Okay, so confession time:
I have had the most difficult time blogging about my first half-marathon that I finished back in September. It’s been months now and I keep staring at this blog post, dissatisfied with it, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the only way I’m ever going to get this post out is by starting it off by getting the serious stuff out of the way first.
I was stupid.
I’m not talking “Ha, ha, look at this idiotic thing I did, tee-hee” type of stupid… I’m talking stupid-stupid.
I was stupid, I did not hydrate well enough at the water stations because I wanted to keep going, I did not bring my own source of water, and during the last three miles I suffered heat exhaustion, bordering on heat stroke.
I want to be perfectly clear that the situation I almost got myself into was 100% my fault. I’ve heard a couple people say that it’s the race organizer’s job to avoid this sort of thing happening, but I disagree. In this case, it was completely my fault. I was both under-trained and under-prepared. The race had hydration stations – I failed to use them correctly. I also failed to do the research so I knew exactly what to do once I recognized the signs that my body was struggling.
I think the reason I got into trouble in the first place is because I rely so much on my brain to help me think my way through difficult situations… and what I didn’t anticipate in the case of dehydration was how it would shut my thinking power off. It wasn’t obvious to me, either. I mean, it seemed like my brain was was working, and it was only when I started feeling better that I realized how dumb my decisions were. When my body became covered in goosebumps and my mouth completely dried out and I lost the ability to sweat, instead of stopping and finding some shade, all I could think about was: Water. Go. Keep going, and get water. Becky, you need water, and walking will take longer, so just keep running and you’ll get to the water faster.
I made it to the finish line, and it was scary and wonderful, but later that evening the first rumors came in.
I made it, but another runner didn’t. He passed out and eventually passed away less than half a mile from where I struggled the worst.
He was 28 years old, in way better shape than me, he ran half marathons before, and he died. It was more than sobering, and I just couldn’t find it in myself to keep laughing and joking about all the fun thoughts I had about my first half marathon.
So, I put the blog post aside for a bit, but every time I came back to it, I couldn’t really continue because it felt… I dunno. By ignoring how close I came to really being in a bad way and not sharing my learnings with other, it felt disrespectful to the other guy’s death. I finally decided to include a section at the end of the blog post talking about it, but that felt almost worse. “Ha, ha, look at how much fun I had! Also, I almost killed myself and this other dude died, so don’t do what I did. But anyways, back to the fun….”
So. After chewing on it for awhile, I’m starting this blog post over, and it’s not nearly as funny as the other intro I had, but I need to write it like this.
I’m also going to begin it by being preachy: If you are a beginner (or otherwise) runner, here is my VERY STRONG advice to you: Don’t ever attempt a longer run without a source of water. For those of you who hate bringing things on your run, I get it. I hate holding things on my runs, I hate backpacks, and I hate fanny packs. I figured I could hydrate at the water station – that worked for me on my first 5k and my first 10k…. why not my first half marathon?
Look, I’m a queen of ignoring my body when it’s complaining – living with Rheumatoid Arthritis will do that to you. But I’m also pretty used to listening to my body and judging where I’m at… and I’m here to tell you that yes, I finished my race, but…. but I was very, very close to being in a very, very bad way.
I learned that I don’t do well in heat when my body isn’t prepared for it. I love the heat of the desert, and I’ve worked in the sun on 102 degree days with no problem… but that’s after my body had a chance to acclimate slowly as the weather heated up from winter to spring, and then to summer.
I do not do well in heat when all of my runs have been at 6am, in the dark, and the race is on an 80 degree day in the sun. I’m so glad I learned this fact during a simple little race on foot, in the middle of civilization, where there was water, and gatorade, and paramedics on standby. I’m so glad I didn’t learn this when I was at an endurance ride, on horseback, in the middle of nowhere. It could have been very, very bad, and I will never, ever, ever, EVER EVER EVER run a long race again without bringing my own source of hydration.
So, once again, that’s my advice to you, if you’re going to do something strenuous, bring your own water. The worst that will happen is that carrying the water will be annoying. It’s a lot better than the worst-case of the alternative scenario.
Okay. Moving on.
Last September I ran the Beat the Blerch half marathon in Carnation, Washington.
If you have never heard of The Blerch, drop everything right now and click on this link below and read this story:
Anyways, sometimes I rattle on and on and give lots of backstory, but lately I’ve been feeling sorry for you guys because my posts have been so long, so I’ll get right to the point:
I almost sold my ticket and didn’t run the race. This would have been such a big mistake.
