Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The run

(...part 2! Continued from this post here)

I took off from Marina Park in Ventura. Waves were crashing hard against the rocks, filling me with vigor and enthusiasm. I started strong (and fast, I would later discover, when reviewing my splits). I found myself already gasping for breath as I ran my way through the neighborhood toward the 2-mile mark. Yikes, I thought. It's hot out already. I crossed the street to make use of what skinny stips of shade the passing palm trees could provide.

I had tried to start early, but not alarm-clock-early. I had woken naturally a little after 6 and enjoyed my coffee and oatmeal at a leisurely pace. It was 8 AM by the time I hit my starting line and temperatures were already pushing 70. It was clear this race was going to feel different than my winter excursions at home. 

Mile 3 was gorgeous. I ran along Surfer's Point, watching long-haired individuals yawn their way out of covered truck beds, out of the backs of old vans, rusty with age. They held open mugs of piping hot coffee in their hands, their wetsuits only zipped to the waist. Ordinarily I inhale oxygen when I'm running; this race, it seemed as though I would predominantly be breathing pot. This was not the kind of fuel I had planned on. California, could you be any more cliche? 

My thoughts quickly shifted to the feeling I was experiencing under my arms. Chafing? Already? Oy Vey! I'd only just begun. Given that sunshine and heat was a PNW rarity, I'd nearly forgotten the woes of running in a tank. I bent my arms and tried running with them up and out to the sides, like I was pretending to be a chicken. It did little to abate my discomfort. Soon, I felt the same gnawing rub, happening between my legs. I had run in these shorts millions of times without this problem. What was different this time? Did my legs usually rub together? I didn't know, but suddenly carried immense gratitude for my 17-degree training runs back home, where leggings and long sleeves were welcomed, if not essential. My mind flashed to the ugly long shorts that I'd purchased and worn one time, for the singular full marathon I'd completed, back when I was young and filled with even crazier ideas. I regreted tossing them after the race, my memory was instantaneously refreshed as to why us runners willingly wear such unattractive adornments on our lower halves. Let me tell you, it ain't for the fashion! I briefly daydreamed of a vat of Vaseline, and then forged ahead, knowing this race would be long and increasingly more painful. 

Between miles 3 and 4, I started to wonder if I'd passed my last water refill opportunity. I still had half of my bottle of Nuun, but I was trying to drink every mile, since my January body wasn't used to the heat. The route the Trader Joe's employee had chosen for me was an out and back, so once I hit 6.5 miles, I would be turning around and retracing my steps. Water would again be in my future, but it would be a little while. I knew a campground was coming up shortly. Surely, they would have water. But the signs requesting passersby "please do not try to sneak in" deterred me. I forged ahead, sipping the little water that remained slowly, my 16-ounce bottle feeling tinier and tinier the further I went.

I knew I was going slow when a mama with the jogging stroller flew past me. That used to be me, I thought. That’s why I used to be fast! I too once trained pushing 40 pounds + of resistance in front of me. I almost almost let the feelings of shame take over, but instead told myself that she wasn't as deep into her run, nor was she running as far as I was. I took the lead again when she pulled over to give her child a snack. Ha ha! Look who is fast now! I thought. She was stopped, but, whatever. And then she passed me for a second time. 

"You go, Girl!" I called out to her, as she sped by me with ease. Those toddler days were fresh in my memory, and I wasn't going to let my competitive nature keep her from receiving my cheers. I knew a woman of strength when I saw one. 

Then came the hard part - miles 4.5 to 9. My prediction was correct. Not only were there no more drinking fountains, but I seemed to have departed from civilization altogether. The trail stretched out before me, long, hot, and dusty (picture those cartoons where the horizon is blurry due to the heat, and then dial it back three notches). I decided to quit holding out and just finish the water I had. I knew I was starting to fade and that at this point, water consumed was more valuable than water saved. I started to ponder how long it might be before someone found me if I were to get dizzy and pass out, and then briefly fantasized about pawning a water refill off the next biker to come by. In truth, I was in no real danger, but I'm very treat-motivated and right then water sounded like a wonderful carrot to keep me going. At mile 5, I started refueling with the Clif Bloks I'd stashed in my running belt. Each time that my app announced another mile completed, I would dig in for little fruity chew pick-me-up. What joys to anticipate!

I was super annoyed that it was right as I was approaching the halfway mark that my route introduced the only two hills on the course. Hit a girl when she's already down! But I reminded myself of something I'd learned in my training: I could always slow down. In fact, often my app coaches told me to slow down. It was at times counterintuitive, but I had been learning what it meant to "rest" while running. 

