It's two days later and yes, there's still a tiny part of me that still doesn't quite believe that happened.
All day Saturday while I was getting ready - picking up my packet, figuring out what I was going to wear, going to the team dinner, even falling asleep - I was relatively calm and relaxed. Maybe it was due to the fact that this was half marathon No. 4 for the year or because I've run the distance so many times I know I can do it.
I dunno. Relaxed. Not freaking out. Yet still a little bit odd.
The relaxation carried over into the next morning. I got up in the dark, got myself ready and Mom and I were ready to hit the road at 6 a.m. As we were driving over to the starting line area, I'm checking Facebook and Twitter. And I get a message from my friend Jeff, one of the assistant coaches from the running group and 10-time Ironman finisher.
Sure I came up with the time goals, but I hadn't really given a whole lot of thought to how I was going to get to those goals. Run my own race. Throw down the hammer. Sounded like a plan to me.
With Myriah and Peggy, part of the Fleet Feet crew, before the race.
We parked and walked over to the starting area where I met up with my teammates. Coach Jim introduced me to another one of his runners, Danielle, and mentioned we ran about the same pace and suggested maybe we run together. But I admit, I was feeling a little selfish. I didn't want to run with anyone. Remember, run my own race (my adopted-at-the-last-minute race plan). I smiled. Nodded my head. Wasn't overly committal and went to find Peggy. A quick pit stop at the port-a-potties and it was time to get ready to run.
Standing in the mass of people, Peggy and I exchanged a few last minute pointers and race strategy, then the horn sounded and it was go time.
I think of all the miles I logged this summer and I couldn't have done it without Peggy.
I went out at a steady pace. I kept myself reigned in. I didn't want to go out too fast. I wanted a nice easy pace for that first mile and then to kick up a notch or two about a mile in once the crowd thinned a bit. Somewhere around Mile 1 I noticed Danielle in her pink running gear. I kept my distance from her, but I think she knew I was there too.
Pretty soon we passed the Mile 2 marker and shortly afterwards were heading up the overpass that goes over Highway 441. At the top of the overpass I glanced down at my Garmin, which I had set to the pace screen. And I was surprised when I saw I was holding a 9:50 mile, and that included the uphill on the overpass. I kept running, letting gravity pull me on the downhill.
I wasn't constantly watching my Garmin, but every so often I'd sneak a peak at it. And the pace was always in the 10:00 to 10:15 minute/mile range. But I felt good. I admit, there was a little part of me that was worried that I was going to crash and burn somewhere around Mile 9, but I was feeling good. It didn't feel like I was working hard. So I kept it up.
Right before the Mile 5 aid station I saw a woman standing on the side of the road holding a sign. I can't remember exactly what the sign said, but I did see the word "Badgergirl" and remembered Jess had made a comment that her mom made a sign with my name on it. That was pretty cool. A random person who didn't even know me was cheering me on.
I kept running. Still feeling good. A tiny part of me was still preparing to crash and burn.
I saw my Mom around the Mile 8 marker and almost got run over by a milk truck moments later. Yes, I was on course. Yes, I had the right of way. Yes, he was an impatient trucker who should have been steering clear of a race course.
I kept running. This is a section of the course that I've struggled on in years past. Menasha's not a huge city, but it's a long city. And I swear we run it end to end. Right at Mile 9 we entered Jefferson Park where there was an aid station manned by the fine folks from Fleet Feet. As much as I wanted to slow down, I didn't. Couldn't let those folks down. There was also a bit of wind here, but I dealt with it. It was somewhere around here that I lost Danielle.
I was back out of the park and nearing my trip through Menasha. I caught my Mom right before the bridge and then booked up and over the bridge and into Neenah for the final 3.1 miles. As I passed that Mile 10 marker at the top of the bridge, I glanced down at my Garmin.
I was at 1:45.
