You should never run after "money"...unless he is your 1:45 half marathon pacer and leading you to a PR!
Actually, his name was Mani (he pronounced it "money" so that's what I kept saying in my head) and he was the best pacer ever. Okay, so he's the only pacer I've ever run with, but he was really great and just what I needed in the Kentucky History Half Marathon in Frankfort, KY this weekend.
I didn't start out planning to follow a pacer. I didn't even know they had them in this race. It all started with my iPod shuffle being dead when I went to clip it on. As Jason and I walked toward the start line, I felt oddly light, not weighed down by anything. I prefer to run with as little gear as possible - no water bottles, calf or arm sleeves, fuel belts, head lamps, reflective vests, phone, etc. Nada. But in longer races, I usually like my shuffle available. When we saw pacer signs, I thought I'd try it, and I looked for a 1:50 pacer. There wasn't one, but Jason spotted a 1:45 pacer, and in that instance I decided to go for it.
I made up my mind to stay with him no matter what until I physically couldn't anymore. I wasn't counting on this being a great race, but I thought I could turn it into a good training run. First of all, the lovely fall temps hadn't arrived yet, even in Kentucky. Second, my week leading up to the race had been rough with soreness, fatigue, sleepless nights with a fussy boy, and bad eating. And third, Jason and I had gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to get to the race. I was yawning and already giving myself that post race peptalk, telling myself I'd do better, and I could race again in two weeks. But then I saw the pacer...
The race began and the pace felt ok, but our first mile was a 7:40. That was much faster than I'd ever started a half marathon, but I was still game to stick with my plan to stay with Mani. The course was beautiful. We ran around the Capitol building and through the cemetery where Daniel Boone and his wife were buried. The views were gorgeous, and worth the long climb at miles 4 and 5 to get to them. Mani coached us up those hills, telling us when they'd end and that we could make up our time on the downhill. And, oh my word, did he! I felt like I was sprinting to catch him, from mile 5 until mile 11, but every time he got ahead of me, I made myself catch him again. And again. And again.
Around mile 9 I chased him into first overall female as we passed the last two girls ahead of me. I still wasn't sure I could hold it, but if Mani was going, so was I. I checked in with myself from time to time to see how I felt, and I always told myself, "You're fine! Keep going!" And I really was! Sure, I was working hard, but I wasn't hurting and I felt good. I rarely looked at my watch unless I heard the mile split, and most of the time I missed that. I was focused in a way I'd never been before. I had one simple goal, and that was to hold on to Mani.
Around mile 8.5 we entered the last loop before we would head back to the finish line, and I saw Jason heading out, leading the way. As we got close to each other he said, "You're it." Meaning "You're first female. You are where you've been wanting to be." And he was right. I did want to be there. Since the last half marathon in Georgia when I'd watched those front runners, wanting to be where they were, and wondering if I had what it took to get there. And here I was. Once Jason called it, I knew I had to keep it. Mile 9 came and went, and I thought, "You aren't burning out. You have to hold this!" I chased Mani with wild abandon. He was a good bit ahead of me, but I was intent on closing that gap.
Runners heading out of the loop cheered me on, and when I turned around, those behind me cheered for me too. Some told me I was first female, some said, "you've got this," some said, "way to go!" And it spurred me on. I couldn't do more than half smile, but it encouraged me to keep pushing. I knew I couldn't let up because the girls I'd passed weren't that far behind me, and I really wanted to keep my spot!
Once out of the loop and approaching mile 11, I finally caught Mani. He said, "I was taking advantage of all that shade, but you need to pass me now. I'm on pace to run 44:30." Pass him? I'd just caught him! But he was slowing down to meet his pacing goal, and I knew I couldn't. So I passed him. It was exciting, but my legs were getting tired, and I had to concentrate on keeping the pace. I glanced at my watch a few times at this point, but it seemed too complicated to figure out what my finish time would be, so I just ran, willing my legs to cooperate.
Shortly after mile 12 I saw Jason and was surprised to see him so far back. We didn't say a word as he joined me. I ran as if runners were breathing down my neck, hot on my heals, about to pass me at any moment. We rounded a curve and there was a guy in front of me. Jason told me to catch him. I shushed him and was going to ignore his suggestion, but thought it might be a message that someone was closing in, so I went for it. I passed him, and then I saw the clock! It had a 43 on it! I ran with every ounce that was left as the announcer said, "And here is our first female, Jane Reneau from Madison, Alabama!" I finished in 43:52, not only winning first overall female, but getting a personal record as well. Jason was immediately by my side and he grabbed me in a tight hug saying, "You did it!"
I had done it, and I couldn't believe it! My previous PR was six years and 2 kids ago, and while I was certainly aiming for this result, I wasn't expecting it yet, and certainly not on this day. I thanked Mani after he ran in (at 44:33, mind you), and told him I'd gotten a PR. He congratulated me before heading back to run in the other pacers.
Jason and I changed into dry shirts and then waited for awards. They were mugs, which we love!
It was a great, surprising day. I still grin every time I think about it, and then get excited as I start thinking about what's next. I feel grateful for such a great run after what I considered to be a rough week that I hadn't handled very gracefully. I'm grateful to my Creator for giving me what I needed on this unpromising day, and for experiences like this that bring me such joy. He's given me so much more than I deserve, but I know it all comes from Him, and I will always give Him the credit and my gratitude for not only the great races, but the not so great races that make days like today so amazing.