Monday, January 16, 2012

Race Report: Houston Half Marathon

Every January my running buds and I get all geeked out over the hometown race as if we were pre-K kids going to a Wiggles concert.  We try to go to all the weekend's events including the fitness expo, the kids fun run and of course the marathon itself.  The Houston marathon celebrated its 40th year this weekend and has grown into the city's largest single day sporting event.  Yeah this town has hosted NBA All Star games, flashy rodeos, soccer championships, and most recently, the Olympic marathon trials.  However, this marathon consistently brings out crowds by the thousands and gives us regular folks a chance to accomplish some hard fought goals.  One news report declared that over 250,000 people came out to be a part of the festivities in some form, either as runners or spectators.  I was one of those individuals on the course as I ran my first half marathon after a year long hiatus from the sport.  You've read how I blubber on and on about the challenges of the past year, but today was a complete triumph that I grabbed hold of with a firm two-handed grip.  Being back in the middle of that crowd as a part of the race experience felt fresh like I was doing it for the first time.

I celebrated my birthday with the fellow "divas" of my running crew the night before.  They surprised me by showering me with gifts and cards that brought my usual sarcasm to a halt as I soaked up the love and the friendship of a group of gals I have grown to deeply appreciate.  I am not big on huge birthday parties or extravagant gatherings when my time rolls around, but this dinner was really nice and I had time to enjoy the company of some good friends.  My normal routine would be to seclude myself indoors the night before a big race so I can be in my jammies the moment sleepiness hits my body.  The goal is to be as rested as possible when that blaring alarm clock goes off (around 4am...yikes!).  Making it to bed on time was not a problem, but I still seemed to somehow want to hit somebody when it was time roll out from under the folds of my warm comfy bed.  The early rise was well worth it because we made it down to the race start line with no problems, further easing any pre-race jitters I would have denied having.

Everything about the race and the entire weekend seemed to flow easily as if it were predestined for a greater purpose.  On second thought, maybe it was.  Maybe some of us were meant to run that race and leave behind ugly doubts of failure and self-worthlessness and simply enjoy the blessing of that singular achievement.  Spectators on the sidelines have long been the best entertainment at marathon events because of the colorfully humorous posters and banners they display in an effort to motivate us tired sweaty (ready to give up) runners.  One particular poster caught my eye yesterday around mile 11.  It said, "There will come a day when you are no longer able to do this.  Enjoy this moment while you have it".  Geez, did that ever get me all sappy and emotional.  My eyes starting to sting as all the tension and uncertainty of the past year simply lifted off me in the flash of that moment.  Although I am not exactly sure what, but it felt like I made peace some things right then and there.  Having already lived that period when I was unable to run, it made this race much bigger  than simply winning a finisher's shirt and medal.  It felt like a rebirth.  I wanted to pull over and share with that perfect stranger how her little poster deeply affected me.  It's a good thing I kept going, because the smell of my sweaty running clothes probably would have knocked her out!

After passing that poster and the anonymous lady that unknowingly gave me a wonderfully uplifting moment, I deliberately slowed down my pace.  My body felt strong but I wanted to go slow.  If you are a non-runner, you need to know that slowing down your pace so close to the finish line is unheard of.  We are usually so time obsessed that we do whatever is necessary to dig deep and pull out all the stops during that final stretch.  Beating your best finish time, or PR as we call it, is the only thing on your mind at this point in the race.  However without a coherent thought in my brain, I slowed my pace considerably because I was not ready for this experience to be over yet.  The wait to get back here had been so long that I dared not rush through it.  I knew if I sped up like I was trained to, the final two miles would be a blur of grey pavement and winded breathing.  I wanted to remember the race in the same euphoric state I was in right then.  I don't regret it.  My running buds that were unable to run this race were on the sidelines cheering me on with the same genuine enthusiasm we show for each other throughout every running milestone.  Had I been focused only on the clock, I might have missed the big smiles on their faces as I passed them in the final seconds of a journey that will remain imprinted on my heart.

Sweat-soaked and hungry, we finished off the morning with heavy food and goofy laughter as we swapped stories and checked out each other's minor injuries.  I made it back home to three handsome cuties that had birthday cake, pizza and flowers waiting for me as an adorable post-race sugar fest.  For the second time in one day, I had to pause and give thanks for that moment when I knew instinctively this blessing was meant for me to slow down and savor it.  Ironic, isn't it, that I made it a point to slow down my pace on a weekend that was originally meant for racing and other time pressures.  We find clarity at the strangest moments in life but the trick is recognizing it and learning from it.  I have learned a lot in my short, um, 39 years and hopefully my future years will continue to season me with peace and enlightenment that I can pass on to others.  Let's hope I have the wisdom and sight to see those uniquely beautiful moments when they unexpectedly make an appearance.

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