When I first bought the ticket back in March of 2014 – beating out thousands of people and a website which kept crashing – I was so excited. The race sold out in a matter of minutes, so I felt very, very lucky to have my ticket. I had such high hopes for myself. I had a plan, a running partner, lots of good intentions, and I even left almost six weeks of extra “whoops” time for my training. I’d be in great shape for the race…. wouldn’t I?
Two months before the race found me angry, out of shape, and so very, very disappointed in myself. I was supposed to be a third of the way through the half marathon portion of my training – averaging 20+ miles a week at a brisk pace.
Instead, not only was I fifteen pounds fatter than when I signed up, I was lucky if I managed more than one run a week, much less 20+ miles worth of running. I hadn’t even worked my way up to three miles at a stretch, but the training program told me I needed to be at 5-6 miles a run.
I should sell my ticket. What’s the point, anyways? I’m not ready for this run, and there’s no way I can get ready in two months. I’ll probably have to walk the whole thing, and that’s just a waste compared to what I had originally planned. I can’t believe I took this spot from someone who would have done it justice, someone who deserved it so much more than me. I should wait. There’s no point ruining my “first half marathon” experience. I should sell my ticket to someone who deserves it and try again when I can do it right. I suck.
And that’s when I realized – my Blerch is not a fat cherub who encourages me to eat gravy.
My Blerch is a stupid jerk who demands perfection or nothing. There is no in between for my Blerch, and there is no joy, no reward in half measures.
And you see, on the surface that sounds inspiring. It’s the sort of thing that sounds good on one of those 1980’s motivational posters you see in gym teachers’ offices.
It sounds good, but it accomplishes nothing. This way of thinking does not motivate me – it destroys me. I end up using it as an excuse to quit things, even if it doesn’t feel like an excuse at the time.
That’s what I realized as I was jogging around the track one evening in the middle of July. It was late evening – that perpetual Pacific Northwest summer twilight that lasts for hours, and as I limped very, very slowly around the track in my inept fashion…
I decided to quit thinking that way. I’m not sure what helped me make that decision, or why it took me so long to come to it, but I realized – I can’t afford to think like that anymore, not about this race, and not about my life. If I keep waiting until I’m totally prepared or everything lines up juuuuuuust perfectly, I’m going to be 85 years old and still daydreaming of all the stuff I never did.
And seriously, what a waste of a life that would be.
The thing is, I hate feeling mediocre, but sometimes mediocre isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. My life is too busy, and nowadays I am just too many people to be able to be truly excellent at everything. Sometimes I feel like a juggler who has been given too many balls. Mom. Wife. Christian. Thoughtful friend. Good family member with extended family. Athlete. Horseback rider. Writer. Reader. Laundry-do’er. House cleaner. Dog trainer. Excellent employee. Healthy eater.
No matter how fast I move my hands and try to keep all the balls up in the air, I just can’t do it. Sooner or later I drop one of them… but that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I need to quit juggling, or get off the stage, or quit. It just means I need to pick that ball up and reintroduce it back into the mix, and try to do better keeping it in the air next time.
So, that’s what I decided during that hot evening as I shuffled my slow way around the dimly lit track. I decided to be honest with myself. Yes, I dropped the “do great at a half-marathon” ball. Oh well.
Yeah, I sucked. Yeah, I didn’t make the time for training that I could have…. but you know what? There was joy to be found in following through anyways. And even if that joy wasn’t going to be found in the fist-pumping victory of averaging a 12 minute mile as I crossed the finish line…. screw it. I was going to go anyways.
Maybe it wasn’t going to be the victory I imagined, but it was still a victory.
So… I kept training as best as I could and showed up at the race anyways. And Claire (my jogging partner) went, even though she had even less of a chance to train than I did. At one point on one of our runs, we both adopted the endurance motto: “To finish is to win.” I don’t know about you, but I love that motto.
The neat thing about a run organized by The Oatmeal was that nobody seemed to take themselves seriously. Claire and I got to the run early – we needed to pick up our race packets, having opted out of packet pickup the day before.
The shirt was amazing… and several sizes too small. I guess that’s what happens when you sign up for a race expecting to lose tons of weight….and spend the intervening months eating away your feelings instead of running.
Go figure, right?
