needed right then.
I dedicated miles 9-12 to my longtime friend Gregorio, who’d been diagnosed over a year ago with his own blood cancer, thankfully only Stage 1, and had recently been declared free of cancer cells, and in remission. I thought of how strong Greg was through it all, and what a bright and shining person he is, and drew encouragement from that, ready to tackle the rest of the race.
Mile 9 was good, but at mile 10, it really started to get tough. I mixed in some walking with my running, and walked the uphill portions of the path. My feet began to hurt – a constant, sore, “get off of me” hurt – and walking only helped so much. Around this time, I also realized that I’d already seen the last of the walkers going the other direction, and realized that the cheering I was doing for everyone wasn’t just helping them, but it had been helping keep me positive and upbeat. Once it was just me (and those who I passed or passed me), I had to rely almost entirely on myself to keep going, and that was definitely harder.
I got to mile 11, and tried to pick up my pace a bit, with mixed success – that mile was a mix of running and walking, and I started to notice a spot on my right forefoot heating up. It didn’t feel like anything I’d be able to fix by doing anything but getting off my feet, and there was no way in hell I was going to do that, so I paused a minute to stretch a little, and got moving again.
At mile 12, I decided that the last 1.1 miles were for ME. I’d come a long way, I’d hauled my fat ass 12 miles, and I was just going to think positively about what I’d accomplished, and finish out strong.
That worked for about half a mile, until the uphill.
It wasn’t really that steep a hill, but after 12.5 miles, it sure FELT like a steep hill. Worse, it was nearly 12:30 in the afternoon, and the sun was out and the heat was increasing – something I’m particularly sensitive to. I was determined to finish strong though, so I alternated bursts of running with fast walking, and though I was pretty winded, I knew that it was only a bit further to push on.
Just around mile 13, I saw Heather and Bill. They were waiting alongside the road, cheering me on, and dropped in alongside me to run me up to the finish cones. I can’t express how fantastic it was to see them there, helping me finish what they’d help me start three months ago when I’d begun my training. I nearly lost it again, (I’m misting up now, while I type this) and enjoyed my last push to the finish gate. Bill gave me a great tip that the finish was deceiving, but to keep running through until the third gate with the balloons, then Heather said, “This is all you – we’re going to let you go the last bit on your own”, and I pushed through the last few strides, and crossed the finish line.
I heard them call my name out, but didn’t notice or remember my finish time, and frankly didn’t care. The guy handing out finisher’s medals had to tap me on the shoulder to give me mine. Like I said, I didn’t care. Fran was waiting for me, smiling and proud of me, and I’d finished the race – one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done – and that was enough.
I walked a bit, working to get my breath back, and asked Fran to point me toward shade… the last stretch was in the open sun, and I was HOT. We found a shady spot, I laid down to cool off, and gathered back up with the rest of our group. I was pleased to learn that I’d run my half marathon in 3 hours, 46 minutes, and some-odd seconds, nearly half an hour better than we’d expected. Not fast, by any stretch, but I was just happy to be under 4 hours, and around to talk about it.
There are lots of other stories to tell about the camping, the fun, the girls and their active bowels… but I’ll save that for later. Guess what? I finished my first half marathon!
REMINDER: If you haven’t yet made a donation to LLS for our Team In Training run, please consider doing so. Fran and I aren’t just doing this for our own health, but to raise money for a great cause - we’re 85% of the way toward our fundraising goal, and we need your help! It’s fast and easy, tax-deductible, and helps fund development of a cure for blood cancers!
DONATE NOW – please?