And of course the thoughts in my head started swirling. That's 45 minutes to hit a 2:30. Good to know if I do crash and burn these last three miles. But also 40 minutes to hit that 2:25 I was aiming for, the B goal I set for myself. And if I'm really clicking, I've got 37 minutes to hit my A goal of 2:22. And maybe, just maybe 2:20 could be in the cards if everything goes exactly to plan. Nah. Never gonna happen.
I kept running. And did I mention I was still feeling good?
I ran through a neighborhood with big, older homes that I like and made a right turn. I hit 11 miles at 1:55. Still doable. Still feeling good. I rounded the corner and was headed up and over the final bridge. There's an aid station at the end of the bridge and typically I walk the aid stations. Well, I saw my Mom standing there - totally unexpected since after seeing her right before Mile 10 I wasn't planning on seeing her until the finish - and well, I couldn't walk when my Mom was watching. So I grabbed my glass of Gatorade and my cup of water and kept running. I turned the corner and I was in the home stretch.
I don't remember much about the final 2 miles. I was in the zone. Once I turned that corner, I threw the hammer down. Yes, they weren't my fastest miles, but I was determined to finish strong. And that involved no walking. Besides, I was still feeling really good.
You pass the Mile 12 marker right as you pass the street where the finish line is located. It's kind of mean, being so close to the finish yet knowing you've still got a loop through the park passed mansions and the lighthouse. And since we were running right next to the lake, the wind had picked up.
But I ran.
Yes. It was hard. But remember, hammer had been thrown. And I was thinking of all those people I watched at Ironman Wisconsin during the later stages of the marathon. You could tell they were hurting. But did they stop? No. They kept putting one foot in front of the other. And I thought of my friend Krista, the one who got me started in this whole running business, who finished her first 50-mile race the day before and was a rock star. Did she hurt? Probably. Did she give up? Not a chance.
And then about halfway to the lighthouse I glanced at my watch. I had just under a half-mile to go and my Garmin was reading 2:15. Unless something epic happened, I totally had a chance to hit a 2:20 or maybe even a sub-2:20. I pushed it. I wanted that sub-2:20. I worked all summer, running through the heat, the humidity, the runs that started when it was dark out. I put in the miles and honestly at that point wasn't going to let a half-mile stand between me and that sub-2:20 result.
So even though I wanted to slow down and take a short walk break as I rounded that corner and the finish line stretch came into view, I didn't. I fought. I threw the hammer down and I pushed it. I took my headphones out just so I could soak up the finish line atmosphere, but honestly I was in such a zone that I don't remember hearing anything. It was like me and me alone. There was no cheering crowd lining the chute.
Yes, that's me. Hands on my head, not quite believing the number I'm seeing.
This is what crushing your PR looks like.
I threw down a nice finishing kick and hit that finish line.
Honestly I almost couldn't believe that I did that. I mean, I didn't really have any stellar runs this training cycle. And there was never one run that I held close to a 10:35 minute/mile pace for an extended distance. But it was like Sunday was the perfect storm - perfect running weather, a nice amount of pushing by another runner (thanks Danielle), the right mindset and the right amount of confidence in myself.
Post race with Peggy and Amy. PRs all around for these Fleet Feeters.
For those keeping track at home, my previous half marathon PR was set at the Oshkosh Half in April (in less than ideal weather conditions) with a 2:30:05. So this race? That's almost an 11-minute improvement. And when you compare that to my result at Fox Cities in 2010, when I turned in a 2:43:58? Almost unbelievable the progress I've made.
But then I look back and think about everything I've done these last nine months - the early mornings, the hill intervals on a treadmill, the weekly long runs peppered with hills, the 4 runs during the work week - and I realized that I deserve that kind of improvement.
After all. J.J. Watt said it best. Dream Big. Work Hard.
My dreams were pretty dang big, even if I didn't realize what my dream was exactly other than improve my half marathon time. And gosh darn it, I worked plenty hard this year.