I spent the hour before the start milling around, stretching, and trying to find ways of entertaining myself. I get nervous right before big events, and when I just stood around waiting I found myself getting nauseous with the adrenaline. So, I tried to distract myself. Eventually I made a decision to find all the Blerch posters and get a picture of me copying them.
Hey, it wasn’t the most interesting thing I could have done… but it was either that or stand around belching in an attempt to settle my upset stomach and being eaten away by nervous anticipation.
Admit it. You all wish you could be as sexy as me.
Finally, FINALLY it was time to line up at the start. There’s something seriously exciting about the start of a race – the nervous energy, the waves of people – the mental preparation. I have to remind myself to go slow – much, much, much slower than I want to go, or I tend to sprint, run out of breath, and lose before I’ve barely begun the race.
It took most of a mile before the crowded start began to thin out and I was able to settle into my stride.
Look, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a tendency to cry when I finish a race. It’s the most ridiculous thing, but the surge of emotion I get as I cross the finish line overwhelms me, and it just starts leaking out of my eyes as liquid happiness.
Well, for the first time ever I didn’t cry when I finished a race. Oh, no.
I cried for the FIRST THREE MILES. It was the stupidest thing. I’m a very, very slow wogger (jogging so slow it might as well be walking), and as I settled into my back-of-the-pack status I realized I was surrounded by all the other slow-jogging chubbies, and something about it just set off my I’m-so-proud-of-all-of-us emotions…
And I started crying.
Every time I saw a back roll, or a waggling too-large butt, or a jiggling tummy I started choking up. It just felt so beautiful, so amazing, to be a part of this group of people banding together, standing up against our own personal demons, learning to persevere even when the insidious whispering of our own personal Blerches got us down….It was so beautiful… so amazing…. look at us all.
The fatter the person was, the harder I had to fight back the tears. I think at one point this really chubby lady passed me, and when I saw her arms jiggling with each step I actually let out a little sob, out loud.
The problem was, not only was it ridiculous to be crying my way through a race as well as a little bit demeaning to the people I was crying about, but the more I tried to hold back the tears, the more my throat closed up, and the more my throat closed up with emotions, the harder I found it to breathe…
And at some point it occurred to me, “Becky, knock it off. Seriously. Get your crap together,or you’re gonna pass out, wake up surrounded by paramedics, and then have to explain to the paramedics that you’re not sick, you’re just overwhelmed with fat-people-camaraderie.”
So I plugged my iPod headphones into my ears and turned on my music. I’d planned on waiting to turn on my music somewhere around mile four or so, but I figured that starting my music early was better than choking to death with emotion over someone’s chubby waist.
For the record, I have the crappiest taste in running music. I used to be on a crew (rowing) team in college, and I learned during my morning workouts that the heavier the beat, the faster/harder I could work out….. so now my running tape is filled with just the trashiest dance music.
However, on that morning, running high on adrenaline and Adderall, the music seemed oddly perfect.
I’m bringing sexxxxy baaaack….UH. You other brothers don’t know where it’s at UH. Get your sexy on UH Get your sexy on UH.”
The morning was beautiful – the dirt trail was hard packed but still had a little spring to it, and even though the day promised to be hot, the 9 am start time meant the sunlight filtering through the Pacific Northwest foliage was still cool.
Something something HEY
Something something HEY
Korean something HEY
Oppa Gangam Style
I found my rhythm after a bit and settled into the beat of the music, starting to pass people. My breath was coming a little harder than I wanted it to, but it felt so good to stretch my legs, to feel myself following through, to be a part of this race – I didn’t mind.
The first hill was brutal, and when the trees gave way to sun baked earth it left me wondering if I was actually going to be able to run the whole way. I’ve never been good at jogging in the heat, and without the protective cover of the trees, the sun beating down on me promised heat in spades. I’d been training in the cool of the morning, and I found myself slowing my pace as my legs kept up the slow, steady rhythm. The air felt dry in my mouth, but I didn’t mind.
I was here. I was racing. I was running my first half marathon, and even though it was harder than I thought, I was still doing it. The mile markers lined the side of the road, and….
…and I was on mile Two.
Oh. My. GAWWWDDDDD.
Look, I don’t think I can adequately explain time warp I experienced during the my first three miles of the Blerch.
I’ve never run a longer race than those first three miles. It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. For some reason, every mile felt more like six or seven miles….. and when I discovered that I had literally only run two miles, and that there was actually still 11 miles to go….
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more horror.
I passed by the couch at mile three.
