Race morning, Sweet Pea is in my room at 5:45 am.
“Can we snuggle? Open your Mother’s Day present!”
She’s standing an inch from my face. I mentally berate myself for convincing her to wait until Mother’s Day to give me the present she was dying to give me the day before. My alarm is set only fifteen minutes from now but sleep is delicious and I want more. Through half open eyes, with the gray light peeking through the cracks in the curtains, I tear off the wrapping paper, revealing a picture of my big girl in a bedazzled frame.
“I love it!” I exclaim.
“Turn on the light so you can really see it!” she implores.
“I can totally see it! Let’s leave the light off. It’s great.”
It’s sparkly and full of personality, just like my girl. She made me a mom five years ago and now she’s ready for kindergarten. I ran the same race I’m about to run today when she was three months old. I nursed her in a booth at Panera right before the start.
When I’m actually awake, I open the blinds so I can fully appreciate my present and I invite her back into my bed for a snuggle.
* * *
En route to the race, we listen to one track from a Strawberry Fairy CD the girls insisted on but that’s all Dan and I can handle. After that we rock out to one of my spin class playlists on Spotify. Please remind me to visualize my kids dancing in their car seats to Vibin‘ and the sound of Lady Bug’s little almost three-year-old voice imploring Dan, “Dada, move!” (e.g. “Dad, get your groove on already!”), the next time I get burnt out on being their mom.
Dan drops me off and then goes to park the car, and after I do the normal pre-race things (get my bib and find a bathroom), I warm up. Ten minutes easy, five minutes build to a moderately hard pace, then five twenty second strides, followed by 40 seconds to recovery. My legs feel fresh. This race will be an fitness experiment, considering since the Horsetooth Half Marathon I did in late April, I’ve run a handful of times, taught or taken a few spin classes, and did three yoga classes (which is more yoga than I’ve done over the past year). I know my mind remembers how to run fast but I’m not sure if my heart and lungs are up to the task, given they’ve been out of practice for a few weeks.
I snake my way up to the front of the sea of women waiting to start. We begin and immediately a young woman with a long, swaying brown ponytail establishes herself as the leader. Behind her are a pair of girls. I’m hoping I can follow closely behind them, letting them break up some of the wind, but I can see by their loping, almost playful-looking gait that I won’t be behind them for long. Within the first minute or so, I pass them. Ponytail is far enough ahead of me that it doesn’t make any sense to try to reel her in.
Instead, I focus on myself. I’m breathing hard but I am supposed to be. This will be over in less than 23 minutes. All I have to do is get in the zone and do my best to stay there until the finish. My legs aren’t tired. I tell myself that when they are, I won’t back off. I don’t look at my watch. I don’t want to worry about my pace. I just want to go by feel. I also just want to know how long I’ve been running. I look down and see 5:39. I’m over halfway to ten minutes. At ten minutes, I will be within spitting distance of eleven minutes, and by then I will be at or very near the finish line. I tell myself I only need to sustain this pace for five minutes and 39 seconds four more times.
A slim, muscular lady passes me like I’m standing still. Her breathing is relaxed and her form is efficient. I don’t even try to stay with her. I wonder if she’s doing the 5k or the 10k and decide probably the latter because of how chill she appears. I end up being right.
I pass the first mile mark and my watch reads 7:00. I’ve probably gone out too fast but the course is slightly downhill on the way out. My legs aren’t tired yet but I’m breathing hard and there’s no one around me, just an empty paved trail ahead and open space and big blue sky all around me as I head east.
I can’t see the first place women and the lead biker is just a neon yellow speck, and then they vanish from my line of sight. I turn around at the halfway point and my watch reads 11:07. I’m hoping to run under 22:30 and I just might, but what I really want to do is finish knowing I gave everything.
I’m halfway from the finish and 1.55 miles has never felt so intimidating. Just keep going. Don’t back off. I see practically the whole race stretched out behind me as I pass them going the opposite direction. They’re moms and daughters and sisters and friends and grandmas and they’re all beautiful and I want to yell “GREAT JOB, LADIES!” but I don’t have the energy so I smile when I remember and give a thumbs up to all the women who cheer for me.
I’m nearly at the two mile mark and I feel vaguely nauseated. I wonder why I eschewed brunch at a restaurant with my family and chose this as my preferred activity. I think of a blueberry scone and a mimosa and then my nausea intensifies. Instead, I think of a glass of ice water. I feel a little better.
I think I hear breathing behind me but I’m not sure until I pass a few spectators who yell “Great job!” and a few seconds later, they yell it again. Her breathing is becoming increasingly louder. I force myself to run faster, just to that pole, to the next tree, to that bend in the bike path, but I hear her getting closer all the time. I imagine her giving up, getting discouraged, realizing she surged a bit too early and that she cannot in fact catch me before we run out of pavement, but she overtakes me just before the three mile mark anyway. I look at my watch, which reads 2.92 miles. I have less 400 meters, one lap around the track, to go and it feels like forever.
When my competitor passed me, she took second place along with a heaping cup full of my energy and I don’t have to glance at my watch to be sure my pace has slowed. I see the final turn for the finish chute and I glimpse Lady Bug’s neon orange hoodie on the sidelines. Dan is cheering for me and I muster all my energy to finish strong though my body is begging me to quit.