We arrived around 1. My parents met us at Union Station. From there we all took the free local trolley down the street toward our hotel. Along the way we stopped at an Elephant & Castle for lunch--yum! I had a chicken and brie sandwich. From there we took another trolley the rest of the way to the hotel. Before checking in, Meg and I checked in at the race expo, got our shoe chips and t-shirts, and took it all in a bit. My room wasn't quite ready at the hotel, so after a failed attempt to walk around the neighborhood we sat and cooled off in the lobby for a while. Finally the room was ready. I completed check in and went to my room. Meg and I changed for dinner. It was finally the perfect excuse to wear my new white sundress! Meg wore an adorable polka-d0tted black dress she bought during study abroad in London. Here's a picture of us (dresses not completely visible, unfortunately).
The pasta party dinner was nice. Before and during the meal they had a slide show of blood cancer patients with captions like "In honor of" and "In memory of." Each person runs in honor of their patient honoree. Mine is a young boy from Savoy who has so far been successful in his fight against leukemia. Even watching the slide show was almost enough to make me cry. These people have suffered and hoped so much and these efforts we've undertaken to help are at a head. After the dinner a leukemia survivor and half-marathon runner spoke about his battle with the disease and how the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society had touched his life by raising money that sponsored critical research that helped him survive. He talked about his family's support, and his friends in his treatment program, some of whom lived and some who did not. They then showed a video of Team in Training race days. It included patient honorees talking about the inspiration they get from the races, runners finishing and celebrating, the energy and anxiety of it all. Everyone cried. Grown men and babies alike. We all cried. It was beautiful.
It was only about 7:30 when dinner ended, which was far too early to go to bed. Just to spend some time with my parents, the three of us went down to the lobby and drank decaf and caught up. It was wonderfully pleasant and relaxing. Around 9:30 they headed to their hotel (mine was sold out when they decided to come) and I went up to my room to lay out my things (including my half of a diet Coke) for morning and go to sleep as soon as possible. I was falling asleep by 10:15pm.
At 4:30am the alarm clock went off. My roommate and I got up to slowly begin our pre-race routines. At 5am we headed to the lobby to meet the rest of the Team in Training runners and head to the starting line. As the sun just started to lighten the horizon, we settled in around the Team in Training tent near the race start. Just before we went to the starting line a leukemia survivor gave us a Mission Moment. We headed off. Meg, Brett and I picked a place near the 9 minute mile sign. John "The Penguin" Bingham announced the start of the race. It took us about 3 minutes to get to the start line, at which point we started running. I looked back after about a mile and didn't see Brett. Meg and I carried on together.
The first five miles or so were completely mesmerizing. The sun was breaking across the buildings. The streets were closed to traffic, so that all I could see were the thousands of runners in the street in front of me. It was so fun to run through the intersections, the traffic lights turning as if traffic were running through as normal. It was wonderfully cool except in the tunnels. The sound of runners' feet was soft and constant, sometimes almost in sync, sometimes as scattered as rain hitting the ground. I saw my parents twice in the first 5 or 6 miles which was great. The crowds in general were pretty energizing, especially the cheers for Team in Training runners. It made me smile.
Through mile 6 or 7 things were pretty fun. Between 6.5 or so and mile 8 there were no crowds. The miles got long and lonely and hard. Rounding the bend around mile 7 was huge--it meant that we were heading back toward the start/finish and that we were at least half way finished. Around mile 8 I started to wonder if I could run another 5. My calves were so tight and sore, all I wanted to do was stretch them and walk. We started walking through every drink stop, regardless of whether we were drinking or not. I think it was around mile 8 that we stretched for a few seconds. It did a world of good. Between 8 and maybe 9.5 I felt more or less ok again. Around mile 10 I started losing track of miles, I just forgot to look for the mile markers. We walked for a minute or so around mile ten. We were both hurting. At the time I was disappointed in myself for walking, but then I remembered that we almost always stood and talked for a minute during our water breaks on training days, so our walking for a minute wasn't unprecedented at all. When I realized this, I decided it would be ok if we missed our 2 hour mark by a few minutes.
As I said, I had started forgetting (or just not wanting) to look for mile markers. I thought we had passed mile marker 11 much earlier than we actually did. I was so disappointed when I saw the marker. I audibly swore when I saw it, which I think faintly startled Meg. We walked maybe 150 yards at that point and resolved to slowly jog the rest. We walked through the one remaining water stop, but kept up our slow jog otherwise. Near the end spectators lined the path once again. The cheers helped! They also meant that we were close to finishing. We could also finally hear the music at the finish line--I was so thankful! I thought the finish line was around the next bend, which kept me going. We rounded the bend and I could see people running the entire length of the field. I thought to myself, "Ok, it's just up there. Not much farther. You can do this." We neared the end of the field and I saw another switchback and had the same thought again. This happened about three times, until finally I saw the finish line in the distance. Meg kept encouraging us. We put the tiniest lift in our step and ran down the last stretch. My parents were near the finish cheering us on. We finally crossed the finish line. We had done it. We both hurt all over, but with enthusiasm and joy turned and hugged each other. We had done it. We ran 13.1 miles.
We found out later that our time was 2 hours 12 minutes and 0 seconds. Twelve minutes behind our goal. Not bad. :) It wasn't our goal time, but considering it was our first race and neither of us felt fantastic, we would take it. I'm so proud of us!!
Right after crossing the finish line we were given sweat towels that had been soaked in ice water. It felt SO good. I let it drip all over me. Fantastic. They had also set up a huge table of mini bagels, which I couldn't even look at. Right around there we also got our finishers' medals, our first ever! We left the finishers' area and started to walk back down the field toward the Team in Training tent. I started not feeling too good and asked Meg if we could stop and sit down in the grass for a minute. I sat there for a few minutes, then started to get up and continue walking in the shady area toward the tent. I didn't get very far before I threw up a rather intense amount of Gatorade. I continued to do this at intervals all the way to the tent, where the smell of breakfast was as repulsive as anything could have been. Meg and I sat with my parents for a while. Other Team in Training runners and volunteers came to see how we had done and share their own stories. Here's a picture of Meg and Brett, who turned in a respectable 2 hour 35 minute-ish time.
Eventually my stomach settled enough to allow me to walk to the hotel and get a shower. That also helped a lot. Afterwards I felt much better. Mom, Dad, and I moved my things out of my room and headed out for lunch and some shopping. I had fish & chips at the Elephant & Castle near their hotel, where we left my luggage and got them checked out. Afterwards, we went to Filene's Basement for some old school bargain shopping. Around 3:30 I arrived at Union Station to board my train back to Champaign. The trip home was pleasant and easy. I smiled to myself as I left Chicago, reading the card Meg was so sweet to give me before the race, instructing me to open it on my way home. She really is the best running buddy I could ever have asked for.
All around, it was nothing short of an amazing weekend. Yes, the half-marathon was hard. Harder than I anticipated, really. But worth every bit of effort. I wouldn't trade any of this (well, except the nausea maybe) for anything. I know now that I can do this. I know now that I want to keep raising money to fight cancer. I've felt again in my life God's grace and strength to do His awesome will. I've made a great new friend in Meg. This has been amazing.
As I told Meg, it's not like we're breaking up. There will be more runs. There will be more sweat and weird runner's questions. So stay tuned. I hope this is just the beginning. :)