Saturday was FINALLY the big day. After much training and hoopla over the event being "postponed" and then revived, it was race day. I had ridden down to Orchard Park on Friday to pick up my number and T-shirt, so I knew it was going to take me about 50 minutes to get there. This meant leaving the house by 5:15 a.m. and setting the alarm for 4:15. It's been a long time since I had to set an alarm for 4:15!
I arrived and found a bathroom. They had posted that no porta-potties would be available on course. I've never needed one during a race, but somehow knowing they are not an option makes your mind think you're going to need one. While waiting in line, a local was saying there were several gas stations and restaurants along the route, and heck, the locals are so friendly and supportive, you could knock on anyone's door and they'd probably let you in. Good to know.
Outside for some warming up and stretching and it was race time: 7:00 a.m. Only 68 degrees and predicted to go to 87. I was hoping the 87 wouldn't arrive until mid-day, and I ended up getting very lucky. We ran half a mile and turned a corner, straight into the sun. It was just breaking through clouds and I could feel how hot it was on my face and shoulders. I thought, "Uh-oh", and just like that it disappeared behind the clouds and stayed there for the duration of the race. Race conditions were very similar to what I'm used to back home. Still warmer, but it was one day I was actually thankful for a cloudy sky.
I checked my pace frequently. I was running very comfortably at 9:07 at the start. I had expected a flat course, but it was very hilly. They were short hills though, nothing that wasn't runnable compared to where I came from. They were steep enough in some cases to slow pace. My pace was all over the place. 9:00, 9:15, 9:47. At one point there was a very long down hill and I let myself go with gravity and made up at least a minute.
Around mile 4, there was a boy about 8 years old standing at the end of his driveway to high-five every runner. Around mile 7, a man was playing patriotic tunes on his sax. Soon we entered farm country and were passed by a tractor on the road. Two herds of horses, about 30 in total, were startled by us. I've actually seen that in a few races. Horses know what people are but they are very confused at a "herd of people" 500 deep running down the road. They prance and snort, circle and run. Owners come out to catch them and move them or make them stand there and become desensitized.
We were running along the shoulder of various roads. Closer to the stadium, an entire lane had been closed so we had a wide area to run. Once out on the country roads, and the racers spread out, we only had the shoulder. The hills, combined with the cant of the shoulder, made my IT band flare up on the right side about 6 miles in. At that time, I had been right on pace to either match my last half marathon time, or be only 3-4 minutes longer. I toughed it out another 4 miles, my pace creeping well into the 10:00m/m zone, and finally I had to start taking walk breaks to massage out the top of the band in my hip.
At my first walk break, a young girl with a red ponytail asked me what mile we were on. (I noticed that Garmins aren't as popular here as back home. I saw very few.) "7.5". "That's it?!?" Yup. That's it. Once I was back to running I passed her again, and then she caught up to me on my next walk break. "Are we at 10 yet?" "9.94". "Gah!" lol.
There were water stations every 2 miles. They handed out water "packets"...clear plastic "water balloons". They were palm sized rectangles filled with about 8 oz of water. I had my water bottle with me, mixed with my favorite energy replacer, but needed supplemental water to have enough to make it the whole distance. These little water packs were amazing! So quick to grab, they really sped up the aid stations. You bit the corner to open them, and there was more than enough water to rinse your mouth, take a drink, and squirt a LOT over your neck and shoulders to keep cool. My clothes were drenched at the end because I kept using them to cool off when I was done drinking from them.
I had taken out one of my ear buds so that I could hear the sounds of the race. Intersections we crossed where traffic had been stopped for us had lines of cars all honking their horns in encouragement (yes, I'm sure it wasn't rage). Bicyclists passing cheered us on. Volunteers with flags directing us on our way cheered us on.
Finally we made the last turn and could see the stadium. That was the hardest half mile of the race. You can see stadium...and it's so far way. Finally it gets bigger, and they direct you to go right. We have to find the entrance onto the field. We have to run to the back of the stadium. I'm determined not to walk, even though my IT band is screaming at this point. Another turn to the left and I can see the entrance to the tunnel. And the up hill ramp inside it. At the top of the ramp you can see the green of the field below, the white lines, the red and blue Buffalo logo. My heart soared...I was actually going to run onto the Buffalo Bill's field!
I gained a lot of momentum going down the ramp and I burst out of the tunnel in a sprint with an ear to ear grin. Pain? What pain? Pure adrenaline now. Then I heard something I had not expected and was unprepared for. A voice over a loud speaker said, "Now entering the stadium, number 568, Sandi Parker!" An involuntary reaction took over and both hands shot straight into the air, Rocky-style. I crossed the finish and paced to catch my breath, taking in everything around me.
My time was an abysmal 2:20, a full 14 minutes slower than my best time. That being the case, the awards ceremony was already going on, on the sideline. The winner ran it in 1:21:24. The first woman across the line ran it in 1:38:09. The second woman crossed in 1:40:17 and is the same age as I am. That's flying! :)
I looked around and suddenly realized I was all alone. I had trained alone, run alone, and finished alone. All that exuberance was at once replaced with overwhelming sadness and lonliness. There wasn't a sole I knew there to congratulate me. I marveled at being surrounded by a thousand people and feeling all alone. I sat on the field to stretch and enjoy being there as long as I could, and fought the tears streaming down my face. I took a few pictures, including holding the camera out to take my own finish picture. It was amazing and sucked all at the same time.
I've learned in life to never say never. Yes, that boring cliche really is true. Right now, "I'm never going to run another half marathon. I'll run 5Ks." Rewind to two years ago, and that's what I said then, too. I tried for a half marathon last year, but again had injury issues. My body holds up well around 4-6 miles. So 5Ks and 10Ks are within range. And only take as much training as I want in order to increase speed. And Saturday's 5K had the same finish as the half marathon, on the field. :)