Many moons ago when I was just getting back into my running shoes after having Cullen, I set goals and signed up for a bunch of races. The furthest out on my schedule was the Rock N Roll Seattle Half Marathon. I signed up for it back in January, and assumed that with six months to get back into running shape, I’d be more than ready to tackle 13.1 miles.
As it turns out, getting back into distance running shape while raising an infant is much harder than I anticipated. And so when Sunday morning rolled around, I was feeling more nervous than confident.
The forecast called for pouring rain, so I tried to prepare for the worst. Casey has been in Hong Kong all week, and couldn’t get back in time for the race. When my alarm went off at 4:30am Sunday morning, it felt really strange to be getting ready all by myself. At 5am I woke up Cullen so that I could feed him before I left. My sister came down and took over babysitting duty, while I got ready to head toward downtown. Finally, at 5:30am, I grabbed a PB&J sandwich, had Sarah snap a picture of me looking nervous, and I headed out into the rain.
The rain poured down the whole time I was driving in, but as I got closer and closer I could tell it was lightening up. There were 50,000 runners all converging on downtown, so I made sure to leave with plenty of time to park and get to the starting line.
By 6:30 the rain had stopped, and I had made it into my corral. I had gone back and forth all morning trying to decide if I should wear my jacket or not. Of course as soon as I got there I regretted having it. Rookie mistake.
Mistake number two came when I turned on my watch. For whatever reason, I decided to take Casey’s new Nike Sport watch instead of my Garmin. I had gone through the effort of charging it the night before, but when I turned it on minutes before the race, the watch flashed “memory full.” You have got to be kidding me.
I pushed every sequence of buttons I could imagine, but it quickly became clear that the watch would not work until it was cleared through a computer. And so at that moment, my race strategy changed.
It’s funny how different running and racing are now that I’m a mom. I used to be highly organized with lists of things I needed, everything prepped days in advance, race strategies outlined in my head, training schedules meticulously followed and taped to the wall. Now? I often run with just a few minutes notice – whenever I get the chance and it works with Cullen and Casey’s schedules. I’m hardly ever prepared, I don’t have an iPod, and I haven’t looked at a training schedule in eight months.
My running has changed, just as life in general has changed. Things aren’t predictable anymore. I used to be a pretty obnoxious control freak, and while I certainly still have my moments, being a mom has forced me to mellow out significantly, and I’ve learned to quickly accept that things rarely go according to plan.
So I turned my watch off and decided to just run based on how I felt. My body knows a lot more about me than my Garmin anyway. The gun went off and I waited for he 15 corrals in front of me to start.
Finally, it was my turn. I wanted this race to be different than Indianapolis – no being negative or getting down on myself when things got tough. I started running and tried to just settle into a groove.
Within a half mile, I spotted my friend Carly on the sidelines. I ran over to her and tossed her my jacket and watch – it was a HUGE relief to not have those things weighing me down for 13 miles.
I don’t have any mile splits or photos to share – it was just me and my thoughts out there trucking along. I knew I had gone into the race significantly under-trained, so I didn’t have big expectations. When I turned the corner at mile five and saw a GIGANTIC hill in front of me, I decided right then that I was going to walk the hills. I knew my legs were going to be hurting enough from the mileage, and so I saw no point in burning them out on hills.
I saw my friend Julianna’s parents and I gave them high fives. There was a beautiful portion of the course that weaved along the waterfront, and I tried to just focus on my surroundings and all the other runners, and to not think about how much I wanted to stop.
With each giant hill and each water stop, I gave myself a walking break. I had watched the course preview video, and I knew the hills were going to be bad. Even so, I was stunned at how brutal they were – definitely the hilliest course I’ve run to date.
The middle of the race was sort of a blur. I ran, I walked, I drank, I listed to Pandora on my phone. I thought about Cullen and wondered if he’d drank his bottle and napped for Sarah. I thought about Casey flying 15 hours home, and how I couldn’t wait to wrap my arms around him. I thought about how far I’ve come in eight life changing months.
Miles ten and eleven felt like they were entirely uphill, and I transitioned to more of a run/walk. When I passed the 11 mile marker, I looked at the clock. I had guessed that it took me about 20 minutes to cross the starting line, and I tried to estimate my current pace based on the mile clock. I thought if I ran two more 10:00 minute miles I could maybe finished in 2:15.
And then I saw the next huge hill. I dug deep and forced myself to keep running, and decided I was going to do my best to finish under 2:20 after one more walk break. The finish line felt like it would never come.
Finally I was back in downtown, cruising down a wonderful final downhill stretch, and digging for a push from the crowds and energy. It took everything I had to keep on running. I crossed the finish line and saw the clock tick 2:38, but since I started so late I had no idea what that meant for my finishing time.
I texted Casey (who had just landed) and Sarah, and let them know I had finished and was still alive. I told them I guessed I had finished around 2:22 or 2:23. Sarah responded that Cullen drank his whole bottle and was napping like a champ. And then Casey texted back that I had finished in 2:19. I was proud.
It felt really surreal and strange to wander through tens of thousands of people, knowing I was on my own out there. I sat on the steps for a little bit resting and recovering, before slowly making the very long 2 mile trek back to my car. I headed home to meet my cheering squad.
I mentioned earlier that I think I want to focus on shorter distances and speed for a while, and take a little break from distance running. Being out there on Sunday morning confirmed that for me. This is sort of an awkward thing to write about, but I think it’s worth addressing since there are likely other women going through something similar.
I still have a surprising amount of postpartum pelvic pain. Every time I run, and much more significantly after I run, I feel intense throbbing and aching in my pelvic floor. Four hours of pushing during childbirth did me no favors, and I honestly feel like my body is still going through the healing process. I bring this up only because it’s something I didn’t anticipate, and it’s just another example of some of the surprises and challenges that come with motherhood.
I walked in my front door feeling very very sore, but also really proud. I was proud of myself for getting out there and doing the race all by myself, despite my lack of confidence. I was proud of Sarah for being an awesome babysitter and taking great care of Cullen. I was proud of Cullen for being a big boy and learning that he and mom can spend some time apart sometimes.
I think I’ve come a long way in 8 months. I’ve done two half marathons and a handful of shorter races. I’m not fast. I’m not very consistent with my training. I’m not doing anything extraordinary.
But I’m doing it. And for me, it’s significant. I have learned to relax. I’ve let go of a lot of control. And I know now to appreciate each run for what it is – watch or no watch, rain or shine. It feels great to be an active, running mama. I’m excited to see how my running continues to change and develop as parenthood progresses and new challenges arise.
Another race in the books – eleven minutes faster than my last one. I’ll take it.