I think I might have lost my mind. I’m not sure what happened that I find myself looking at April with a little apprehension. I signed up with Marcy to run the Diva Half Marathon in Galveston on April 19th. This would be our goal race. But I am also going to Des Moines, Iowa for the National RRCA Convention the weekend of the 25th and there is a race. Knowing that it would be a week after my goal race, I smartly signed up for the 10K. Safe, right? But then my fellow board members of DRC talked me into upgrading to the half (It will be slow! We will have fun! – famous last words before I always seem to pull that trigger… hahaha). So imagine my surprise when I get asked to then also pace the Big D Half Marathon…the week before Galveston. I didn’t want to run. In fact, I had the perfect spot picked out to go cheer everyone on at! But here I am, running Big D.
The Big D Half and Full Marathon has been run for a number of years and this year they changed up the course, promising a flat course for your fastest half marathon finish. In Dallas, that’s usually code for “this is gonna suck, we’ve found every elevation change we could and shoved it all into this awesome course.” True to form, there was no elevation map included with the course map online. However, a quick perusal of the streets, I knew it wasn’t flat. I’ve run West Shore before. Seriously. After my calves nearly blew up on the Rock n Roll Dallas course, I started to dread the race. I know what my legs are capable of and no amount of training or running slower or faster or ingesting various forms of electrolytes or water is going to change that my legs and I have a love-hate relationship. My kidney’s decision to sometimes not function on all cylinders typically causes most of my angst. It’s certainly a delicate balancing act of water, salt and other electrolytes to keep from cramping up because of the toxin build-up inside my pesky kidney.
Determined to make this a great race, Marcy and I grabbed our blue running skirts (Skirt Sports, of course!) and our orange flowers. The orange flower from FellowFlowers.com represents runners “fiercely united.” It’s one of my favorite flowers to wear when I am with my running friends. Marcy and I set out doing 2:1 intervals. We were pacing the 2:50 finish group and this interval made the most sense. Within a quarter of a mile, we had been asked by people running near us about the intervals and asked if they could join us. The answer is always “of course!” Pacing a race is hard because you HAVE to have a great race. You can’t be the one to fall apart because runners who paid to run are counting on you to help them reach their goals. But, pacing a race is also one of the most rewarding things I do. That pace stick breaks down barriers, pulls headphones out of ears, and lets you meet the most amazing athletes. Every walk of life can be found out on a course, all running for various reasons, all with great stories of obstacles overcome.
The nitty gritty of the race: this was hilly! OK, not San Francisco-hilly, but for Dallas, there were some inclines! Training with Dallas Running Club, we run those hills every weekend. If I was running by myself, I would likely skip those streets and only run on flat land. But that wouldn’t make me a better, faster or stronger runner, so I could do the hills, but I certainly felt inclined to complain a little under my breath as we approached each one. The day was exceptionally humid. In the end, this was the deciding factor for a whole lot of runners Sunday morning. The higher than expected temperature with 85% humidity was like running through pea soup. The water stops were spaced really weird. We would go almost three miles with no water then hit two stops in less than one mile. Stuff like that is why I ALWAYS carry my own water. That and the pesky kidney. Every water stop, I grabbed water, took a sip or two and then dumped the rest of it on my neck to try to keep cool. I really struggled with cooling myself off during the race and looking back at my Garmin, my heart rate was really high too… curiouser and curiouser.
As Marcy and I approached mile 7, we got a text from my hubby who was pacing a much faster group. The humidity caught up with him and he had gotten sick on the course. He was unable to keep going at his pace (that’s why we have two pacers for each time – anything can happen on race morning). Marcy and I told him to just walk and we would catch up with him. He could finish with us. Ironically, he has never finished a half with me (he’s speedy, even if he is having an “off” race). We picked him up about mile 9. Marcy and I were really happy that everyone who wanted to run with the group was still with us and doing really well. We tried to pass the time with some jokes and I called out the miles with elapsed time as we got there.
We had just passed mile 12 when a girl collapsed to her knees right in front of us. She had been in front of us the whole race and she looked really strong, so the three of us immediately ran over to help. Her leg was cramping up and she was crying. It had locked up and she couldn’t move her foot and the cramping was so bad it was beginning to radiate to her hamstring and quad. I knew exactly what the cramping was like and hoped I could help her get it to subside, but it would take a minute. We agreed that Marcy would get the stick and the others across the finish line at the goal time and Sean and I would stay back with the injured runner. Thank goodness, the final water stop of the course was just ahead. We worked the cramp back a little and I ran ahead to get her water and Gatorade. She said she didn’t have any more energy gels left. Quick thinking prevailed. As a pacer, I always carry extra pretzels and jelly beans in a pouch for anyone that needs them. I knew she needed salt, so I offered her the pretzels, which she thankfully took. They quickly helped and she wanted to try to run it in. Sean and I assured her we would not leave her side until she crossed the finish line to her family.
We learned that her name was Elizabeth and this was her first half in five years. Sean told every story he could think of to take her mind off of any pain she might have been experiencing and gave her tips on running form and we invited her to come run with us at DRC. The best part was seeing the kick she had left in her as she saw that finish line. I could almost not keep up. As we crossed the mat, I grabbed a medal from a volunteer and put it on her neck. Elizabeth hugged me tight and just started to cry. She whispered that she hadn’t run a half in five years because she was looking for a kidney in that time and had just had a kidney transplant. Everything began to make sense and I told her I understood more than she knew. I was so proud of her and what she had accomplished. Marcy met the three of us at the finish line for pictures and we got to meet Elizabeth’s husband. The orange flower made so much sense at that moment. My orange flower was my declaration that we were there for all the runners out there that needed a boost, a little laugh, a few pretzels, or someone to just help you across the finish line. I was reminded that every day I get to run is a good day. Everything happens for a reason and I am now certain that I was meant to pace and be there to meet Elizabeth.