A few months ago, a friend told me I needed to come down to Birmingham, AL for one of the best races I’ll ever run: The Mercedes Benz Half Marathon. Best race? That definitely sounds interesting. I registered and booked hotel accommodations; excited to run “the best race ever.” I felt good in the months leading up to this race. Until mid January, when I came down with who-knows-what after my trip to Walt Disney World. Once again, I was sidelined and missed a few weeks of training. My doctor advised me I should probably pull out of this race because it takes me a while to bounce back after an asthma episode. But anyone who know anything about races knows that everything is always non-refundable, there was no question about it: I was going.
I made the short drive down to Birmingham in almost 3 hours because, yes, I got lost. No surprise there. My first stop was packet pick up at the expo:
Everything was very well organized and I picked my things up in less than 5 minutes. I spent some time walking the expo, meeting new people, and visiting vendors. I kept my hands out of my purse, and walked away without buying anything. Shocking, I know! I didn’t stay long. I was tired and wanted to get settled in to my room early because of the last minute 5K I registered for on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning was COLD. Temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark, so that really wasn’t the problem. The problem was the terrible head wind in the Downtown Birmingham area.
The race was very fun, and it was nice seeing so many people dressed up in their favorite costume. I met up with a good friend who was there to pick up her bib for her first half, raced, picked up my medal, met up with another friend, and got out of there. It was cold. For dinner that night, I met up with a group of friends at a local burger joint, where no one thought of having a group picture taken. What were we thinking, Jodi? But it was a good evening, and we shared a lot of laughs.
Once back in my room, I got all the morning’s race gear laid out, packed my bags, and got myself to bed. This is where things began to unravel for me. I couldn’t sleep. At all. I tossed and turned, got up to change the thermostat FIVE times, went to the bathroom a handful of times, and sat straight up in bed for hours with a stomachache. I wanted to cry. I knew morning would be rough if I didn’t get some sleep. Finally, a little after 2am, I dozed off only to be awoken by my alarm at 4:45.
My head hurt. My stomach hurt. I felt sick. I sat at the edge of the bed wondering what should I do. I decided to eat something slowly, and get ready slowly, and see how I felt once I got down there. Only, I didn’t bring my true and tested bagel and/or peanut butter. All I had was a Clif Bar that I purchased the day before at Starbucks. I don’t like to try anything new on race day, but I had to eat something. I nibbled on my Clif Bar, sipped on my Nuun, and was out the door by 5:45. I turned my GPS on, and Siri could not find the starting line.
Zooming into the map, I saw all the surrounding roads were closed off. I, somehow, managed to make it down there, got into the wrong lane, begged the car behind me to let me in, parked the car, and made it to our meeting point, sobbing into my friends arms. It was a rough morning, I was late, I had less than 3 hours of sleep, and somehow I was supposed to get through 13.1 miles.
Once I was calm, we made our way to the starting line, and I realized I left my sunglasses and Chapstick in the car. Then I became separated from 2 of my friends. I was so upset because I wanted and needed to be by Sherita for her first half. Suddenly, the gun went off, and I’ve also yet to use my inhaler or take in my fuel. I literally crossed the starting line swallowing my GU, and washing it down with water. I then stopped to use my inhaler and blow my nose. I couldn’t find Sherita so I began my lonely run.
It was cold, but not as cold as the previous day. I began to get hot at mile 3, so I shed my scarf and tossed it. I felt good at this point. I focused on my music and the people and sights around me. I saw the clock at mile 5 and realized I was running faster than usual and maybe I should slow it down because there’s no telling how long I could keep this up. I tried to slow down but kept finding myself speeding back up. I hit the halfway mark in 1:10:19. Again, faster than I’ve run in a long time, and I wondered if I could pick it up some more and run off with a PR (something I was not planning for at ALL).
But then we hit the UAB campus, and the hills and turns started. Now, the hills weren’t TERRIBLE, but enough to where my foot was wanting to shut it down. I hit the 15K checkpoint at a slower pace, and was way off the mark for a PR. But I was determined to run hard the last 4 miles. After all, what goes up must come down, right?
The course began to go downhill, so I was able to pick some speed up. I remember reading once that if you’re able to cross the finish line at a sprint, you didn’t race hard enough. So my goal was to race hard right now. My foot began to yell at me at mile 11, and I began to yell back at it. I couldn’t stop. Not now. Not this close. I hit mile 12 at 2:23:18. I’d need to wrap this race up in less than 6 minutes if I wanted to PR. I knew that wasn’t going to happen, but I ran as fast as my aching legs and burning lungs could take me. Rounding the corner, hearing the crowd, hearing the race announcer call my name, with the finish line in sight, tears began to sting my eyes.
I crossed the finish line 4 minutes shy of a PR. So why was I as ecstatic as I was? Why was I ugly crying? Because I can honestly say that I gave it my everything. Because I ran my fastest, and my hardest, since undergoing back surgery in September. But also because I ran on less than 3 hours of sleep, and had a crazy emotional morning.
I collected my things, and hurried into the auditorium to meet up with everyone, eager to hear their stories. One at a time everyone made it in and lots of sweaty hugs and stories were shared. Then the after party started.
Let me tell you about this race: the after party alone is worth the trip down here. They had something for everyone: free massages, BBQ, beer, soda, chips, fruit, live music, and dancing. I spent time with friends, and made some new friends:
We shared stories, race tips, celebrated success stories, and I laughed until my sides hurt. I always knew my race routines and OCD will one day catch up with me and be my downfall. It is true that you can never truly be prepared for every situation possible.
I had a complete turn around from the morning I had, and I know this group had a lot to do with that.
Not every race will be a PR, but I am pleased with how I raced. I am excited to begin to train hard and work on my speed, because that PR is right around the corner.
Thank you, Mercedes Benz Half Marathon! I will see you next year.