I apologize for not posting more yesterday following the race. Post race was more of a jumble than race time, in many ways. I finished, stumbled and wandered around for a good half hour looking for Steve before race officials led me to the elite area so I could change into dry clothes and stop shivering and scaring other runners and their families. And then I went back out on the prowl again. Luckily, I found my good friend, Andy, who had a cell phone. If I hadn't found him, I'd probably still be wandering around downtown Sac with a lost look on my face and sweat dried all over my face. Thank heavens for technology (funny enough, it turned out Steve was less than a hundred feet from where I was, but because of the crowd, I couldn't locate him.)
So, how does it feel not to qualify for the Olympic Trials? I wish I was Shakespeare because I'd make up a word for how I'm feeling right now. It's not bittersweet, but sweet-bitter; or maybe glorible. Fanterrorific. Splendud. (There's a reason I'm not much of a poet.) No-- I really am so proud of myself. Those were real tears-- joy-tears-- yesterday. I never ever thought I'd be able to run like this. I always pictured myself too fat. Too something or other to ever be truly great; and yet, here I am. Even at the start line, all those negative demons were sounding off their familiar refrains in my head: "You can't. You're too fat. You are not the real deal." But then, after a mile it was like: I'm going to do this. I kept telling myself that-- that I was going to do this, that I was going to run and run even, smooth miles. I would run, I would drink water, I'd eat a bit of sport gel. And then, about mile 5 or so, they started calling out paces at each mile marker. And they said: 6:22 pace. Or, 6:24 pace. And I would hear that and think: "Hot damn. I'm doing it! I'm really doing it!"
There was a moment-- about mile 8 or so-- that I caught up to this runner wearing a sports bra and tight shorts. She looked elite. I ran alongside her for a while and asked: "So, what time are you going for?"
"Sub 2:50," she said.
"Cool, me too!" I'd said and I had hoped she would seem excited about that.
But she scoffed at me, as though she didn't believe what I had just said.
We passed through another intersection. They were playing a rock and roll song with lyrics about achieving dreams I've heard before but cannot, for the life of me, recall for you (besides, I'm horrible with song titles.) But my stride matched the cadence to the song and I surged up a slight rise. "You look strong," I said to her, hoping she'd want to run the race with me. We'd go sub- 2:50 together.
"So do you," she said.
But then she fell back and I never saw her again.
I kept up that pace through ten miles. Through the half, where I sailed through at 1:23. One hour, twenty three minutes. I passed another woman there. I took my gloves off. I saw a little girl of about six years old holding a poster with "Believe" written across it. I was halfway through and you know, I started to believe that may there was a glimmer of a qualifying standard in these legs.
"Just hold it, hold this pace," I said to myself. Every negative thought that entered my head (like:"your muscles are going to cramp", or "you will die at mile 20") was countered by a positive force I didn't think I had in me. I answered each negative thought and pushed it out of my mind. To the first, I said: "keep drinking water at each station. Keep eating. You will make it." To the latter: "run to mile 20. Hold this pace. Then run faster. The race begins there."
And I tried. I got to 20, I tossed my gloves to my friend, Jim, who was standing on the side. "You look strong," he said. I felt it. Or, I felt half of it. There was an instability in my body, a pain, but I pushed it down, ignored it. I hadn't wanted to toss my gloves, because on them I'd written "Believe"-- the message I wanted to remember. I kept looking for a young girl to throw them to (I took them off around mile 12) but I didn't see anyone--- so Jim got my gloves.
But from there, I just remember being in so much pain. But I promised my coach I'd push there. I promised myself from about mile 5 or so that no one would ever tell me I couldn't do something. I went through mile 20 at 2:07. If I ran a slightly sub-40 minute 10k, I'd have my B Standard qualifying time.
So what happened? I held my pace, I thought. I talked myself down through the miles. Just six. You run six all the time. Then five. Five's nothing. Less than 35 minutes left. Less than it takes to bake a cake. 4 miles: just think, I said to me, the first of two mile repeats. Think of it as the first of eight miles round the track. But mile 23 for some reason was really hard. 23, I thought: this is never ending. I tried to push that thought away, but it lingered.
Spectators yelled my number. "Go, 92!" they shouted to me. "Looking strong, 92!" I passed other runners. But my pace had slowed. My legs were fine. It was my stomach that was on fire. I wanted to puke that nasty sport gel I'd been eating for two hours now. And then, there was that other part of me that felt like stopping at that cute little bar I just ran by for a shot or a glass of wine red wine; perhaps an Old Vine Zin. Surely if I relaxed a little bit, I would do better.
But no, mile 23 is not the time to relax. I passed another person. Go, go, go, I whispered to myself. Believe. Believe. You are almost there.
I saw the tree-lined street. The 25-mile marker. I heard the lyrics: "You're beautiful... just the way you are," booming from a car stereo. I heard the passing cars on I-80 (or was it 50?) and told myself to imagine that the sound was not from cars, but from a roaring crowd, cheering me on. I kept running. One step, two step, three, four and on and on; they are cheering for you, Ms. E, for you for you for you. I passed another person, all the while hearing: "Go, 92, go go go!" I could no longer distinguish whether the voice was my own, internal one, or coming from someone looking on, feeling what I felt.
I couldn't stop. I couldn't show my pain. I've been writing about heroes lately, and it occurred to me then, less than a mile away from finishing, that heroes feel pain but don't show it. They just swallow, smile and take what other people can't. So, I kept on. No slowing down.
Speed up, I told myself. Less than one mile to go.
I rounded the corner. I saw, on the digital display, that I had crushed a sub-2:50 time.
2:47. OMG. I sprinted that final straightaway. 2:47. One minute away. Yet 3 minutes faster than what I thought I was capable of doing. They announced my name. My time. I stopped, but it was like my brain was still moving and I stumbled, disoriented. 2:47. 2:47.
I'm an elite now.
So close. I was so close.