{This is very long... kudos to any of you who make it the whole way through.} Well, I did it.

And it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

But at the same time, it was also over all too soon. How is that even possible?!

Our day started bright and early: rising at 4:45 am, leaving at 5:20 am, and arriving at the start at 6:00 am. Doug and Spencer dropped me off, then went to get "inside the route" and find some breakfast. (The race route was a big loop, and once the race started, they weren't going to be able to get in and out of the majority of the city. Once "inside the loop" though they were able to meet me at four different spots.)

I'm not really sure what I did with that hour before race time. I stretched, I did a warm-up walk around the state house, I got in the corral, I chatted with a few other runners, I got some last minute tips, I wondered why in the world anyone would chug salt packets, and a split second later wondered if I should be doing salt shooters. (I decided no, relying on the mantra of "nothing on race day that you haven't done in training.") I reminded myself that all I wanted was "to do my best." This is a mantra I borrowed from Spencer's Taekwondo class... and it actually was what kept me going through some of the toughest parts of the race.

Before I knew it, they were reading off last minute race instructions over the loudspeakers as the sun broke over the rooftops. The horn sounded, and the corrals moved forward. It was though I blinked and it was our turn. I hit the "start" button on my GPS app and was off... right into the first hill of the course. Not a big one, but still. A hill. At the start. I muttered a few expletives and then reminded myself that this was a good way not to go out too strong. "Just do your best Christine, do your best." I don't remember much of the first two miles. I think mentally I was focused on the hill I knew was coming at the 2 mile marker. It wasn't a steep hill... but it was a significant incline... and long. A full mile of incline. I slowed my pace and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I had planned to walk the hill, knowing that I had to save energy for the end of the race. I think I ran a little and walked a little. At the top I spied Doug and Spencer... fair reward for scaling the hill, no?! I slowed for a couple of kisses and then continued on my way.

I enjoyed the next few miles. The pack was still pretty tight, but it was a flat stretch of a road I knew well. There was a water stop, and my strategy all along was to walk the water stops and savor the atmosphere. (Not to mention, if you walk every water stop, you mentally prepare for the next set of miles. When broken into two or three mile increments, 13.1 miles seems much more manageable.) I passed our adoption agency and waved, knowing no one was inside. I turned the corner shortly after that, excited to be heading to one of my favorite stretches of the city.

And then my stomach dropped. Because right in front of me was a huge hill. Massive, actually. I had assumed "the big hill" everyone had been referring too was the long one at mile two. Oh no. The big hill everyone was referring too was the one that went straight up. I'm pretty sure I muttered, "Oh, H3LL no." as I slowed to a power walk. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy some gummy bears. {wink} Even though I was walking, this was the hill that did me in. After this point, I had pain in my knees and hips for the rest of the race. I spent the whole walk up the hill (which was not short mind you) telling myself this hill was not going to do me in ("Just do your best Christine, do your best.") and repeating over and over and over "There's got to be a downhill on the other side."  As the hill crested, I picked it up to a slow jog, and almost broke into tears when I saw Spencer at the top waving his thunderstixs around. I stopped for some hugs and reassurances from Doug that everyone who was passing them looked completely wrecked. The ladies cheering next to them confirmed his statement and said the words that made me willing to go on... "That's it, just two more climbs... but not for four miles. Now it's just downhill."

I took a deep breath, and started running. At this point, there were just two things keeping me going. A water/gatorade stop was coming soon, and I was going to be running through the place where "If I had a million dollars, I would live." This was where there were wide open streets, big beautiful houses. And lots and lots of shade. While it wasn't super hot yet, it was still August and I had still be running for quite some time. I was looking forward to the shade and the river breezes that I hoped were coming. Looking back, these were some of my favorite miles. While the bands along the whole route were awesome, the bands in this stretch were some of my favorites. I can't remember what I heard them play, or who they were... but each band resulted in my kicking up my pace a little. I also saw Doug and Spencer again, which was nice. And I remember laughing because Spencer was super wiggly and Doug was trying to take photos. I recall thinking, "Welcome to my world."

All along, I was noting the mile markers and the times on them... so I knew I was doing ok pace-wise. And by ok, I mean that I was assured that the "sag wagon" (aka the "sad wagon") wasn't going to be pulling up next to me. But when I looked at the 7-mile marker I almost burst into tears for the second time. (I actually got teary-eyed enough that I had to blink several times before taking a photo with my phone.) Somehow, miraculously, I was hitting my dream pace. Even with the walking and the hills and the pain that was becoming more and more pressing, I was coming in under an 11:00 mile. I couldn't believe it.

