Monday, November 4, 2013

A happy ending to a Happy Girls 1/2

I woke to the sound of wind chimes and rain. It was still dark. I reached for my phone. 4:45 a.m. My alarm wasn't set until 6:15. Just enough time for me to get dressed and eat a small breakfast before my sister was to pick me up to drive the 30 miles to the race location. I rolled over, but all I could think about was the rain and the wind and how unprepared I was for this race.

It's not my friend's fault I was unprepared. And just to clarify, I owed her big time. A few years ago, Leslie and I trained together for my first half marathon. She'd show up on my front porch early in the morning and make me go for a run. With her as my partner, I was so much more ready to run 13.1 miles. 

The day of that first race, she was battling what she thought was a simple cold. She showed up anyway. She ran the entire race. And then her sister made her go to urgent care. Turns out she ran a 1/2 marathon with pneumonia! The doctor scolded her and banned her from running for a very long time. So when she called me and asked me to run the Happy Girls Half Marathon in her place because a number of recent events interfered with her ability to train for this one, you can understand that I pretty much couldn't say "no"after what she'd been through. After all, she ran with a serious lung infection for me. The least I could do was attempt to train to run in her place in a few week's time. 

So Saturday morning, I tossed and turned for an hour dreading running the 13.1 miles I wasn't nearly prepared for, trying to decide how to dress for the weather, and wondering if I'd even manage to cross the finish line. I was anything but a happy girl. Before I knew it, my alarm was beeping. There was no turning back now. 


My sister picked me up and we made the drive to Sisters, Oregon for the race. We sat in her car until I had to take the shuttle to the race start. The race was a point-to-point, where the start is at a completely different location from the finish line. I ran one other big point-to-point race, when I ran the Tucson Marathon two years ago. Like Saturday's trail race, it was advertised as being all down hill. But when you're running 26.2 miles, most of it on the side of a highway, it does not feel downhill or fast. And the only people around to cheer you on are the people who have volunteered at the water stations. With my prior experience, I wasn't sure what to expect of this race. 

Unlike the Tucson Marathon where the racers were allowed to stay on the buses until race time, we had to all disembark once we arrived. I happened to take a bus that put me there an hour before race time. Thankfully the rain had mostly stopped at this point and we only had to contend with a cold wind, because the "fire" that the race officials had advertised was nowhere to be found. Nor was any other sort of shelter for the runners. 

Soon the turnout where we were dropped off was full of women. This was a women only race after all. I overheard one of the women huddled near me comment to a friend after returning from the port-a-potty, "The great thing about women's races is the toilet seat stays warm." I took her word for it, glad that I didn't need to find out firsthand. 

Finally, someone got all of us moving to the starting line. With some blue skies visible as the sun rose, I decided to ditch my jacket and gloves and keep my long sleeve, which I knew I could tie around my race when I warmed up. I was in the second wave, so I headed toward the middle of the pack. I saw a guy holding a 9.5 mile "Handsome Pacer" sign. Apparently there were men allowed to run this race, so long as they wore skirts and held a steady pace. 

What little training I did do was at 10 minute mile pace. I knew I didn't want to push it and try to run faster than that. But I also knew, I have a tendency to start out too fast. So I decided to stick with this pacer early and see how I did the rest of the time. My only real goal was to cross the finish line. And that may have been the best decision I made. 

I had to rein myself in to stick with the pacer for the first few miles. The majority of the race was on a single track trail, a line of women in pinks and purples and every color under the sun stretched out like marching ants before and behind me. I train mostly on trails, but haven't done much racing on trails. I got a little worried when I rolled my ankle right before mile 1 on what would be one of the flattest, most gentle portion of the next 10 miles. Thankfully, I didn't injure myself, and that would prove to be my only rolled ankle of the entire race. 

I stayed with the pacer for the first 4 miles. The "all downhill" race proved to have a number of rolling hills through those early miles. After the first aid station, I decided to try to settle down into my own pace. In miles 5, 6, and 7, I found a pack to run with. I had to hold back on the up hills to keep from passing them, but the downhills were perfect. I haven't run in a pack like that before, and enjoyed the dynamic of sticking together, intentionally or not. The trail was still single track at this point, so occasionally someone would say "left" and I'd have to do my best to make room for them to pass on the narrow trail. 