They had the coolest setup straight from the Blerch comic- cake, and grape soda and people dressed up in Blerch costumes who would harass you as you ran by, trying to convince you to join them on the couch, or to quit running and just enjoy the sunshine and eat cake with them.
I wanted to take a picture with The Blerch, with me sitting on the sofa, but I had barely begun to hit the point where my legs felt mechanical underneath me. Every single time I jog, or run, or race, or whatever you want to call it, I spend the first mile or two having to mentally instruct my body before the movement becomes mechanical. “And now you lift your left leg, and now you set it down. And now you lift your right leg, and now you set it down. And now the left leg again….” I wonder if super fast runners have this problem, or if it’s just me?
Either way, at mile three I’d barely found my rhythm so I didn’t dare stop for a photo. I smiled and waved at the Blerchs, lowered my head and plugged on through.
Somewhere right before mile four I began to feel the same rhythm and sense of completeness that I’d felt in the beginning, only without the bursting into tears. I hit a couple of good songs in a row and I could feel my stride lengthening. I began passing people – I’m very VERY slow in the beginning (usually a 13.5-14 min mile), but I have a tendency to get faster the longer I run, and people who had blasted past me in the beginning were now falling behind me, one after another, as I passed into the shady part of the run. My breath came easily, and my feet fell on the rhythm of the beat. “Sultan of Swing” came on, which is my all-time favorite running song, followed by LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It”, and I began to feel like maybe, just maybe I was gonna be okay on this run.
I’m sexy and I know it.
I’m sexy and I know it.
I’m sexy and I Know it.
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle YEAH
Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle—-
And then, with no warning, my iPod died.
Right there, somewhere in between mile five and six, right in the middle of the wiggle-wiggle portion of the song, the stupid, hideous, good-for-nothing piece of equipment just quit working. I’d charged it for nearly two days prior to the event, terrified something like this would happen…. and it did.
I’ve never hated anything worse than I hated that iPod the moment I realized it was broken. I felt so betrayed. I considered chucking it into the forest, or slamming it beneath my heel, but I was scared of disrupting the rhythm of my run, especially since I had no music to listen to anymore. I shoved it into the pocket of my pants and a few moments later my ears had adjusted to the silence of the morning race.
Suddenly, I wasn’t flying high.
Suddenly, I wasn’t riding the mechanical, effortless rhythm of my slow-moving body.
Suddenly, I was just a fat person out for a very slow, excruciating, boring jog in the woods.
I could hear the heavy sound of my breathing and it just depressed me. I tried not to think about how far I had to go – I tried to focus on the sound of my feet crunching on the gritty dirt, or the sounds of the birds in the trees, or the conversation of the other runners….but the overwhelming beauty of the morning had been popped and the whole thing became just one giant, depressing effort not to break into a walk.
I’d like to be one of those people who flies high on joy of running alone, but if I am running by myself I have to blast music . Without it, the sound of my personal Blerch is too strong. My Blerch doesn’t try to get me to watch TV or eat – my Blerch very encouragingly tells me to give up, and with every footfall on that silent, music-less half marathon, I could hear it.
You’ve gone far enough. Just stop at that sign right up ahead and break down into a walk. It’s okay. You can probably walk faster than you can jog, anyways. You can’t do this without music. Just walk for a bit. Just a little bit. It’s not like you’re gonna finish in the time frame you wanted, so why not walk for a bit?
People started passing me – people nodding in time with the beat of their own music that played on their faithful STILL WORKING iPods, people moving in sync with their partners, people I’d flown past a mile before.
I ducked my head and kept jogging. I was moving slow enough that I wasn’t out of breath – I’d read on the Internet about the hill between mile 5 and 6 and realized that if I didn’t tackle it slowly I really would end up walking the whole race, especially without music.
And this is the story of how my beautiful, memorable, gorgeous, sexy first half-marathon literally became the world’s most BORING jog. I had nobody to talk to. I had no music to distract me. I didn’t dare push myself too hard, for fear of running out of juice completely.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. It was just me, the crunchy sound of my tennis shoes on gravel, and the heavy, wet sound of my fat-person breathing.
And no, that’s not me and my low self-esteem… I was genuinely bored and had nothing else to listen to and eventually I became supremely irritated with every sound I made. If you had to listen to my fat-person breathing for three hours, you’d hate it too.