For some reason, this is the clearest mile of the race for me. I remember the terrain distinctly. I spent the next mile studying who was running near me. I eavesdropped on a few conversations. I laughed when I saw a girl call her parents while running. Another girl brought up "Call Me Maybe" on her phone and I paused my music to hear it better, thinking how much Spencer would appreciate it. I passed under the big Brooks inflatable overpass. I saw the 8 mile marker.

And just like that, I could barely put one foot in front of another. I'm not sure what was going on. Had my body not gotten the memo that there were still five more miles to go?! My legs were shaking, and I just kept repeating all sorts of training mantras. "Do your best," "Mind over body," "One foot in front of the other." I walked a little, had some gummy bears, gave myself a pep talk. I'm not sure how I got from the 8 mile marker to 8.5 miles... but I did.

Here's where I had to make the decision. To Gu, or not to Gu?! Gu makes me gag. It's gross. I hate it. But... my body clearly needed it. So I grabbed the first Gu, which happened to be vanilla bean, pretended it was something else, and then... savored it. Yes, I know. But I was determined to give myself an excuse to walk as long as possible. I finished, and started running again and telling myself "Just do your best."

Just shy of 9 miles, I saw Doug and Spencer again. For some reason, this was really shocking to me. I guess I had assumed that I wouldn't see them until the finish line again? I don't remember much, but I remember saying to Doug "Almost 9 miles down." like it was no big thing. (Who the heck did I think I was kidding?!)

Mile 9 and 10, I have no recollection of really. All I can remember is that we were running in full sun, along the water, and that my legs hurt. Really hurt. I think I was so focused on the pain, I didn't/couldn't focus on anything else. I also remember noticing that I had no trouble with breathing all this time, and I was impressed with myself for that. I remember checking my GPS at mile 10.5 and seriously wondering if I could finish. (I had fleeting thoughts all along the course about how I would feel about bailing... but this was different) Somewhere in this stretch I also professed my love to the Gatorade people.

And then Mile 11 hit. I was hurting. Really, really hurting. I felt every step in my knees, hips, and teeth. I had the chills. (A combination of dehydration, sweating, and the breezes from the water I assume.) And my thighs were on fire. At this point, and I'm not sure why, I remember what one of my good running friends had said. "Don't forget to enjoy yourself." I thought "I am not enjoying this at all!" But I thought I could try to make the best of this. I slowed to a sloooow walk. I looked around. I enjoyed the view over the water, one I don't often see since this is an area I only really drive through usually. I looked at the other runners and realized that none of them were running either! I smiled at the irony/unity of it all.

I paused on the bridge that crosses the river and looked at downtown. I took a photo. I thought about what a fun spot this could be for a photoshoot. You know, if I had the power to shut down a major thoroughfare to automotive traffic. I savored it, I took time to enjoy it.

Somehow, and I really mean it when I say "I don't know how" I made it to mile 12. I did some sort of crazy combination of jogging and walking. Thinking, "the more I run, the sooner it will be over." I shed a few tears (and took a photo) when I saw the sign that said "Mall, next right." (The race started and ended at the mall.) I responded "Do you swear?!" to the three older gentlemen who had already finished yelling "The finish is just around the corner!"

I turned the corner, saw the finish... and the big hill I had to climb to get to it. I thought "whoever laid out this course is sick" and dug in. I got to the top of the hill and got hit by the biggest side cramp I have ever had. I honestly wondered if I could have somehow punctured a lung it hurt so bad. I stopped. I stopped running, I stopped walking. On the sidelines were a couple who were cheering on the runners, medals hanging from their necks. They looked me in the eyes and just started screaming "NOOOO! It's only fifty more feet!!! You can do fifty more feet!!! Just start counting your steps!! One... two... three... now faster..." And then as I picked it up to a full jog, I heard them go crazy behind me, screaming and cheering. And then I saw Doug and Spencer, waiting right in front of the finish line.

I smiled, I waved, and then... I crossed the finish line.


*    *    *     *

My goal was just to finish this race. My official race time is 2:42:50. I *think* I did pretty well! While part of me wonders if I had trained a little harder over the past few months if I could have come in under 2:30:00, the bigger part of me knows that I absolutely did do my best.

Oh, and the couple who said it was fifty more feet. They lied. It was way more than that.