Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Race Down Memory Lane

Jason and I decided on the fly that we would like to run the Auburn Classic Half Marathon. Auburn University is my Alma Mater, and I have always wanted to show my old stomping grounds to Jason, not to mention just visit the dear place. It has been over 6 years since I have been there.

Once the plans were made, the race registered for and a hotel secured, I was assailed by memories. It had been such a very long time since I’d visited these wonderful bits of my history, and I was almost overwhelmed with nostalgia. Remembering all the wonderful friends I made at the Auburn Christian Student Center and all the crazy and fun things we did…

Prayer time in front of the eagle’s cage with Emily Hargett (now Brown) on the tailgate of my truck, Romance on the Plains, picnics and walks at Keisel Park (which I will never remember how to spell). Treks with Emily Webster (now Thames) and Samson all over Conway Acres. Ah, Samson. The best Great Dane in the world. My tiny trailer. My tiny trailer with a Great Dane and a cat in it. Homework until 5 in the morning. Lunches at Tenda Chick, Breezeway, and Guthries (and my introduction to that amazing sauce). Running the roads of Auburn and day dreaming of my current crush. The Clubhouse (Emily Webster’s trailer). Riding my bike to the Clubhouse at midnight. Hilarious Halloween parties. Movies and chocolate late into the night (and then returning home to work on the paper due the next day). Retreats. Family chats. Working at the circulation desk in the University Library. Running laps around the University track when it was too dark to run anywhere else. Going to class. Skipping class. Devo night.

And the list goes on and on and on as the faces of the friends, the smiles, the laughter, and all the other stuff drift through my mind.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I could not wait to return. Friday night as we drove into town, my excitement began to grow as we passed Glenn…and Thatch…the University…the library…the Student Center… I couldn’t wait to let it all out in the run the next day. I couldn’t wait to run in the place I’d loved so much so many years ago.

Saturday dawned gray and cloudy, and I checked the weather to see what our chances were that the rain would hold off for the race. It wasn’t looking good, but I was hopeful anyway.

Since the race officials did not prohibit headphones I wore mine, and the song I chose to begin the race was Olympic Spirit by John Williams on the album, Summon the Heroes. This song is significant to my Auburn experience because my dear friend, Emily Hargett (now Brown) chose this song, among many others, to put on a running tape for me while we were both in Auburn. She introduced me to so many amazing songs and soundtracks, and they have remained my favorites 10 years later. Many times during my college years, it was this collection of songs that got me out the door to run when I did not want to go.

It has been a long time since I have listened to Olympic Spirit, but returning to the place of its introduction into my life, I knew it needed to be a part of my race. And so, as the race began, I grinned like a fool as the song played and I began the 13.1 mile journey with 200 other runners.

The route of the Auburn Classic is a tough but beautiful one. The hills are many and rolling so that I always felt I was climbing or running downhill. Around mile 5, I saw the front runners already heading back to the start line, my husband being the first among them. We slapped hands as we passed each other and I was spurred on to pick up my pace.

I held my pace as often as I could, although the hills made it difficult at times. I hadn’t really been training for a personal record in this race, but I wouldn’t have minded achieving one all the same. I thought the possibility of winning in my age group might be good since the race was so small, and I thought it would be extremely fun to win in my first race as a 30-year-old.

This thought gave me new motivation and I began to pass every female runner I could see. One by one I overtook them, only to see another and another. A few times a fellow runner would try to stay with me, but that only motivated me to pick up the pace and shake them off.

The hills made this difficult at times, however, causing my desired 8:00 pace to drop to 8:30 and 8:40. I knew I could not obtain a personal record at that pace and I would renew my efforts to speed up.

Eventually we were back on the main road headed back to the finish line, and I knew there wasn’t much time left for catching my competitors. Around mile 10 I could see a woman in green within a reachable distance and further in the distance a girl in pink. I wasn’t sure I could catch her, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

By mile 11 I had overtaken the woman in green and the girl in pink was still only a spec. I argued with myself over the likelihood of catching her, but I wasn’t overly tired and so, despite the hills, I pushed as hard as I could.

About this time I knew just what I needed. I turned on my ipod and found Olympic Spirit. I straightened my shoulders, picked up my pace, and focused in on the girl in pink. She looked strong, but I wasn’t giving up on catching her.

When we reached mile 12, she was closer but not enough to make it easy to overtake her with only one mile left. Still, I was determined. When we reached mile 13 I was on her heels. I knew if I was going to pass her it had to be then and it had to be convincing. I was tired, and if she raced me to the finish, I wasn’t sure I could pick up the pace any more.

Arms pumping and legs pushing, I passed her as the road curved around, turning into a hill we both had to climb to reach the finish line. I gave all I had to get there, and it was enough. I finished the race in 1:49:11, a minute slower than my best and 3 seconds in front of the girl in pink. The race to catch her caused my last mile to be my fastest, and put me in as the 10th place female finisher and 47th overall. I didn’t win in my age group since they only awarded 1st place in 10 year age groups, and I didn’t get a personal record, but I was pleased with my race all the same.

I was also extremely proud of my husband who won first place overall, finishing his race in 1:22. This was his first race after recovering from an injury and not only did he win, but he ran successfully without pain. Just as he was being called to receive his award it began to rain. We said goodbye to our friends Julia and Laura, who had also run the race, and made our way back to our hotel to get cleaned up and find some lunch.

Our trip to my old college town was short, but wonderful. It was a reminder of dear friends, sweet memories and great songs. It was a reminder that new adventures can be had in old, familiar places. It was a reminder to be grateful for friends, memories, adventures, and the ability and desire to run through it all.

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