Eventually I started getting closer to the turn-around point. It took me awhile to realize that the amount of people passing me on their return trip had started to increase dramatically. I lifted my hand to high-five one or two people, specifically this one dude who was literally high-fiving every single person on the entire trail, but mostly I stayed to the far side of the road, steadily crunching my way to the turn around point. I figured I would stop and take a break there, fill up on some water, and then turn back…..
But when it came time I realized I still had a good rhythm going, so I waterboarded myself with a little paper cup and turned around. In retrospect… HOLY CRAP, BECKY, STOP JOGGING AND DRINK SOME WATER.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. The way back was even worse, because I didn’t even have new scenery to distract myself with. It was just me and my boredom, and my dogged determination to not break into a walk.
It was literally the most bored I’ve ever been while exercising. I felt like a horse on a hot walker. I kept looking for stuff to distract myself, hoping I could settle in behind someone to at least pace myself with them, but I was this weird in-between speed. I was too slow for most of the joggers and too fast for people who were walking, so eventually I just lowered my head and tried to think about interesting stuff so I didn’t get too bored. I got a few chapters of my book mentally plotted, so there was that, right?
I will say there was something exciting about seeing the mile markers getting into the higher numbers. Mile 7. Mile 8. Despite the fact I was drowning in boredom I was able to find a small thrill of accomplishment for having jogged for so long.
And then there was the couch again, and the people in the Blerch costumes attacked me again.
“Just sit down… you’ve earned it. Why not have some chips? How about some cake? Enjoy some cake….”
I shook my head at The Blerch, and finally high-fived him. That wasn’t my Blerch. My Blerch didn’t say stuff like that. My Blerch whispered at me to not bother showing up. My Blerch whispered at me to just walk, since I wasn’t going to get a good time anyways.
My Blerch was an a$$hole and I was feeling proud at how much I’d managed to tune him out.
I thought about filling up at the water stations, because I had started to feel disturbingly thirsty, but I was so scared of breaking into a walk. I’d never jogged this far before, and the only thing keeping me going was the rhythm of my body. I could feel that if I broke down into a walk my legs would be wiggly and sore and I’d probably have a lot of trouble picking it back up, so instead of hydrating I just grabbed two drinks from each table, double-fisted the water into my gaping maw, and then grabbed a small handful of weird little energy gel packets just in case.
I didn’t know where to put them so I stuffed them down into my sweaty sports bra. It wasn’t like I was going to be winning any sexy awards anyways, right?
The water revived me, and I felt another teeny rush of endorphins. If I’d planned ahead and brought my own water and a source of music which didn’t break down on me, I think mile 9 would have been the spot I’d have really shined. I was amazed to find myself passing people again – people who had blown past me on mile four and five – thin, fit people I never would have thought I could pass in a million years.
I wanted to stretch my legs and really settle into a faster pace, but I’d begun to realize that I might actually be able to accomplish my goal – that I just might be capable of “run”ning the whole thing, despite only practicing up to 6 miles, and I was scared of jeopardizing that.
Besides, I was thirsty. I was so, so, so thirsty. It was almost noon, and the sun had begun blazing down with a vengeance. In terms of Southern California or Arizona heat it was nothing, but I had been training in 40 degree weather so I was completely unprepared for 80 degree heat. I tried some of the weird packet goo I’d stashed in my bra, and realized that… yeah, it was pretty disgusting. “Chocolate-flavored Goo” is still goo…. but I will say that I don’t think I was capable of chewing at that point, so it was kind of nice just to slurp it down mindlessly. Also, it seemed to make me feel sort of perky, so there was that
I started to feel weird – really weird, and I realized I was actually pretty dehydrated. I have a bad habit of forgetting to be thirsty – stupid, I know, but it’s always been a problem. One of the ways I can tell when I’m dehydrated is when life stops making sense, or when I start trying to assign it too much sense. If I find myself pondering weird things and thinking, “But what does it meaaaan???” like some kind of stoned philosophy student, then it means I’m super dehydrated. And that morning, as I jogged along, I realized my head was beginning to be pretty cloudy. I fished the last little packet out of my bra and squirted some of the chocolate goo in my mouth….
Only I couldn’t seem to swallow it, because it kept clogging up in my throat. It took me a few tries for me to realize that I was so dehydrated I wasn’t even making enough spit to swallow stuff. I knew that probably wasn’t a good sign, but I couldn’t really do anything about it, so I just pushed it to the back of my mind. I started applying the goo to my finger and rubbing it on my gums, figuring at the very least I could absorb it, or something.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. My muscles and lungs felt fine, but I was so, so, so very thirsty. I think it was at this point I started asking other runners that I passed for water, only nobody had any left.
