My alarm was set for 4:00 a.m. I knew if I actually let myself fall back to sleep, I'd feel awful when it went off, so I just laid there in the quiet darkness telling myself it would be ok. When the alarm finally sounded, Jason and I got up and got dressed. We'd packed our stuff and set up the coffee pot the night before. I quickly made toast, we said bye to Mom who was keeping the kids for us, and off we went.
A race date at 4:30 a.m. It's our thing and I love it. Even in my sleep deprived state I felt happy to be on the road with Jason, just us. We sipped our coffee and talked of all kinds of things. With no interruptions, no technology, just easy conversation. The morning was cloudy and gray, the countryside foggy and beautiful. I didn't mind the clouds at all, for that would mean a cooler race.
I really wasn't worried about the race, either. I knew I'd gotten stronger since the Oak Barrel Half in April, and I was aiming to shave a few minutes off that time, but I felt no pressure or stress. I was just excited to run.
The course didn't disappoint either. It was breathtaking! Tennessee is such a beautiful state, and several times I just looked around in wonder and awe. I felt really good too, and relaxed into my pace.
Running makes me joyful. It makes me reflective and prayerful. I find myself grateful for the simple desire to run, and grateful for a healthy body that allows me to do it. I spend the quiet miles in awe of my God who has created such scenery, and I praise Him for the misty mountains, the rolling hills, the fields of corn, the cattle that stare as I pass. I thank him for parents who love my children. I thank Him for a husband with whom I can share running adventures. I tell Him how much I love racing with Jason, and often add a request to keep him strong in his race. I allow my thoughts to dwell on my children at home, and the miles renew my spirit as a mom, filling me up again with patience, perseverance, and a good sense of humor.
For a time my mind and body forgot I'd been up since 2:30 a.m., and I felt like I could run forever. I took joy in the simple movement, the sweat, the breath it requires to fill my working muscles with oxygen.
Eventually I came back down to earth to focus on my race, as the miles left dwindled and the work became a little harder. The gently rolling hills began to feel a little less gentle, but around mile 8 I realized I was on point to shave off more than just a minute or two from last month's half. I was looking at a 5 minute improvement, and that knowledge helped me pick up the pace. I had been trying to catch a few females I could see ahead, and I was gradually overtaking them. Around mile 10, however, I was passed by a girl in a pink tank top, and she passed me as if I were standing still! I looked down at my watch and I was running a 7:50 pace, so I knew I hadn't slowed down.
By mile 11 it was warming up and my tummy started to talk of rebellion. I simply refused and kept pushing. I couldn't catch Pink Tank Top, but I didn't want to let one second of my 5 minute improvement go. It wasn't until mile 12 that I realized I was going to shave off even more than 5 minutes. Jason was waiting for me, and I merely gave him the thumbs up as he joined me for the final half mile. I wanted to ask him how his race was. I wanted to tell him how great mine had been, but I knew I'd have the drive home for that, and stayed focused on the task at hand. I now wanted every second I could get.
I finished in 1:48:47 - a 7 minute improvement on April's half marathon. I couldn't believe it. I think I repeated that out loud a few times as we walked to the car for dry shirts. I was excited to be able to run like that. Excited and pleasantly surprised. I felt like I'd finally gotten somewhere in my training, and as many runners know, a little success keeps the training fire going!
Jason was third overall, and I placed third in my age group. (Pink Tank Top was in my age group! Ouch!) We received coffee mugs as our awards, and those are always my favorite kind. (I'm enjoying some coffee in mine right now!)
As always, I feel extremely blessed by this whole running and racing experience. I love every part of it, and I try to give all of that to my amazing God. All good things come from Him, and while there are certainly a million more important "good things," this one means so much to me.