Something is missing

This time was not supposed to be any different.

I’ve run a million races by now, and there was nothing to indicate that a short 10K would be too much of a challenge for me. So when Jeff and Scott made a bet  that ended with me getting a free race entry into the a 10K on the Fourth of July, I was excited.

[Aside: The bet was UGA vs. UCF. If UGA won, Jeff was to treat Scott to a weekend in Orlando and drinking around the world at EPCOT. If UCF won, Scott was to treat us to a weekend in Atlanta with me getting race entry into Peachtree 10K.]

But, between race entry and race, something happened. I fainted. Landed on my face in a parking lot. Spent 3 days in the hospital. Spent a month or so recovering. Have barely been running since.

So, fastforward to race weekend, and I was in a completely different place on July 1 than I was during football season.  But, the tickets had been purchased and my spot was reserved at the starting line of the nation’s biggest 10K. And yes, I could have transferred my bib or delayed entry to next year.

… But, I couldn’t imagine not running a race I was signed up for. Even if it was a race I felt unprepared for.

That, and a weekend in Atlanta with friends sounded like the best of fun. I wasn’t about to go and not run. Plus, it was only 6.2 miles, I rationalized. Even if I wasn’t ready, I could walk it – even the entire way if I had to.

Running with Colleen had me somewhat prepared, for a couple of miles at least. She’s been training for a 5K and I’ve been doing some of her run/walk program with her. With her help, I was easing back in to the running world.

So, there we were on Friday, heading down to ATL. In the car was Jeff, the official winner of the bet, Scott, the official loser of the bet but a serious runner – he was hoping to run the 10K in less than 50 minutes – and Allen, the superfast runner of the group – his 10K PR is 38 minutes. Uhm, wow.

I won’t bore you with all the weekend’s wonderful details (you sorta had to be there to really appreciate it), but I’ll tell you the highlights:

We met Glenda in Atlanta; she drove from Birmingham. Scott F. met up with us shortly thereafter and was able to hang out lots during the weekend, despite his crazy work schedule. Joe and Andrea and Shawn and Jessica and Katie were also able to spend some time with us. So the weekend was not all about running, in fact it was mostly about good times with good people (even though Glenda and I did squeeze in a 3 mile run on Saturday, which left me with the knowledge of how utterly unprepared I was.)

But, as we all sat around the table on Sunday night, enjoying a pre-race pasta meal, I noticed something was missing.

That something was nerves. That typical night-before-the-action feeling. The feeling I absolutely hate. I’ve always felt that the absolute worst part about racing is the night before, and the feeling at the start line. Once I get past the start line, it’s usually very fun. But the night before kills me every time – well, every time but this one.

I silently tried to analyze what was going on. I’ve never been competitive in these races – to me, it’s not about the race itself, but the fitness that preparing for the race (and the race of course) provides. I don’t care if I am first in my age group (never happens) or last (that doesn’t happen either, truthfully.)

In every race, I’ve always said it’s about the experience. And not being prepared for this race, I kept reminding myself  it was about the experience. By my own words, it should be the same as any other race. But somehow, it wasn’t.

As the flurry of activity happened around that dining table, I felt that for the first time on a race weekend, I wasn’t waiting for the race. I was enjoying the now. I was looking forward to the race – of course – but it was in a different way. Not in a nervous, “can I do this” way – but I was truly excited for the experience. Scott had told me about the crowd support, about the free stuff vendors give out along the way, about the bands playing along the way. And that night, instead of pining away the hours until it’s time to go to a restless sleep like I usually do before race day, I was experiencing the moment of a dinner with friends with joy and relaxation, even.

And that night as I went to bed at 8:30, I was actually able to sleep. That is, for an hour or so until the homeowners came home from the airport early, excited about their Paris trip (they are friends of Glenda’s who very kindly lent us their house for the weekend), and talking just outside my bedroom door. And then I was wide awake, and stayed that way until 2:30 a.m. But the weird thing is, I didn’t stress about the fact that I wasn’t sleeping. I just accepted it.

The morning of the race, I could feel Scott and Allen’s intensity as they prepared for their big runs. But I didn’t feel that way, even on the Marta system riding to the race, even as the train cars filled with runners and their nerves. At one point after arriving near the start line, I got a quick twinge of jitters, which I confessed to Glenda. “Don’t feel nervous,” she said calmly. “No reason to.”

And that, my friends, was logic enough for me. The jitters were gone and did not reappear, even as I faced the start line with others in my corral.

And as I started that race, I realized I’d achieved the one thing I’d always wanted: Enjoying the race for the simple enjoyment of it all. And I’d done it for a race that I was absolutely unprepared for!

So, I enjoyed it. I truly did. I ran the first 3 miles without stopping, unless you count when I stopped in front of the Moe’s truck in hopes of getting a T-shirt they were throwing out (they ran out throwing them to the girl next to me). I wore a red tutu and red white and blue stripes in my hair, and I made sure to run next to the crowd, because it was way more fun near them. I made sure to say thank you to everyone I heard yell, “Go tutu!” I gave high 5s with children (and adults) along the way.

I collected a free beer (took one sip just to say I did), a beer koozie, a margarita (skinny margarita promotion; I got it on a walk break around mile 4; I did drink several sips of that), a fan, a jello shot (I stored it in my sports bra until after the race, then took it at the finish line. Yes, it was hot and melty. But it was awesome.), and I got leid.

But better than that: I had fun every single moment. Reminded me of the first marathon I ran, where I had fun every single moment then too (but of course, the nerves were way huge then).

I’m not saying I advocate not being prepared for the race (my feet are very angry with me today), but I’m hoping that the calm I was finally able to achieve is something I’ll be able to carry with me into the next races

So, thank you Colleen, for getting me to run at all the past few months. Thank you Scott, for the awesome weekend and the race that I would do again, anytime. Thank you Jeff, for winning a bet. And thank you Glenda, for not being nervous at the start line and putting it so simply. And thank you Allen, for running the race in 43 minutes – because I can’t brag about my time, but I can certainly brag about yours.

What was my time, you ask? 1 hour 9 minutes. A whole 1 minute slower than my slowest 10K prior. A whole 8 minutes slower than my PR 10K time. Was beer, jello shot, margarita, koozie, fan, lei and a newfound confidence worth 8 minutes? Absolutely.