I started feeling very weird, and somewhere in my water-deprived mind I came up with the rationalization that I wasn’t tired, I was just thirsty…. so dropping to a walk didn’t make any sense. What I needed was water, and water would be at the finish line, so I obviously needed to get there as fast as possible, right?
Hey, man, I was pretty dehydrated at that point. It made sense to my brain.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
I passed a dad and a daughter who were on their bikes and not even a part of the race, asking them if they had any water. They didn’t. I passed more runners. They also didn’t have any water.
I passed a policeman holding up traffic for the race. He didn’t have any water either.
I was so thirsty. Drinking was all I could think about. If someone had handed me a shiv, I could have happily shanked someone for water.
I noticed the trail was actually getting fairly close to the river, and for a little while I considered abandoning the race to go drink…. Giardia could kill me later on – I wasn’t just thirsty, I was dangerously thirsty, and I knew it. I really considered doing it, but I realized I was so very thirsty and feeling so very weird that there was a very real chance of me passing out if I bent over to get the water, and since there was nobody around that section of the river, I was worried nobody would be able to see me or help me.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
The trees died away and I was in the sun again. I reached up to scratch at my forehead and watched little flakes of dried sweat fall off – awesome. I’d lost the ability to sweat. Clinically, I knew that was a bad, bad sign….. as was the fact that the sun felt almost cold on my body. The hair on my arms was standing on end, and I was covered from head-to-toe in goosebumps. I knew exactly how bad that was….
But in my water-deprived brain all I could think was “I’m thirsty, not hot, so I just need to get to the finish line and water as fast as I can. Jogging is faster than walking, so that’s my best shot.”
I kept asking people for water, but nobody had any. Finally. FINALLLLLLY, I saw someone with a small Gatorade bottle half-filled with water. I was so excited I felt like crying…..
…..until I got close enough to realize it wasn’t just someone, it was the race photographer.
I couldn’t ask him for water – if I did, he wouldn’t be able to photograph the people behind me, and my lack of preparation shouldn’t mean that they had to miss out on their photographs. (I realize now I could have STOPPED and waited for the people behind me to pass by… but again. My brain was not making good decisions right about then.)
I’ve never hated anyone the way I hated that man. Forget hating my iPod – my iPod was a saint compared to that stupid photographer. How dare he be the only person in three miles who had water, and also be the only person in three miles who couldn’t share?
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Mile 12. My steps were so slow I was almost jogging backwards, but it was still technically a jog. It was frustrating – my muscles were capable, but I was so thirsty I didn’t dare do anything but the lowest, tiniest of steps. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
I saw someone on the grass with a small thing of Gatorade – about quarter of a bottle left. I veered off road. “Please. Please, I’m so thirsty.”
They gave it to me, and I felt like a basking shark. I unhinged my lower jaw and literally dumped it in.
I couldn’t even feel it wetting my mouth. I didn’t even have to stop jogging – it went that fast. It tasted life-saving, and my goosebumps prickled my harder. Heck, maybe it was.
I said thank you as I jogged away – I meant it more than I ever meant anything else. I love you, random, faceless stranger who shared your old drink me. I loved you so much right then, and I still love you now.
The sun shone down on me, but there started to be more and more people on the side of the roads. Less than a mile left – I decided to quit asking people if they had any water. I was so close I could see the finish line. I could get water there.
I resisted the urge to speed up. The world had narrowed to me and the road. The sound of my feet. The feel of the cold sun on my dry, goosebumped skin. I was almost to the water.
The road began to slope around to the right, and I realized I was there – there was the finish line, around the curve and down the straightaway – and I also realized that even though I’d never been this thirsty before in my entire life, I still had plenty of gas left in the tank. I may have been jogging ridiculously, ridiculously slow before, but suddenly, desperately, I wanted to know that I’d given the race my all.
I picked up my feet and started running harder. My legs felt leaden and wobbly, but I forced them to quit complaining and pushed harder. I spend almost every day of my life being forced to listen to a stupid body that eats itself when I get stressed – it was time for my body to shut up and listen to me. I passed one person. Two. Three. A pair of girls.
I saw someone ahead of me, and I realized that if I sprinted, I just might “beat” him in, and decided to make that my goal.
