We walked out the door a few minutes later than I would have liked. I knew I would still have time at the start, but at that moment I was feeling the nerves and wanted to get moving. Beth walked me to the shuttle, where I boarded up with fifty other runners to be taken up to Balboa Park.
Waiting in the crowd, I was expecting more nerves. As I slowly shuffled towards the start line in my corral I was expecting fear, anxiety and self doubt. I envisioned having to tell myself over and over that I could do it and not to give into the fear. There was none of that. There was… Nothing. Only determination.
The closer I got to the start line the calmer I felt. I emptied my head of all thought and just focused on the present. Everyone around me was texting, or taking selfies or facetwittering, and having made the decision to leave my phone behind, I enjoyed these moments of being unplugged from the world and just listened to the music and the MC for the event. By the time I found my corral, she was about nine ahead. Several minutes later, she launched the corral in front mine and I put one earbud in my ear. Then the count started, and at five I put the other one in. At one, I pressed play.
Nice job iPod. I seriously could not have picked a better song.
I started my watch as I stepped over the line and got to work. I made an effort to stay slow at first. I picked a few other runners to pace behind, but eventually broke away. The first thing of note was working the water stations. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but it quickly became clear that I had made the right choice in leaving my hydration belt behind. It’s true that maneuvering through the water stations can be tricky and I found that actually drinking from a cup while running is even trickier. The first one I damned near drowned myself, and after that decided, screw the time, I was going to walk through the stops when I needed them. Which, by the way, turned out to be just about all of them. I had considered skipping one or two, but once I got a routine down, there was no reason not to grab a quick drink along the way.
The thing I was totally not expecting was the elevation change. Hills, man. Steep, gnarly hills. All my running here has been down by the water, and while I was aware that San Diego had hills, I wasn’t really expecting to run them. As it turns out, I was quite wrong. I saw the first couple coming, and quickly came up with a plan: take advantage of the downhills and go easy getting up the other side. A couple of the downhills were so steep that I just had to focus on keeping my balance rather than going fast. A small price to pay for not toppling my fellow runners.
I settled into a comfortable pace and before I knew it, four miles had gone by and I came up on mile five. Sponsored by Wear Blue Run To Remember, this stretch of road was lined with the names and faces of service men and women who have been killed in action overseas. Running along the left side of the pack, I made sure to look at every name and every face as I went by. I was struck by how many of these heroes were just in their twenties, some with young families. So many young and promising lives cut short. Just following these pictures, were what I assumed were veterans holding American flags and giving up high fives and words of encouragement to us all as we passed. It was a touching display of respect for these brave people that have sacrificed so much for our country and way of life.
The halfway mark blended into eight miles, then ten and before long I was running up to the twelve mile marker. Up the hill and into the tunnel lit with flashing lights and a disco ball, I reached into my right pocket and pulled out this small piece of metal and rubber.
This shifter knob and the tail light are all I have left of my Triumph Bonneville. In a homage to it, and my story I decided to carry it with me for all 13.1 miles. For the last mile, I closed my hand around it and pushed just a little harder.
The crowd thickened considerably as the pack got closer to the end. I made the last turn and I could see the finish line. I picked Beth out in the crowd and gave her a high five as I ran passed. It was so close. Just keep pushing.
My feet stepped over the line, and it was over. So many miles run, injuries sustained and years to get to here. I slowed to a walk and made my way through the crowd towards our prearranged meeting point. We embraced in the street, and she said “Did you see the time?” I had been keeping track along the way, but the accuracy of my watch was a little off, so I mostly just watched my pace. I had no idea what my time actually was. I started the morning with a goal of 2:10:00 and in the end, I crossed the finish line in 2:05:48. I couldn’t have been happier with that.
Back in the hotel, I feel pretty good about what I accomplished today. The last time I ran 13.1 in training, which was a few years ago, my time was somewhere around 2:20:00. I’m pleased to see the hard work and training paid off. The plan for now is to get home, take a few days off and rest, and then start planning the next race. I’ve got a time to beat.
Here are the official stats of my run: