It will definitely be a race I'll remember for a very, very long time.
And not just because I smashed my PR. Nope. There was so much more that went into it.
Like all the miles I logged with the Fleet Feet training group in the months leading up to this day. Or the friendships I've made. Or the laughs we shared over our team carbo loading dinner the night before. And that's not even including the weather. Oh Mother Nature. We are so not friends anymore. Not after what you threw at us runners on Saturday.
For the second time in a week, the weathermen were right. And actually? I think the weather turned out worse than they predicted. It started Friday night with wind. And cold temperatures. And rain coming down so hard that when combined with the wind it was coming down in sheets. Needless to say I went to bed Friday night hoping and praying that there would be a miracle and I'd wake up to bright sunny skies.
Still raining. Still cold. Although the wind had died down momentarily. I got the phone call from my Mom though, "You won't be upset if I don't come watch, will you?" No. Heck. If I hadn't put in the miles and formed the bond with this team, I don't know if I would have gotten out of bed. But I did. I eventually decided on a race day outfit (nothing like waiting until the last minute), grabbed my waffle smeared with peanut butter and I was out the door.
I met up with the rest of the Fleet Feet crew, we stowed our bags, took a quick group photo and we were off to the starting line.
I was going to be running the half marathon with Krystal, one of the assistant coaches. We've run together a bunch of times over the last few months. While waiting in the rain for the national anthem we discussed a plan. She asked me what my goal was. I told her initially I was hoping for 2:30 but with the weather I wasn't sure. She looked me in the eyes and told me she was pretty sure I could still do it. So we decided on a plan of attack, start out kind of conservatively, but build up a little bit of a cushion, and still have enough left in the tank to push it at the end. Sounded good to me.
The gun went off. We started to run. And a bit of info, the jacket I was wearing? Yeah, it was already completely wet. This was going to be an interesting 13 miles. I made it 2 miles before I stepped in a huge puddle and my feet were left making a squishing sound with every footsteps. Oh well. They weren't going to stay dry anyway.
The first two miles were through the college campus that's in town and out to a cemetery. Once we hit the Mile 3 mark, the route reminded me more of what I'd expect to see on the trails. We were going to be running on the Wiouwash Trail, which snakes along the Fox River. On a dry day, it's great. A crushed limestone-type surface. But Saturday? After constant rains for nearly a day? It was mostly puddles and mud. While some runners were trying to dodge the puddles and mud, after a bit I just decided to run through them. Remember, my feet had been soaking wet since Mile 2.
We got off the trail around Mile 6 and headed onto an out and back portion. I kept my eyes peeled for some of our faster training buddies. The wind had picked up at this point, and Krystal told me to tuck in behind her so I didn't have to face the full brunt of the wind. I did. We kept running, hit the turn around point and headed back.
Miles 7 and 8 passed. Still raining. Still running. Still feeling pretty decent. We hit Mile 9 and head into South Park for a loop. Starting to struggle a tiny bit, which isn't surprising to me. This is that part of the half marathon when in the past I've began to struggle. But I know I can run the distance. I've done it before. We hit the water stop at the end of the park. So far I've been doing a fast walk through the water stations, mostly because I can't seem to multi-task - that whole running and drinking thing was giving me problems. I linger a bit too long on the walk this time.
"Come on. Let's go."
I start running again. We keep going. I'm starting to zone out a bit. Just after passing the Mile 10 marker, Krystal looks at her watch and does some math in her head.
"We're still below goal pace, but we're going to have to pick it up a bit."
We keep running. There's a man running the half marathon while carrying an American flag - he runs most of the local events - and we pass him somewhere between Mile 10 and 11. I almost get a face full of flag since I'm paying attention to the ground at this point. I take a very short (I'm talking probably 20 seconds), non-water stop walk break. It's the only time I walk during the race other than the water stops. I'm starting to struggle. It's still cold. It's windy. By this point, the rain had turned into sleet, which had turned into snow. Which meant it was colder than it was at the start. My thighs are feeling like ice cubes.
We make the last left turn. Straight into an icy north wind. And not just a gentle breeze. More like sustained winds around 15 to 20 miles per hour.
But I ran. Kept putting one foot in front of the other. At times it felt like I wasn't even moving. There was no talking between Krystal and I. She was in front of me blocking the wind again. She'd keep looking over her shoulder to make sure I was still alive. At one point, probably with less than a half-mile to go, I remember pleading with Krystal for one brief walk break.
"No. The bridge is right ahead."
I shut up and kept running. Over the bridge. You could see, and hear, the finish line off to the right. A quick right turn onto the river path. My legs felt alive again. I felt myself speeding up. There might have been a runner passed. A quick left and then another quick right and I'm inside the Leach Amphitheater coming down the finish chute. I hear the people yelling. I see my coaches and teammates. I cross the finish line.
I hit stop on my Garmin. Krystal (you can see her in the blue jacket in the photo above) comes up behind me.
"You did it."
I glance down at my Garmin.
I did. I thank Krystal and give her a hug. Without her I'm not sure I would have been able to do it. Heck, without the entire Fleet Feet group I know I wouldn't have been able to do it. Coach Jim is the first one of the group to meet up with me. He congratulates me and hands me my well-deserved chocolate milk. We head back to our tent. Change into dry clothes, grab a massage and recap every one's races - we all hit personal bests. And of course we mention our next goals - two are running halfs in Indy next month and a bunch of us are running events at Green Bay. Sounds like there will be a little Fleet Feet cheering squad along the route as well!
As I'm walking back to my car what I did Saturday really started to sink in. The 251 miles I logged - whether it was slow, fast, hilly, solo or with a group - and the determination I had that I would hit that 2:30 half marathon. Not only was a new PR for me, but I'm talking about a PR of the 13 minute, 53 second variety (my previous PR was set at Fox Cities in September 2010). And then I think to myself, the Oshkosh Half Marathon was only supposed to be training run for me. That 2:30 mark was supposed to fall at Green Bay next month. Makes me wonder what I can accomplish a month from today if I continue to work hard and Mother Nature gives us good weather conditions.
And of course, since I followed J.J. Watt's Dream Big Work Hard philosophy, I had to tweet about it. And I got myself a retweet (that's 3 for those keeping score at home). Needless to say, I've still got big dreams so I'll still be working hard.
Age group (30-34): 79/104