Have you ever been so sure you’ve done something, that when you come to the realization you did not do it, your world rattles?
I had planned a long weekend in Philadelphia with my favorite communities: writers and runners. AWP was back, and Sunday the Love Run had a celebratory half marathon through the city. Everything I could dream of, right?
The first few days in Philadelphia filled my soul: connecting with new and old writer friends, finally experiencing the punk-rock Tirefire Reading series, writing in the garden of the Rodin museum.
Things started to fall apart at packet pickup Friday afternoon. I was so excited to show my girlfriend the running community, to show her the ridiculous things we do to get hyped. As I tried to locate my bib number, my name was not showing up. So weird, I thought. It must be a glitch, I thought.
Then I considered—I was receiving promotional emails, but did I get a bib number reminder email? As the realization washed over me, I searched my email receipts for registration. I generally register when it first opens (can’t miss those discounts), so it had to be there. Right? It wasn’t. I ask Athlete Information if they have registration today. Nope. It completely closed on Wednesday.
Fighting tears in the convention center hallway (is it even a writing conference if you don’t cry in the convention center?), I’m panic texting my coach and another run friend. What should I do? What are the options? Extremely stubborn, I didn’t want to miss out on a race weekend I prepared for. We find that the B&A Trail Half Marathon still has spots. I text the AWP 2 Hype 2 House 2 Queer chat that I’m leaving that night. I get home, try to calm down and relax with my cats. I’m prepared physically, why should a little stress derail me? I started infusing humor as fast as I could, texting my coach, I should have opened this with I’ve made a huge mistake.
Not to brag or be dramatic, but the half marathon was the worst I have ever felt in a race. Perhaps because of the stress of the previous 48 hours, perhaps because I’ve been struggling with my ferritin and thyroid levels, perhaps because imbalances from years of chronic pain decided to flare in my back—everything was NOT GOOD.
The race didn’t begin that way. I started cruising around 7:45 pace. I was going for it, knowing all my workouts and long runs indicated this would be an easy start to push from there. My plan was to start pushing to bring it down to the 7:30s after the first third. I took my first gel around mile 4.5 and said bye to my friend, she was folding a workout into the race.
I wasn’t feeling bouncy or fresh, but I still felt like I could hold strong for the second half as I approached the turnaround. From years as a swimmer and past races, I knew I didn’t have to feel perfect to be able to dig deep. Around mile 8, my body started to rebel in all the ways: nausea, tightness in my back to the point that I could not drive my legs. All in all, NOT GOOD. Still, I know these things can pass.
I took my last gel around mile 8.5. I gave myself another pep talk. One bad mile wasn’t going to stop me. As I continued, things got worse. Total body pain. Nausea. Heaving. Why couldn’t I at least vomit and get it over with? That’s when I started to panic. The last time I felt this terrible in a race, it was before my first surgery in 2018. This was not a time to relive medical trauma! I turned up my music, asked Ashnikko to give me strength.
I was either slowing down to heave as I ran, or I was stopping to heave along the side of the B&A Trail. With only a few miles to go, I passed some of the Faster Bastards cheering. I told myself to dig deep and felt a surge of adrenaline as I passed them. I can salvage this, I thought.
Shortly after I was off the trail again. They jogged by and asked if I was okay. I said, no, but I’m going to finish. I heave-run-walked my way to the finish, keeping it together enough to cheer on runners passing me, to say hi to people I have only interacted with online.
My final time was around an 8:30 pace, despite some 10 minute miles in there. While I am frustrated, I am so proud of this consistent training block. I stayed mentally strong in workouts. I felt relaxed in long runs. Despite dabbling in running for over a decade, I keep reminding myself that I haven’t truly been able to consistently run until being cleared for sport in August 2020 after my hysterectomy and second excision surgery. I’ve finally had a chance to build. After some rest, I’ll spend the spring and summer finding new limits on the roads and trails with the community. This is a hobby I love, even when it sucks. There are going to be challenging races along the way. Yesterday, I loved seeing friends reach their goals, knowing I will be in that place again.
A note because the pandemic isn’t over: I took a rapid test last night, I’ll take one later in the week, and I’ll wear my mask if there are places I must go.
Books I’m thinking about / recently read:
- Other Girls to Burn by Caroline Crew
- Unprotected by Billy Porter
- My Life as a Villainess by Laura Lippman
Stay sweaty and glittery. Black Lives Matter.