Thursday, November 20, 2014

JL and AJ Run 13.1

In truth, my running journey began a long time ago. When I was little, I really enjoyed softball and especially loved basketball.  Then, however,  I didn't get 'big' and my love for those sports was definitely impacted. In middle school, I joined the track team, and though I was never a star, I did enjoy running...until I didn't.  By the end of high school, I had burned out.  I liked running more than some silly exercise classes I saw at my college gym, so I ran to stay/get healthy, but, unlike now, I didn't crave a good run at the end of a long day or first thing on a weekend morning (I had Badger games to attend, after all).  I ran on and off until I fell into climbing, and then, I ran even less.  In the summer of 2013, while I Colorado, I  really fell back into it, and when fall and Al's Run rolled around, my cousin Jenna, who had also taken up running, decided to tackle that event, an 8K, together. A simple scroll through this blog will show that the running didn't stop there.  Since then, Jenna and I have completed three 5Ks, another 8K, and a half marathon - that's a total of six runs together now.

That's right, I said a half marathon.  When talk began of a half, it didn't seem in any way real.  I mean, did I really want to run 13 miles?  Jenna and I thought about it, we said we were going to do it, we developed our training programs, and then we still didn't feel real.  I stopped drinking when my training program started, and I added every training run to my calendar - from August to November - and it still didn't feel so real, though my desire for a glass of wine sure was.  Then the long runs started getting longer, 7, 8, 10, 11 miles.  It was beginning to feel real.  Soon it was the week of the run, and as Jenna and I FaceTimed each other to ensure we had everything we needed for our big day, it started to feel really real.  By the time we landed in Vegas and made our way to the Convention Center to pick up our race packets, it felt pretty flipping real and a bit terrifying.  

We traveled to Las Vegas with our moms and with Tony, Jenna's husband.  Brian met us at our hotel, so we were a happy group of six for the race weekend. Sitting at the airport waiting on our delayed flight, hoping we would make it to race packet pickup in time, made me so glad I was doing this with someone else, someone who I know this meant as much to as it did for me.  You see, it was never about simply saying we were running a half marathon or collecting the medal, it was about doing something that scared us; it was about setting a goal, and committing to that goal and achieving it without reservations or excuses.  We were going to run a half marathon! 

The Run Buddies in MKE
so glad I had my mom with me!

Welcome, us! 
the expo center

This was our "Yep, we're going to run 13.1 miles tomorrow" photo op
race bibs acquired; all that was left to do was run

Despite our panic, we arrived in Vegas with plenty of time to spare.  We checked into our rooms and then headed to the Expo with our moms, leaving the boys to fend for themselves (read: drink and gamble). We retrieved our packets, which included our shoe tags and race bibs, perused the running goodies, picked up a few essentials, cautiously tasted a few energy GU packets, and headed back to the boys.  It wasn't a typical first night in Vegas, what with our early bed time and our responsible dinners - yes, I had milk for dinner in Vegas - but we had our eyes on the prize, and we weren't about to ruin our big day with a bad meal.

The next morning, after horrible nights of sleep, another layer of anxiousness was added to the mix.  While relaxing in our room, Brian received a call from our realtor saying there was an offer on our house; it was the first offer we had received, and it was as good of an offer as we could hope for (aside from the timeline - closing the week before Christmas).  Trying to keep our cool, we trudged through logistics and headed to breakfast with our crew.  We ate and chatted,  and then Jenna and I watched our moms and husbands have the drinks we were desperately craving -- and sometimes sniffing.  Then it was time to get set to go, so Jenna and I, decked out in our Bolder Bands and running shoes, headed toward the start line.  

pre-race partying for the non-runners

heading toward the start line 

I can honestly say that I had not been as nervous as I as was then in a very long time, if ever at all.  I had spent the better part of three months preparing for this very moment, and with the knee pain I had recently developed and the fear of not being able to meet my goal or run the whole race, I was extremely worried.  I hadn't told anyone, not even Brian, how much my knee was bothering me or how much I worried it would affect my run, and I didn't want to go all the way to Vegas and give my first half marathon anything less than 100%. I did my best not to panic. 

