Tuesday, November 9, 2010
doing it amish style
I had set 4 goals for my second (real) half marathon, the Amish Country Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon, which I ran this past Saturday. Three time goals (Good - under 2:30; Better - 2:25; Best - 2:20) and one untimed goal (since that's what Runner's World told me to do, and they are my running Gospel) which was to take walk breaks as soon as I felt the need, but to keep those breaks to under a minute (usually I run til I can't take another step, then walk for 2 minutes).
The night before my race, I had one of those anxiety dreams that often happen before an important event, like when you dream you're giving your big presentation naked. I wasn't running naked, but in the dream I kept taking bags of M&Ms from these personless hands. Just before I left the house on my way to Lancaster County, I grabbed a "fun size" M&M bag from Claire's Halloween pumpkin - it's best to listen to the running gods when they speak.
I parked my car in the Smuckers Farm field (don't know if it's that Smuckers...) and had to watch out for cow pies. I could see the starting line from my car and after standing around in the cold (35*) for ten minutes, I went back to my car for warmth and relief.
There is one important pre-race thought I'd like to share. Never stand in the port-a-potty line at the start of a race. It's pointless. The line is always ridiculously long and by the time you get into that tiny space, you are facing one of the most disgusting scenes ever viewed. Instead, I hearkened back to the car trips of my youth, and at my car I opened both doors on the driver's side, thus making a little private space for me. I peed right next to a cow pie - hey if cows can poop here, I can pee here.
I stayed in my warm car until I'd watched nearly every other entrant walk over to the starting area, then I joined them. As I bounced in the cold morning air, I remembered my M&Ms, safely stowed in my throw-it-away thrift store sweatshirt. My stomach hadn't been feeling awesome - I'd had to force down my PB toast, a feat that took me 45 minutes to complete. But as soon as I ate those bright bits of chocolaty heaven, my belly purred like a content kitty. Thank you, running gods!
After a bit of delay, the race started. I wished I'd had my camera for this race. The scenery was truly awe-inspiring. The roads wound themselves through farm fields, browned grass matted down by tractors and held together with frost. The broken ends of corn stalks stuck up in little patchwork spots in between where Amish homes welcomed and Holstein cows grazed. The sky was that sort of delicate blue shade that occurs only in the early hours of a cold morning, and the clouds were still tinged pink and purple with the escaping dawn.
The landscape was rolling, and at the top of each hill (that I conquered!! woohoo to loads of hill training!) my soul leaped at the incredible beauty that reached for miles. If there is one word I can think of to describe this race, it is peaceful. That's not normally a word used when describing a half marathon, but this one was just that. Not only the scenery contributed to that scenes of calm, but the welcoming support of dozens and dozens of Amish families added to this peace. I hadn't expected a lot of crowd support for this race (nestled in a community of 3000), but at many of the farms, parents held sleepy toddlers and young children held out their hands for high fives (yup, even the Amish give a high five!). Each of the water stops were filled with Amish volunteers, plain and beautiful.
I stayed where I expected to run - at the back of the back, my peeps. At one point in the race, four miles in, I crested a hill and looked off in the distance and could see a long, thin snake of runners weaving their way through the farms, several miles ahead of me. That might have been discouraging to some, but all I felt was a sense of coming accomplishment: I was running stronger than I'd even felt before and I knew that this was going to be my race. I don't know my mile-split times, but I hit the four mile mark at 40:06, and I maintained a 10 minute-ish pace for most of the race (mile 7 was a slow one, and mile 12...).
The sixth mile marker was at the start of the biggest of the hills on this rolling race and when I glanced at my watch I actually whooped in joy: 1:00:42! Nearly half way through the race and doing way better than my hoped for goal time. I knew that I was going to finish in 2:20...maybe even better! Tears stung my eyes as I passed several people up that hill (who over took me a few minutes later...my energy surge from my joy was short lived).
When I'd driven through the farms the day before the race on my way to packet-pickup with Claire, all she could say was, "Pee Yew Cows." When I'd told her I'd be running my race on this very road, she said, "Well, I hope you can hold your breath for a long time because it is stinky." Maybe it was the chill in the air or the fantastic mood, but even the cows smelled better!
Mile 10 took us straight through the heart of a farm on one of their access roads (normally off-limits to the public), a nice gravelly road which my body loved after all the hard pounding on the pavement. The last few miles were flattish ones, and I finally started to overtake a few of my fellow runners. The last mile was really tough, though; my legs were getting tired and lifting them began to feel like work (the first 10 or 11 miles, that was all play).
At mile 12, when I looked at my time I couldn't believe it - 2:02! I was definitely going to make my Best Goal of 2:20...and this is where the mental side of running comes in. All the miles leading up to that last one, that was all my body: using all the training I had done over the weeks to prepare myself, listening to what my body needed - stretch now, sip now, feeling the strength in my legs. That last mile, The Voice came in and said, "Good job! You are so tired, why not just walk this last mile, you'll still make 2:20 or so." And my legs said, "Wow, that is a great idea!" and they began to slow down all on their own and groan with how tired they were.
But The Runner replied back, "Are you nuts? I don't want 2:20 any more. I want 2:15 and I'm going for it, nothing less than that." I had to focus on every step, if my mind wandered, my body started to feel the pain of 13 miles and slow down. At one point, I allowed myself a 30 second walk break, i wasn't sure how much further I had to run...turns out, it was only another 1/4 mile or so.
I turned down the last lane towards the finish line, I could see the food tent set up, see the all the cars parked in the cow pasture, and my kick came in. I always have a good strong finish - somewhere deep within, once my body can see that finish line, my legs take over.
At this race, they announced your name as you crossed the finish line - a very cool touch! I crossed the finish line, saw my time, and with both fists pumping in the air, I shouted, "Yes! Yes! Yes! I did it!!"
A volunteer put my medal around my neck...and I started to cry. None of my family were able to be there this day, and I hadn't realized just how much I wanted to share this accomplishment with the love of my life, until I looked at the crowd and did not see his face smiling back at me with wild pride.
When I finally made my way back home, I managed a second great accomplishment in my day: my first-ever omelet that actually was an omelet (usually I make "broken omelets", aka scrambled eggs with stuff in them).
Later on in the day, Glenn and I went out to celebrate my PR in the way we know best: hot Buffalo wings and cold beer!