My body felt like it was separate from me – a willing horse I was riding, digging deep to give me its all. I stretched even further, feeling the ground beneath my feet.
The rush of air in my lungs.
The sound of people cheering me on, the knowledge water was just ahead, the knowledge I had done it.
I felt my body telling me that it was done. I didn’t have anything left – I grabbed deep, and sprinted the last few yards, and made it in past the man.
All around me was cheering, and people smiling, and…AND SHUT UP AND GIVE ME MY WATER.
I pushed past the people trying to collect my race timer chip from my shoe and hand me a medal, and began pacing around. I’d heard of someone who died when a crew race was done from stopping too suddenly, and I could feel my heart skittering in my chest, feel the lack of water, and didn’t want to stop moving all at once.
“Where’s the water?”
A volunteer smiled at me, and said something in gibberish.
“The water? I need water. Do you have water?”
She smiled again, speaking WingDings or something, and gestured at a barn that seemed impossibly far away. I could have cried, if I had any moisture left in my body. “I just need water. Please. Water?”
She gestured at the time tag I’d attached onto my laces, and I shook my head. Screw the time chip. I needed water. Someone came up and tried to hand me a medal, but it wasn’t water. I think they looped it over my head for me, but I couldn’t tell.
Claire had finished before me, and she and her husband approached me. I thought they wanted to talk. I couldn’t talk. I needed water. They said something, but I spun away from them, circling, heading towards the barn, pacing, trying to calm my breathing and the frantic beat of my racing heart.
It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to realize they weren’t just coming up to chat with me, they were trying to push a Gatorade bottle into my hand. I tore off the lid and pounded that thing faster than I’ve ever pounded a drink in my life, and it staved off my desperation long enough for me to make it over to the volunteer tables where I proceeded to drown myself for the next ten minutes in water and Gatorade. I have no idea how much I took in. I know it took almost 10 bottles before I started to feel myself again. I actually didn’t feel like drinking Gatorade, but after a ton of water I realized I probably had to consider electrolyte imbalance so I started alternating between the two.
I kicked off my shoes and socks and found a water pump and turned it on, delighting in the feel of the cold water on my skin, the way my goosebumps were receding, the way sweat began to bead on my brow again.
I’d finished in 3 hours and 12 minutes and I jogged the whole way. I accomplished all of my goals.
I also learned a day or two later, as I mentioned above, that someone died at mile 12 from heat stroke. I’m not just saying this – it could have been me. It very, very, very easily could have been me. I was in the middle of writing it up when I found out, and it just took the wind out of my sails when I did.
I don’t care if it’s hard to hold, or if you don’t like the way the belt feels, or if you’ve never needed it before. Here’s my request of you Don’t be me. If I’d been thinking rationally I never would have made decisions that were that dumb…. but when you’re tired and dehydrated you’re not exactly at your most ration or coherent. BRING WATER.
And now onto the less practical, more touch-feely thing I came away from the race with:
Everyone’s Blerch says something different. Mine wanted me to sell my ticket rather than “waste” my first half marathon with a crappy attempt. I certainly wasn’t prepared at ALL for the event. I hobbled after the race for almost two weeks, and my thighs rubbed together so much during the race that I rasped the skin right off and bled enough my pants stuck to me. I had scabs on my legs for more than a week, and my sheer stupidity literally almost killed me….
But on the other hand, I still did it. My Blerch whispers to me that I’m not enough, and that I need to be perfect before I can even try. My Blerch whispers to me “Why bother?” My Blerch whispers that trying and failing is more disappointing than not trying at all.
That is such a horrible lie.
I love the photos of my sprint to the finish line. I think I’m going to frame them one day. I like what they say, even if I don’t even look particularly “sexy” in these photos. I look at them and I compare them to the super thin girl of my childhood, or the toned up teen of my younger years and my initial reaction was to wince at how heavy I am, and hide them away.
But… but that’s wrong. Look, these photos. This is the photo of a chubby mom who ran thirteen miles on willpower alone. Who cares if I have rolls? I kind of rock. If I’d listened to my Blerch, I wouldn’t have these photos, or this knowledge of what I’m capable of, or the feeling of having accomplished something that means so much to me.
I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I had this much “try” in me, and I wouldn’t be able to apply that confidence to other areas of my life.
Besides, I’m pretty far from perfect. If I put my whole life on hold waiting until everything is perfect, before I enjoy it, I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in my living room.
And what a waste that would be.