Just before mile 6, someone behind me said "Rainbow on the left." It had come out around mile 3, but we'd been running in the trees for some time. Here where the trail hugged the edge of the ridge, off to the left was an incredible view topped off my a rainbow stretching across the cloudy gray sky. I tried to take a picture, but refused to stop running and nearly broke my neck when the trail turned rocky when I wasn't looking, so this is the best I could do. 

Trust me. There was a rainbow out there

At mile 6, I got momentarily confused and thought I was already halfway done. I texted my sister who was already done with her 5k. Halfway. And I snapped our traditional "halfway" photo.  And then I realized my math was off. (I was an English major for a reason y'all!) I texted my sister back, "Kidding mile 6." In the interest of not falling on my face, my texts thereafter consisted of only mile numbers. 

Sort of halfway

I managed to stay on my feet the entire race. But every now and then I'd hear a squeal or a screech when someone stumbled. Mile 7 came soon enough. And by mile 8 the trail opened up and before I knew it I was running beside the older woman I'd spent the last few miles drifting behind and then I'd passed her and I was suddenly on my own. It was also starting to drizzle. Up ahead, I saw a girl fall. I trudged on through mile 9 and by mile 10 it was full on raining. 

The thing I hate about running in the rain is wet feet. And when I say hate, I mean hate. As in there are entire cities in this country I dislike because every time I ever raced track there I could hear the rain sloshing in my spikes as I ran (I'm looking at you Spokane). But by some odd turn of events, the trail wasn't very muddy and my feet stayed relatively dry. I knew in mile 8 I was already developing a blister on the arch of my right foot. It happens nearly every long run. The rain wouldn't help it, but all I could do was keep going. The thing I noticed about Saturday's rain is that it was dripping down my face and falling in droplets on my hands as I ran. I started singing the chorus of  Luke Bryan's "Rain is a Good Thing" in my head. "Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey . . ." 

By mile 11 that chorus had turned into the Army and Marines anthems, or at least the parts I know after hearing them at every ceremony I've been to over the years. It was just what came to me when digging within to find a beat and inspiration to keep fighting forward. At this point I had already run further than my longest training run for this race. There was no sense in letting the rain slow me down. I only knew that the faster I ran, the sooner it would all be over. I knew by my watch that I wasn't going any faster, but I was maintaining the 10 minute miles I settled on back at mile 4. 

When I could see the mile 12 mile marker ahead, I got a text from my sister asking me if I was on my last mile. I knew I wanted to finish strong, but I had no idea where I was in relation to the finish line. At various points along there trail there had been men standing with their children cheering on every runner who passed by. But it was only one guy here and there. Suddenly there were a lot more voices and I could see buildings on the other side of the treeline. And I heard someone say, "Go Shelby." 

I looked up and saw my sister coming towards me. I gave her my best smile, as good a smile as I could muster after running 13 miles. She started running beside me. I handed her my cell phone and asked her how close I was to the finish. It's right around the corner, she said. I thanked her. I was so glad to have her running with me, even for a little while. She had biked with me on my long runs. Kept me company. Kept me distracted from the pain. Kept me moving forward. Encouraged me along the way. 

She'd been texting me during the race at different intervals. You've got this sista. You're a rockstar. Go sister go. I read them all. She'd been timing my miles based on the sporadic mile updates I gave her and knew when to expect me at that last mile. I couldn't have done it without her, the training or the race. 

Afterward she said I looked pissed when she was running with me, but I promise I really was happy. I should have worn the cat mask to hide my Mean Girl face again.

Coming down the final stretch, I tried to give it a kick. One man on the sidelines cheered, "Keep it up. This is where all your training pays off." Of course, I thought to myself, "Or not training." One lady's kick was stronger than mine and she passed me with mere yards to go. But at that point I didn't care. It was over. I had run 13.1 miles at a 10 minute mile pace on the bare minimum of training. 

My first half marathon was faster. But I had trained and it was on a paved, flat and fast course. I ran this one on basically no training over rocky trails. And I learned a new lesson in life, set your expectations low, and you might be surprised at what you can accomplish. OK, maybe that's not a great life strategy, but it sure worked for this race.


Sister and I skipped out on the post race festivities in the rain and headed back home. I was house sitting again, and there was a long soak in a hot tub waiting for us when we got there. 


  1. Thank you for this beautiful post. You touched my heart with your words and the picture of sisterhood you painted. I am so proud of both of you!

  2. Yay Shelby! :) I'm proud of you! And I'm also glad your sister took over the 5k, cause she was far better race support than I would have been!

    1. You would have been equally supportive. I know. I've run with you before. I'm just glad it all worked out in the end.