I know, I know… Mary Poppins said it the other way ’round: “Well begun is half done.” But then, she wasn’t out running half marathons, was she? I mean, living in pre-sufferage times, wearing those shoes and corsets, and carrying that amazing umbrella and overnight case… not conducive to recreational running, right? But I have been running– sans corset and heeled boots, much less umbrella. The Bratislava half marathon is done, and running– for me– is not over, but simply well begun.
Warning: the rest of this post contains explicit running talk… do not read if you are sensitive– or get bored to tears by– this topic! Plus, it’s really, really loooong– almost like a half-marathon! A Fresh Cuppa Chaos will return soon with its usual coffee-swilling fare!
Sunday, March 24 had long loomed on my iCal as the date marked, “Bratislava??” The question marks really say it all: I didn’t commit to the trip until February, and even then I never bothered to remove the question marks from the calendar. You see, it was a half-marathon destination trip for the running group I had sort-of joined in the Fall. And by “sort of,” I mean, I was a little surprised myself every time I showed up to run with them; and I was, frankly, astonished when we started racking up serious mileage. And then one cold, cold day, I found myself lined up to start a race in an East European city– Whaaat?
I won’t say it was a piece of cake– I had to push through it all the way. We started off at a faster pace than we’d done before. I ran with too much gear, and mismanaged it, wearing too many layers to remove while running, and overstuffing my little camelback pack after an impulsive, starting line decision to carry rather than to jettison the outer layers. After about 2k, I was ready to shed my outer jacket, but I had to struggle with the pack and the jacket and the whole kit– and running about a minute/mile faster than our normal pace, juggling everything kind of put me in a bad place. Our pace group of about 10 women stuck together, and some of us chatted as usual, but I was winded from the start and never fell into the groove that makes running with them so much fun.
But, I was determined to stick with them, because I was terrified of running the whole way without these ladies! I stayed quiet while they waved at cheering spectators, and listened to their chat without contributing much (sorry!). Bit by bit we ticked off the kilometers, running through the cold, windswept streets of the more industrial parts of Bratislava. We hit the time where we were slated to take a gel (basically a tube of gooey, peanut butter-like stuff that provides your body with the fuel to keep going so it doesn’t start burning the wrong kind of tissue), and despite us having done long enough runs to test it out several times, I just wasn’t able to get it down. I sucked down a couple of swallows, tried to drink my water, and found I couldn’t get a decent drink down either. I just kept going.
Eventually, we hit a hill headed up into the old city centre from the postcard (above). Thank goodness for those Hampstead Heath hills I ran through the fall and winter in London, because I actually could bear the uphill portion. And then the downhill portion, running out of the charming part of town, was a quick drop before the road leveled out to another less scenic portion running along a major road parallel to the river. By then we could see a steady stream of faster runners coming back toward us along the river on the last 5k stretch… but it seemed like we would never get to the place where we would make the turn back ourselves! At this point, I did manage to get down the rest of the gel I’d been carrying in my fist for the last 5 miles, and I swallowed a bit of water to help it down, though I knew I should have had more. We finally made the turn back to run along the river on the homestretch and– yikes was it cold and windy along there!
Our group began to spread out along here, and I found myself running with one of our coaches. When a motorcycle escort came through pushing us to one side, Syma encouraged me to pick up the pace so I could finish with the men’s marathon winner, who was coming up on his finish somewhere behind the motorcycle. I so wanted to, but just didn’t have the juice! One of our runners finished her half at the same time as the winner of the women’s full marathon, and there’s a fantastic picture of her raising her arms in victory at the finish line just behind the marathon winner– a Kenyan professional. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic souvenir??? You wouldn’t have to tell anyone that you were running the half…
Anyway, I did finish slightly ahead of the pace goal we’d set (2:19, and the goal had been 2:20-2:25). Though it wasn’t pretty, and I didn’t run the race feeling happy and triumphant, I did keep putting one foot in front of the other! I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a little moment to myself after the finish chute (when I was actually quite glad I’d stuffed those old yoga pants in my pack, because it was FREEZING!). I sat down on a bench to slip the pants over my shoes and broke into private tears because I had just never, ever, expected to do a run like that. It was really quite a feeling– and I would have to say that doing something hard and unexpected and out of your comfort zone is a very good thing to do if you possibly can as you get a bit older. It reminds you that there’s still so much ahead of you…
Which, I guess, is why I registered for the Windsor half-marathon in September.
I find I can’t end this running-related post without at least acknowledging the awful events at the Boston Marathon. That something so life-affirming could be attacked in such a twisted way is tragic. Even at a minor race on a cold day in Eastern Europe, the mood was excited and happy; and the finish line was a place to celebrate. The finish line should always be a place of celebration. That anyone would seek to steal that is just completely and utterly senseless. My heart goes out to the families of those whose race ended that day, as well as to those who didn’t finish that race and maybe won’t get the chance again. But runners around the world– some of them, at least– will carry them in their hearts the next time they cross a finish line. I know this is true: I went out to watch the London Marathon the week after Boston, and I saw the black ribbons worn by the runners, as well as the occasional Boston t-shirt and Red Sox hat rounding the bend into the final stretch from Embankment at Big Ben. There may not always be the outward signs, but runners will remember their own.
Finally. Right now, right here would be the appropriate place to say a couple of thank you’s (like I’m receiving an Academy Award or something– geez! How obnoxious am I?)
There’s really no way to say a big enough thank you to Paula Mitchell for this gift of running, which is really about way more than just running, it turns out. Paula’s exceptional passion for helping women learn to run is simply inspiring. Without her, most of our group would never have had this experience. And Syma, whom I mentioned earlier, saw that I was struggling that day, and she almost personally escorted me through the race– thank you, Syma, for ensuring that I saw the day through, and for pushing our group to exceed our own expectations!
My Bratislava roommate, Heidi, offered just the nudge I needed to finally register for the race when she asked if I wanted to room with her– thanks, Heidi! Running buddies Jody, Catherine, Carmine, Charlotte, Niyani, Ariadne, Mary, Julie, and many more– thank you for making the whole endeavor so much fun! And most certainly not least, Kelli… thank you for encouraging me to try it, introducing me to Paula, seeing that she had my e-mail address, and being such an inspiration, along with Patricia, in all your marathon endeavors. I never wanted to be a runner, but it sure was exciting to cheer you both on!