The day began unlike the typical race morning. Instead of setting my alarm several hours before loading my car, before driving at least 30 miles, before standing around freezing for a few more hours, before finally selecting "start" on my Garmin, I simply woke up, enjoyed my usual leisurely breakfast of oatmeal with chia seeds and coffee, and then met my friend and her husband (who are also my neighbors) for an easy warm-up walk over to the crowds. We met fifteen minutes before the gun, I'm not even kidding. We meandered right past the port-a-potty lines, laughing about our ability to take care of business in the comfort of our own homes just minutes prior. Oh runners, not a modest bone in the body!
Natalia, Mitch and I, skipping those pesky port-a-potty lines!
The race began at 8:00, and the gorgeously reliable Southern California sunshine promptly thawed our bare shoulders. I wore my Nathan Intensity pack and Brooks Pure Cadence. I carried a disposable hand warmer in each hand to stave off the Raynaud's without needing to wear a "throw away" long-sleeved shirt. This was an effective plan, one that I will repeat in the future. I just tossed the hand-warmers in the first water station's garbage boxes.
The course was flat. Well, all courses are flat to me after running a full marathon in San Francisco. But this course was flat, and swept along the San Diego Creek Trail, where I spend many hours every week logging training miles. It was home.
The start was not too crowded, though there were 4,352 runners that completed the half marathon, and another 902 5k runners that shared the same start time. One of the best aspects of this race was that it served as a training run for thousands of Los Angeles students training for the Los Angeles Marathon with the Students Run LA program. According to the SRLA website, the organization strives (or strides?) to "Inspire at-risk youth to achieve their dreams through a life-transforming experience: The training for, and completion of, the ASICS LA Marathon." Wow. What an inspirational morning it was, to be alongside these students in the brilliant yellow shirts and specially made Nike sneakers, donated from their powerful sponsor. To see kids falling in love with running truly moves me, as it was at this age I found running as a release and outlet. Seriously, go check out the link above to discover this wonderful program.
Truly, the weather conditions could not have been more perfect at 60 degrees with very little wind. But I'll admit it, I'm so easily pleased when it comes to running. As a recent Southern California transplant from the webbed-feet requiring Pacific Northwest, we are so spoiled down here. And I love every second of it.
This particular race is over 23 years in existence, and benefits the Woodbridge School District. Various sports teams from Woodbridge High School volunteered their time at each aid station, and the spectators along the course were abundant and cheerful. Never did I feel a lull.
At about mile five, I glanced at my Garmin and noted that I had been keeping extremely regular splits around 7:30/mile pace. I was very proud of this feat, as it meant I didn't go out too quickly, as I usually do. I was feeling great, despite having battled a stomach virus two nights prior. I downed my espresso-flavored 2nd Surge Gel (yum!), guzzled some water and pressed on, aiming for the 7:30/mile pace.
Suddenly, I felt a presence just over my left shoulder. I could tell he was wearing a blue shirt, was at least 20 years my senior, and was somewhat invading my "personal bubble". At this point, the crowds had thinned enough that it seemed a bit strange really. His cadence fell into step with mine, and our arms moved in the same rhythm.
We continued like this for minutes, then a mile, then another mile, around corners, down hills, through aid stations, our feet striking the ground in the same tempo. It stopped feeling awkward and started to feel like a dance; we synchronized our pace. I glanced at my Garmin, still pegged on 7:30/mile. We exchanged no words, our common language was simply our sequenced stride. I still felt physically comfortable, but that little devil that teases your confidence started to make an appearance. But my silent partner by my side forced all negative thoughts away, by picking up the pace a bit, quietly begging me to join. I had no choice, I was committed to this stranger, I was committed to finishing strong with him.
Finally, around mile 10, I found the nerve to strike up conversation. "Wow what a nice day!" I started generically. He nodded, still holding the quick footstrike we shared. I spoke again, "You are truly pushing me this morning, and keeping me going." In a thick Hispanic accent he responded, "You have wonderful form, a truly great runner." I thanked him, and we continued our sneaker-clad quest for that finish line.
Another mile, this time at 7:40 pace. I knew we were nearing the end because we were back on the San Diego Creek Trail. A few strides in front of us, I spotted a female runner, obviously running out of energy. I glanced at my new running inspiration and when our eyes met, he knew what I was thinking. We picked her off, the defeat feeding my energy even more. We continued to pick other runners off, our pace now around 7:20/mile. Then finally, we hit the last mile. I told him to go ahead and kick, I knew I was holding him up. "No way!" he exclaimed. "I want to see you finish, let's do this!" and we did just that. We picked up the pace even more and finished strong, side by side, without even knowing each other's name. Before even claiming our medal, we hugged. I thanked him profusely, for giving me the mental stamina to finish my first race of 2014 STRONG. My official time was a 1:39:34, for 6th place in my age group and 25th female overall. I was ecstatic.
My motivator in blue! Turns out that even my phone was sweating from the effort.
I have NEVER had a negative split Half Marathon before until last weekend. What an exciting accomplishment it was, one I surely could not have done without my running Yoda by my side. During those silent miles we ran together, I got lost in my thoughts about the camaraderie that is running. So many running organizations, from SRLA, to various running clubs and teams, to Instagram and Facebook and Twitter bring runners together, of all ages and various skill levels. But we are bonded by our mutual passion for the sport, our need for endorphins and self-improvement, of goal accomplishment and sweat. So to my new friend, (turns out his name is Art) I cannot thank you enough for the reminder that we are all in this together, silently soldered by our collective love for running.