When I left you yesterday I was describing my panic at knowing I’d never be able to finish the long 13.1 miles that make up the half-marathon I had signed up for with good intentions half a year ago. Despite my willing it not to happen, the day of the PF Changs Arizona Rock n Roll Half-Marathon had arrived. There was no escaping the torture that awaited me.
At the starting line Team Happy Feet assembled in our finest walking gear to take on the challenge. We hopped form foot to foot in the cold and took about a million photos to remember the moment. At this point I was all smiles and giddy excitement. The excitement of the runners and walkers around me was contagious. 13.1 miles? Sure thing. No problem.
We shuffled to the starting line in herd of folks that made up Corral 22 and when the gun sounded we were off like a prom dress. I felt my first twinge of worry as I set off at my fastest walk possible and was quickly mobbed by runners going much faster than me, but I shook it off and tried not to focus on my screaming shins and tight ankles. Mile one is always rough for me, so I wasn’t too worried, and sure enough as mile two marker came into view I was warmed up and going strong.
The route for this event has a band playing every mile and the streets are lined with cheerleaders and encouraging spectators. We were all having fun, and when we reached mile four I actually said “we’re already at mile four? Cool!” At mile five we saw friends at a water station and then my grandparents all bundled up and holding a sign to cheer us on. I was feeling good, if not a little tired and motored on.
Miles five through nine were actually pretty good. I got to a sort of run/walk shuffle that propelled me forward at a decent enough pace to keep up with the single walking stride of a member of my team blessed with much longer legs. I had my upbeat motivational play list going on the iPod and was moving along like a pro. All was looking good when the mile nine marker loomed into view.
I had exhausted my reserves. I was tired and my angry feet were rebelling with blisters forming on my heels and a burning sensation in the balls of my feet. My breathing was labored and tears stung my eyes. I whimpered and moaned to mile ten with the encouragement of my mom telling me that we were almost there and I could surely do it. When the rescue vans started circling at mile eleven I could feel myself limping towards them. Somewhere something in me at that point made me steer back on course, and I continued to head towards the finish. I think it was the thought of coming within two and a half miles of the end. How could I possibly quit?
The last two miles are a blur of encouragement from my team and the buzzing pain from my legs and feet. We made our way slowly but surely towards the finish. I cried again when I shuffled past the mile thirteen marker. Surely I could make it 0.1 more miles! Let me just tell you that the convoluted final stretch of this course was the longest 0.1 miles I have ever walked in my life. My teammates were actually bribing me with beer at that point in order to get me through the end.
Sure enough, I stepped across the finish line at 4:22:44 and heard my name called over the blaring sound system. I was a jumbled mess of emotions with both tears of pain and a triumphant grin. I had finished. I had walked all 13.1 miles.
What did I learn from this tough journey? First, preparation is everything. Second, the combination of encouragement and sheer will can get me through anything. And last, the 13.1 miles that make up a half-marathon are a very, very long distance.
Team Happy Feet is already planning next year’s participation.
Me? I’m tending to my aches and pains and keeping my options for next year open.