I recently ran in the Air Force ½ Marathon. I have been excited about this race since I signed up for it in January. (Yes, I signed up for an event 9 months before it occurred. It’s called OCD, look it up.) And, true to form, I was also scared to death. This is a BIG event. Huge. People from all over the world come to Dayton, Ohio to be part of this race. In fact, all the races, including the 5k, the 10k, the half, and the full marathon sold out. Have I mentioned already that I don’t like crowds and porta-potties? Here we go again….
My running partner, Steve, picked me up at the very socially unacceptable time of before the buttcrack of dawn. Seriously, the sun wasn’t even up yet. But the powers that be tell runners to arrive for their races at least 60 to 90 minutes before the start time due to traffic. And we live 30 minutes from the base, where the event is held. To say that I was nervous on the drive to WPAFB is a massive understatement. We managed to get in and park (on a runway, no less) with a minimal wait.
The crowds were almost overwhelming, even at that early hour. We walked from the tarmac onto the base grounds and around the museum and over the river and through the woods to the runner’s area.(Seriously, it was a long walk. Not good when you’re already nervous and have to pee and it’s chilly.) Luckily there was more than ample amount of porta-potties. And so I conquered my fear. It was either that or pee my pants (or worse) during the race. Not a pretty sight either way.
The full marathon (including the wheelchair division) and the 10k started at 7:30. The half-marathon started at 8:30. We checked our bags at the baggage claim and meandered over to the starting area to warm up. Steve, ever the brave one, went up to the front of the crowd to be closer to the starting line. Since I did not possess that level of confidence, I stayed toward the back of the crowd. I realized right before the race started that I was 50 feet BEHIND the 2:30 pacer. My goal was to run it in less than 2:10. When the gun went off it took me 5 minutes to get across the start line. That’s how far back I was. That’s how many people were running it. Over 5000 for the half-marathon alone.
During the first mile, I was playing catch-up. I darted around people when I could. As I headed into miles 2 and 3, the crowed thinned out a bit. I caught up to and then passed the 2:20 pacer, then the 2:10 pacer. Soon I was in a good rhythm. It took me until mile 3 to realize that my headphones were screwed up. I could only hear the music out of my left side. The right earbud was silent. Weird. I tried not to dwell on it. Seriously, I could’ve obsessed about it and it let it ruin my whole race but I had a bigger problem: hills.
This race is not a flat course. However, in true Lisa fashion, I had not checked out the elevation on the map. Steve had, and he told me just before the race that the hills were done by 7 mile marker, so it should make the last 6.1 miles relatively easy. Let me say this right now: Steve is a big fat liar.
By the time I hit mile 8, I felt good. Then I saw THE hill. It was bigger than the others. And longer. It might as well have looked like Mt. Everest. Son of a motherless goat. Stupid, stupid hills. One of the interesting things about this course is that part of the time the half runners and the full runners share the same course. This hill is one of those instances. As I was huffing and puffing and cursing up this hill, I happened to glance over to my right, across the median. I saw a wheelchair racer. He was obviously struggling to get up the hill. His arms were working double time and it looked like he could roll backwards at any moment. There was a runner behind him. I could hear him yelling. “Keep going. Get up the hill. You can DO this, man!” At that moment, I realized that my battle with the hill was almost trivial compared to this man’s battle. And if he could make it up the hill without the use of his legs, than I could also make to the top. So I stayed on pace with him, with both of us reaching the top at the same time. I turned left and didn’t see him again. But his tenacity stayed with me for the rest of the race. I felt humbled and inspired.
The last few miles of the course were a blur. By the time I hit the final mile, I realized that I was going to be well under my realistic goal of 2:10. I thought maybe maybe maybe there’s a slight chance that I could reach my dream goal of 1:59:59. So I kicked into high gear. By that point, I had been a good little runner and stayed hydrated by stopping at every water station except for the first one and the last one. I crossed the finish line and found out a few minutes later that my official time was 2:01:54. It wasn’t my dream goal, but it was damn close. And I knocked about 11 minutes off my time from my first half marathon back in April. Woot!
The beer I had afterward was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, even if it was just plain ol’ Miller Lite. (Yes, I had a beer at 10:30am. No judging. Besides, they didn’t offer wine.) I also met a guy who finished the marathon in less than three hours. He was exhausted but happy, which summed up most of the crowd. A woman also came up to me and thanked me for being her pacer. She said that she followed me for the last few miles of the race and that I kept her going. That put a huge smile on my face. It kind of made me feel like a real runner.
That race was simply an incredible experience. The hard work and dedication of the other runners and the thousands of volunteers made it something I will remember for the rest of my life. And I will never forget the sight of the wheelchair racer pushing up that hill – it was a great reminder that we all have our own obstacles to face. Some of us just have different ways of dealing with them. Personally, I’ve found that my family, running, red wine, and good friends make all the difference in the world. Clean porta-potties are never a bad thing, either.