Standing at the start line under an overcast sky, I turned to our pal Sheila, a speedy 28-year-old runner who is weeks away from running the Boston Marathon. I put a hand on each of her slender shoulders and half-jokingly told her, “I know you can run to greatness. I’m expecting you to win your age group—maybe even the whole race.” Of myself, I had no such expectations: I’d been cramped on a plane for most of the previous day. I’d had two generous glasses of pinot gris the night before. I was in the midst of marathon training so no taper. I’d put all my energy and focus into our RLAM reading the night before, not race prep. I had excuses to spare.
Yet once the race started, none of them seemed to matter. Having started at the front of the 1,000-runner pack, I easily found my groove. An immediate downhill quickly morphed into a gradual climb that set the tone for the rest of the 13.1-miler: hills, hills, and more hills! But I was ready since I’ve been training for the hills of the Pacific Coast Highway in the Big Sur Marathon. Climbing one longer, not-too-steep hill, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was running 8:25. A few years ago, my pace had always dropped to 10- or 11-something on any sort of uphills. Wow, this hill-repeats actually work!
A blonde with a ponytail in a white tank and black shorts passed me around mile 2; I vowed to catch up with her. She stayed about 75 feet in front of me until we hit a mile-long stretch of rollers, some of which got pretty steep. After she started walking toward the tops of the hills, I knew I had her. I passed her around mile 5, and she never gained on me again.
Around mile 6.5, on an out-and-back stretch, I was delighted--and somewhat amazed--to see Sheila in the lead. I hooted and hollered for her, getting a big surge of adrenaline. This made me switch into corny-enthusiast mode. I spied a runner in a bright pink top off my left shoulder. I yelled out, “Come on, Pink, stay with me! Let’s go get Miss Blue-Shirt!” We started running together, with me occasionally yelling out for other friends who were in the top 10. I apologized for being so hokey, but Pink said she was digging it. Finally I couldn’t control the adrenaline surge and I took off.
A monster hill at mile 8.5 slowed me considerably, but I vaguely remembered the course map and told myself it was the last major one. I cruised a slight downhill and ate another Roctane gel. As I hit the 10-mile mark, I saw Sheila speeding toward the final half mile. More hokey cheers, more adrenaline. The final 5K of the race wound its way through a golf course. Pink had caught up to me by this point, but she didn’t have a surge in her, but she enthusiastically encouraged me. I started picking off runners. A woman in purple shorts. A guy in a grey shirt. Two more women in white tanks.
With 100 meters left to the finish line, a woman in a bright blue tank started sprinting. I knew I couldn’t catch her, but she inspired me to hoof it. I crossed the line in 1:47:39. Sure, it was 80 seconds slower than I ran a pancake-flat half in January. But freed of self-imposed expectations, I had given what I had and was elated with what I’d found.
(Oh, and throughout the race, whenever I felt fatigue getting the better of me, I spurred myself on with thoughts of finishing in the top 3 for my age group. Sure enough, I was the #3 female in mine. Yippee-yahoo!)