I have a friend I met last summer who means a lot to me! I mean a WHOLE lot!! Her family has done so much for me and my family when my life was really pretty bleak this past winter. I owe her so so much.
A couple weeks ago when I ran the Colorado Half marathon and found myself ridiculously tired for a solid week after, I knew I would be an idiot to try to run the full Colfax Marathon this past weekend with no solid marathon training in my tank (like that's stopped me in the past :) ). Even treated as a slow training run, as I originally intended to do, it wasn't worth it for me to suffer through the last 10 miles in a death march shuffle then take many weeks recovering. I have too much on my plate to let a really crappy marathon ruin many weeks of future training.
At one time in my life (you know, before that *#$# heel fiasco), I was fit enough to throw myself into a marathon with a little tweak here and there, just to use as training; and if run slow enough, I'd always come out on the other side A-okay. As much as I wish I am currently at that point with my running and my conditioning, I'm not. Whaaaa!
So when my friend, Janet, mentioned a few times how much she wanted to run a sub-2 hour half marathon (her current PR was a 2:03:30) but didn't know if she could do it, I knew I had the best thank you gift for her: I'd pace her to that illustrious first sub-2 hour marathon she so desperately seeked.
Well, you know... it all sounded good in theory, as all plans do. I just ran a half two weeks ago with many minutes to spare to that 2-hour mark, surely I thought I could pull this little task off with ease. All I needed to do was maintain a 9:09 pace. Simple!
But simple it wasn't. I think Janet should have asked for my pacing credentials before she agreed, because I really sucked at my job.
Race morning couldn't have been better race weather. Seriously gorgeous blue skies and about 50 degrees. We arrived early, like 5am early (for a 6am half marathon start...a bit overkill if you ask me, but surprisingly no one bothered to). We did all the pre-race necessities, lined up in our corral, and off we go.
We didn't bother with a lot of small talk, I'm not good at multitasking the run/talk thing; the silence of good company around me is golden however. I was so happy to be here. Doing this with her.
Mistake 1: I set my watch's 3 data fields to: 1) pace, 2) average pace, 3) time. This was stupid. I was going mental within the first mile not knowing exactly what our distance was.
I had a mission to know what my pace was at every mile, and I couldn't tell where I was.
I thought about changing one of the fields en route, but my wiser side (aka: less used side) thought stumbling with my watch while trying to maintain a pace and not trip or drop my watch in a sea of 5000 runners behind me was probably not a good idea. My watch was set to auto lap so this would have to do.
Mistake 2: I knew I needed to bank some time at the start, in case things started to take a nose dive towards the end, but I may have started us off a bit too fast (hum....me? Too fast at the start?).
The first 6 miles are run along "colorful" Colfax Street. Colfax is known for its vast array of ethnic restaurants, neon signed pawn shops, drug lords, and oh yeah.... prostitutes. NICE! Colfax Street was also really one long gradual 6 mile long incline which really added to the fun street decor. But I was so busy looking at my watch, I missed out on a lot of the street's kaleidoscopic scenes.
Mistake 3: I was so fixated on that damn pace, I forgot to hydrate. Whoops.
We finally get off of Colfax and wander around some of the neighborhoods and find our way to about mile 7.5 where we run through a fire station. I mean, we run through the actual fire station. As in run in one end and out the other.
All the firemen were standing along the side and high-fiving runners. It was actually pretty cool and Janet was smiling (and thus not telling me her quads were sore and she was tired from our fast early miles pace) so I tried to just take it all in and momentarily stop obsessing with the watch.
But when we got back into our race pace preoccupation, I saw our once 8:56 overall pace slipped to a 9:01 .... and worse, I started to feel really icky.
As in I wanted to stop and walk and vomit and quit icky (see above: mistake #3).
But I couldn't stop. I couldn't do that to her. I absolutely couldn't, it was not allowed!!! I started drinking more water and at mile 9, I remembered Janet was carrying a gel of mine I brought and I downed that, despite knowing I had a 50/50 chance of having a major colon blow down the road due to the gel. But with only 4 miles left, chances were good I'd made it to the end without an incident :). Within a half mile, I started to miraculously feel much better! The scenery changed to affluent tree-lined neighborhoods and I resumed concentration on the task at hand: don't fail!
Mistake 4: This was the biggest. I was so concerned with the little "overall pace" displayed and feeling pretty damn good this magical number was getting me out of doing a lot of mental math.....but I didn't take into account that the course was long. It registered in my head it was long because my watch was beeping "lap" long before we hit the mile markers, but I wasn't logically computing how this issue was going to make our time longer and thus that little 9:01 displayed across my watch really didn't mean anything at all. Crap.
Around mile 11, a woman came up on us who had a 2-hour bib pinned on her back. Janet wanted to know if she was the 2-hour pacer; but she wasn't. The pacer dude was carrying a pink neon sign, which I had spotted at the start line, and I was about 98% sure he hadn't passed us....so I knew (ish) we were still good.
The last two miles seemed to drag on for eternity, as they always do. There must be some sort of law about this: sign this wavier knowing that the last two miles in any half marathon will suck. They will seem twice as long as they are; they will hurt; your legs will be filled with lead; and you will hate every single second. Sign here please:______ I looked at my watch a least a hundred times and each time I did so Janet would ask me if we were "okay". I was reassuring, always. But secretly I was starting to get a little nervous. What if this course grew longer by each mile, as they tend to do. If so, we're so screwed.
We were so close. One bad move and it was over.
The last mile Janet started to slow down so instead of running along side of her, as I had been, I moved slightly in front of her so she could keep me in sight and not fall back. Our last mile was the slowest, but not drastically and as we passed the 12-mile marker and time clicked, I knew she could do it.
Janet has a wickedly strong kick. She's a sprinter, by nature, and that sprinter inside her wanted to take off when we could see the finish line. She wanted me to go with her, but I had nothing left and I told her she had to go. And go she did.
Her smile says it all!!!
Thanks to her and her family's generosity, there is now gainful employment in our family; my son helps her daughter with trumpet lessons; and I found an occasional running partner and more importantly, someone I call a friend. I don't have a lot of those, really...not enough locally anyway.
I'd gladly sacrifice a few minutes of a finish line time occasionally for the gift of learning, stumbling, encouragement and laughter to help someone reach their long-time goals. I'm happier for her finish than I have was of my finishes this year. That's a true statement!
I'm just not putting great race pacer down on my resume quite yet, but the job got done.
And I am smiling. And Janet's still beaming. There is nothing quit like being a part of someone you care about's sheer delight.
No race for me this weekend, if you can believe that. Twin #1 is running a 25k trail race in the mountains so we are brewing a little road trip away for a few days, but I am not racing it myself. I just want a race break. I can't wait to share our adventure with you, though.