My legs were involuntarily moving as my body fought hard to gain warmth. I could see my breath between teeth chatters. I kept looking down at my feet to make sure they were still there. I spent an extra second or two in the porter potty inhaling wonderful aromas before gaining the mental strength to bare the cold. Luckily, an hour and 15 minutes came and went, and it was time to tow the start line.
Surprisingly, I wasn't nervous. I've done this enough times to know, I am my biggest opponent, my mind is my largest demon and my legs were absolutely capable of carrying me 13.1 miles. The burning question in my mind remained: What was this postpartum body capable of?
I had trained in sunshine and rain. I had run on 2 hours of sleep. I had pushed a stroller for up to 8 miles. I had kept every promise to myself to run 4 days a week, with one long run, no matter the circumstance. It was time. Time to put my fitness to the test. It was time to bring back the fire that had been buried within me. It was time to set aside every excuse and run hard.
The fireworks that lit up the sky called the runners to the start line. The gun went off and I followed the crowds through the starting shoot and I was off.
The old me... The super prepared, never late, overly concerned, anal me, would have had every split for every mile embedded in my brain. The mom me? She spent the first 3 miles worrying about the temperature and having Harper out in the cold. She worried that her sleep would be disrupted. She worried that dad would forget something.
I blinked and the first 3 miles were behind me. I had averaged somewhere between an 8:50-8:25 pace. I was feeling comfortable. Finally, I could feel my feet and legs again and I was slowly, but surely becoming present.
By mile five I had dropped the pace down to 8:15's. My body finally warmed up, allowing me to feel the slightest twinge of pain in my right IT band. I thought, No, no, no. It's WAY too early. I run 5 miles in my sleep, this can't be. At that point, I made the executive decision, I was here to race, a race ends in pain, and I was NOT letting THIS be the reason I didn't hit my goal.
I was half way and numbers were dancing around in my mind. The absence of pace plans consumed me and for an entire mile I played and replayed paces in my head to figure out what I needed to do to cross that finish in 1:45:00.
Immediately, I realized I needed to start RACING, like... last mile. I HAD to pick up the pace or I could kiss good-bye that sweet one-forty-five. I dropped to an 8 min pace, dowsed in pain, I glided, squeezed my booty, changed my stride, picked up my knees and threw up my hands in an AWE HELL, it's just going to hurt.
I hit 8 miles and replayed the math in my head. I wasn't going fast enough. I wasn't going to make it. I "started" the race too late. I blew it. I was at a 7:55 pace and was really working for it. The numbers said I needed to be at a sub 7:30 for the remainder of the race or I didn't stand a chance. I was tired. My IT band was throbbing.
And then, I saw sign after sign, Run MOMMY Run. Go Mommy! I Love You Mommy. Little kids out there standing in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of their hero passing by.
I ran mile 8 in 7:48. Not fast enough. I ate the remainder of a banana in hopes of gaining energy. Mile 9 in 7:30. I redid the math. I had a fighting chance, but it would take a darn miracle. I needed to run 7:15's the last 3 miles.
I saw a few more kids, with beaming faces, huge grins, colorful signs. I imagined my husband holding Harper at the finish line. This is why I was here. I wanted to make him proud, make her proud, make my friends proud and I surely didn't want to let down all of my Instagram family who had been following my postpartum comeback.
I held a 7:10 pace through mile 10 but I was falling apart at the seams. I was huffing, puffing, muttering encouragement under my breath and probably annoying every runner I passed. But I was slipping away from my time and was struggling to keep pace.
I came up on an aid station and saw oranges. Knowing I was low on energy, I grabbed some and stuffed my face (so much for not trying anything new on race day). I kept pushing the pace. I had two miles left and I was ready to suffer through them.
For the next 2 miles, I repeated, Come on, you got this. Almost done. Come on. Remember why you're here. Racing is supposed to hurt. Between squeals of pain.
For the next mile and a half I rhythmically put one foot in front of the other time and time again until I could see the finishing shoot.
At a half mile left, I looked down at my watch. It was too close to call. I fell into a dead sprint, picking people off one by one. I knew they were watching me, I knew she was watching me. I was in pain, I was exhausted, I had nothing left... But I pulled myself together and picked up the pace.
I ran through the shoot with what I thought was a head held high, a body filled with dignity and pure achievement.
I crossed that finish line in 1:44:34.
How incredible it was to see that huge smile, smiling back at me, knowing just 6 months ago I was carrying her. Six months ago I brought her into the world. Six months ago I was not running a single mile.
The time, the distance, the pace meant so much more to me than a number. Running and racing has given so much to me. It is a part of me that I love. I get to exercise dedication, commitment, sacrifice. I get to work hard, push my limits, set goals and practice them. I get to experience failure and success. And most of all, it's something that is my own. It's who I am.
This postpartum body is capable of waking up at 4am, beating sleepless nights, running through exhaustion, balancing time, enduring the distance, gaining speed, being a mother, being a runner, being a wife. This postpartum body is capable of way more than a 1:44:34 but a 1:44:34 was a good place to start. Achieving this goal was a beautiful way for me to welcome this season of life. My journey of running and racing during motherhood has only just begun.
I am a MOTHER runner.