After having said goodbye to our moms and having waited in the world's longest porto-potty line, Jenna and I made our way to the corrals.  We had different corral numbers and had to start our race separately, something we had not done before.  We spent a few more minutes together talking to other runners, and then we hugged each other goodbye, a long, tight hug for good luck. In that moment, I was overcome with emotions.  I was anxious, excited, and proud.  I was very glad Jenna and I were together in this adventure. I headed off to my corral, number 37, and listened to my teeth chatter as I made my way closer and closer to the starting line.  Eventually I saw it, heard the countdown, and then the big ol' GO! 

#StripatNight - time to do this 
I knew I needed to start out slowly if I had any chance of doing well.  I did just that and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was feeling good.  This may be me, or it may be all runners, but I have dealt with a certain level of shame in working through my knee injury and also the side stitches I had been plagued with in the last several weeks.  I thought this was something for newby runners, something that I shouldn't be facing.  I was sure if I told anyone, that person would think I wasn't eating well, training properly, or fully committed...but I was.  I had to move past that, I knew, but I wasn't sure I had done so.  

As I got into double-digit miles, my legs started to feel like I had run double-digit miles. I also felt the pain in my knee moving a bit lower; I adjusted my knee brace and my stride, and continued trucking along the Vegas strip.  I had mini-goals, mile markers to look out for along the way, and with only a 5K remaining, I was sure I could do this.  After all, I have a few of those under my belt.  Let me tell you, after 10 miles, a 5K isn't as easy as I once thought it was.   At mile 12, I could see the end was near, and I began looking for my cheering section, our moms, who had waited for us with giant cheers and signs at mile 2.5, and our husbands who were there and cheering at mile 4.  I felt my pace increasing, my legs felt lighter, and I knew I could do it.  I turned up my music, locked my eyes on the finish line, and took off.  I crossed the finish line just off of my adjusted goal time and having run every step of my first half marathon, achieving my goal and making one heck of a memory.  

I wanted so desperately to watch Jenna cross the finish line, but we were forced to move forward, herded like cattle, to retrieve warming blankets, water, chocolate milk, snacks, and our FINISHER'S MEDAL.  I kept an eye out for my cousin as I made my way through the crowd and to my family, all of whom had been cheering loudly as I passed by them moments before.  I stopped to drink my milk - strangely, chocolate milk was the only thing that sounded appetizing after my run, and I don't even like chocolate milk. My phone vibrated, and it was a message from Brian: "You did it!" I did, and a bit later, when I finally found my cousin, and we hugged each other, I was sure to remind her of that; WE did it! 

We spent the rest of the evening reminiscing about all that happened over the past 13 miles.  While we had big plans to eat and drink our way through our evening, we opted for comfort food - mac and cheese and a baked potato - and a hot bath.  I didn't want to go to bed that night because I didn't want that amazing day to end...and I knew the next day would bring tired, sore muscles and a knee that wouldn't work so well.  And as indicated by my two-day hobble, I was right...

warming up inside of Harrah's

Riding our post-run high (and attempting to ignore our aches), we set out to make up for lost time the next day.  After a bit of shopping, we went to Planet Hollywood to claim our victory drinks, courtesy of Joanna, my cousin's very sweet girlfriend. We drank and laughed our way through the rest of the day, watched a bit of Monday Night Football, and visited Fremont Street.  While downtown, we were sure to knock off another to-do from the list, a big Mexican feast, which I had been craving for weeks.  

Day Drinking in honor of our big night! 

I've been waiting for this since August! 
Before we knew it, it was time to head home.  Our fabulous half marathon adventure was over.  It is very strange to not have a specific run to focus on or train for.  The past several months have revolved around my training program, what I eat, when I run, where I run, how hydrated I am.  Not having that kind of focus now feels strange, and already I crave it.  Truthfully, I also miss the feeling that come from taking this on with my cousin.  It created a special connection between us, a language and experience all our own.  As we both said, we would not have wanted to do this individually.  This half marathon was a goal we could strive toward together, as a team, as run-buddy cousins, and I will not forget the strength I drew from my beautiful, wonderfully strong cousin. And though I didn't feel the immediate need to do so, a few days have passed, and I know another half marathon is a possibility.  Be it a half or not, I believe that this won't be our last big adventure. I have a feeling we are only just getting started!


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