I was nearing the crest of the hill when my phone rang. It was my husband, so I picked up. I imagine I didn't sound my strongest. He told me that my son wanted to talk to me. I thought he had something important to communicate, but I think he just needed to hear the sound of my voice. Hope all the bonus gasps really filled his little cup. 😉 

I told them I was at a hard part and couldn't really talk so we hung up, but hearing from them reminded me of the crew back home, both supporting me and keeping me accountable. I pictured the “RUN MOM RUN” sign, painted years ago on canvas, and now hanging in our garage. It had made the rounds to the sidelines of numerous races, and kept me motivated to keep going. I never knew for sure whether my people would make it to my races in those earlier years. The start times were always at the crack of dawn, and waking up early and getting three wee children out the door proved difficult. But when they did show (which was most of the time), they came with GUSTO (see pic from 2019 below). I knew I wouldn’t be seeing my kids and accordian-carrying husband on the sidelines here in California, but that didn’t make me any less accountable to them mentally. And so I kept running.

Truthfully, what I pictured was flying all the way down here for a (cancelled) race and then quitting because I was hot and tired, and then having to tell my kids when they asked that I didn't finish. I tend to default to the negative, and this was no exception. But Isla had told me I would win this thing and win it I would do. Maybe.

When I finally made it to the turnaround point, the blessed halfway mark, I felt more than halfway spent. The lack of water was really starting to get to me as I watched the sun rise higher in the sky with not a sliver of shade in sight. I pressed on, picturing the campground that I knew was coming. I no longer cared about the “please don't sneak in” sign. I was thirsty and I could tell my face was redder than a tomato. I veered off the trail when I saw a sign for the group campsite where, to my delight, I spied a water spicket. I felt zero shame as I stuck my mouth and then my whole face under it’s cold stream. I splashed the water onto my shoulders and arms, and refilled my bottle. Sweet relief! I struggled to dig out the pieces of electrolyte tablets I'd precut for my water while running, so I gave myself permission to walk briefly while I hydrated. I had finally reached a short stretch of shade as I passed under Highway 1, and if there was ever a time to walk for a minute, it would be now. I needed a second to bring down my body temperature. 

I knew it would be hard to restart again, but I didn’t anticipate the ruthless wave of intrusive thoughts that suddenly took over. Well, now you’ve failed. You wanted to RUN a half marathon and here you are walking. This no longer counts. I felt one half of me caving, desperately wanting to call it. Might as well quit now. There’s no point in running the rest of it.  

What on earth? Those sure came on abruptly. And wow, talk about going straight to the extreme! It tends to be my default specialty, the joys of living with my brain. In all reality, I had walked for 30 seconds, maybe 60 seconds max to drink water and cool down. And doing so was somehow going to negate the other 2 hours and 12 minutes of running I would do? The brain is a wild and powerful beast. It took every ounce of my willpower to shut the voices down and remind myself that IT WAS COMMON to walk through water stations. Try drinking from an open cup while running. It’s extremely ineffective. Had the organized race taken place, I would have been through numerous water stations already where I would have walked. 

I got my wits about me and resumed my running, greatly revived by the water refill and the brief stretch of shade. I knew the next drinking fountain was a mile or less away so I could drink all I needed without concern of running low again. When I reached the water, I was already ready for a refill. I’d been having trouble with the zippers on my belt and so I stopped again briefly to visualize what was going on and get my bottle and electrolytes out and refilled. This 30 second pause in movement brought the intrusive thoughts right back to the surface. Now you’ve stopped twice! Can you even call this a run anymore? Again, I was tempted to quit, swatting away thoughts that I was somehow a fake runner. Then with a deep breath, I tucked them away along with my water and dug in and kept going. 

By this time, I had passed the 9-mile mark. It’s funny how 9 can feel so close to 13…and yet so very, very far. I’d rounded the last point, and the end was literally in sight, though waaaaay down the coastline. But it was sunny, and the people-watching opportunities were again plentiful with surfers everywhere, and the smell of pot wafting thickly through the air. I settled in, tried to ignore my chaffing armpits that were growing angrier by the second, and forced a smile. I WAS GOING TO DO THIS!

I crossed my finish line into Marina Park with a final time of 2:13:23 (average pace of 10’10” per mile). My only true regret is that I didn’t throw my hands up in celebration as I ran through my (very invisible) ribbon. But I was too out of steam and embarrassed about looking ridiculous. All I could think about was that I was DONE, and that I had a delicious chocolate milk situation balanced on ice in the trunk of my rental car. 

The time for my half was certainly slower than it had ever been, but also not as slow as I thought it might be. For the first time I didn’t really care about my pace. It was more a piece of data that I found interesting, and I received with unexpected acceptance, the fact that I remained consistently slower throughout the entirety of my training for this race. I was aging; it made sense that my pace would slow. The purpose of taking on this run was to be in my body, and remind myself that at nearly-40-years of age, I was still strong and capable. And not only was my body strong, my mind was too. 

I think I accomplished my goal(s). I did my solo race. I'm proud of myself for my running AND MY WALKING. Though I still often default to black and white thinking (I failed, I should just give up), I'm learning to talk back and take control of my thoughts when they go haywire. And that's progress for sure. 

Oh, and did I mention I won a half marathon? ;)


  1. Way to go girl!! I super impressed!

  2. Congratulations hun

  3. This is an amazing accomplishment, it shows heart and soul. Thank you for sharing!


posted by kelsie