The Big Day
by Ann Faison
The first thing I noticed was that my legs felt great. Usually, I feel terribly stiff for the first mile, and sometimes the second, but everything felt good, strong, fast. I had 13 miles to go so I wasn’t going to let myself run hard, but I felt like I could. I consciously held myself back, keeping a nice steady pace that was not speedy.
I noticed people passing me. Actually everyone was passing me. I felt slightly ashamed for listening to Bridget and starting with a a fast group, but for the most part I ignored the thought. I figured there were others going my speed and it was only an illusion, that everyone was passing me. The trend continued, however, and I fought the urge to keep up.
It was hard to believe that all these people were really that fast. Yes, I’m older and new to running, but I trained for 16 weeks. It seemed unfair that the people jogging past, many of whom did not look terribly fit, were going to beat me. Wide bottoms in pink leopard patterns jiggled past. What these people had on me was experience. Like Bridget, they had done this before. They were decked out in high tech neon apparel, Nathan water bottles on their hips, snack packs around their waists jammed with power gels and cliff bars. Part of me worried I was sorely unprepared, like Sheryl Strayed taking on the Pacific Crest Trail in shoes a size too small. But maybe these runners with all their gear were more like Strayed, overloaded with weight they didn’t need. Why carry water when there are people handing it out every mile or less?
I was looking forward to shedding my sweatshirt, which was making me hot. I was texting my husband when someone bumped into me, knocking my phone out of my hands and yanking the buds from my ears. I stopped to pick it up, cursing the culprit I never saw and myself for getting distracted. What was I doing texting when I was supposed to be running? I looked up to see Dave and the girls and ran across the clogged street to get to them. “HUGS!” I demanded, handing the sweatshirt to Dave and grabbing the girls, letting my feet briefly stop their padding before I continued on. The love was a huge boost and I held it with me the rest of the run. I felt great.
The weather was perfect. Lot’s of clouds and a nice soft breeze were keeping me cool on the course, which shifted from concrete to asphalt and back again. It was mostly flat and scenic with views of the water and boats, the sleek buildings of downtown Long Beach, and a giant mural on the convention center of whales and dolphins and sea. Palm trees swayed and I kept my eyes up, trying to concentrate on the different birds above instead of the runners around me. Families and friends crowded the sidelines making it easy to feel carried along by the spirits of so many positive voices shouting, “You can do it!”
Every once in a while music blared, often signaling there was water up ahead. I texted Dave two words: “Bad music” which struck me as a clever name for a band or record label. I’m so creative when I run! I felt a weird pressure behind me and before I had time to think about it a wall of runners overtook me, lead by someone carrying a sign that said “2:10 pace runner.” It was funny to see a whole pack of people moving at the same pace, determined to make that exact time. I admired their speed but I wasn’t supposed to be running as fast as they were. I had definitely started with the fast crowd.
Around mile 5, I noticed a couple walking. They must have passed me earlier, I thought, unless they somehow got a really early start, but that made no sense. I realized I wasn’t being passed as much anymore. Were people pooping out already? We weren’t even halfway.
We were heading to the beach. I had been looking forward to this stretch of the course with the ocean to gaze at. Gulls were soaring overhead, looking for discarded power bars. The course narrowed to a strip of concrete with sand on both sides and too many people squeezed onto it. Everyone was now in my way and it was like trying to push through sludge. It was impossible to keep my pace steady as I dodged people who were walking. Some went from running to walking and and back again after a few steps, and I was becoming a little disgusted, I have to admit. I had to remind myself that I might need to walk too if I wasn’t careful, but these people were supposed to be the experts. They ran these races all the time, right? So why weren’t they running? I have a lot more patience for a slow steady runner than I do someone who keeps switching back and forth.
I was trying not to get down on the slower people, and if I looked around there were some keeping pace with me and once in a while I was still being passed. But the majority were now going slower than I was. I still felt good and it was hard to understand how so many people could have worn them selves out that early. I guess that’s just how a lot of people run these races. They give it their all for as long as they can, and then they walk/run to the finish. I guessed that for them it wasn’t important to be able to run the distance.
The end of the race was the only really hard part for me. I had been running faster for the last few miles and when I passed the 11 mile mark, I started to push even harder. I checked my phone and saw that I only had 15 minutes to run the last two miles in order to make my time of 2:30. I knew I had it in me to run a little faster, but 7 minute miles was too much to hope for. I would just do my best and that would be good enough! So I pushed myself to speed up, skipping the last few offerings of water and trying not to get distracted by all the end of race hoopla.
The crowd was thicker along the sidelines now and they were more boisterous than ever. Beach culture was showing itself in the form of wacky outfits and a few odd people screaming at us who seemed only to want attention. Even more people were walking now, some jogging a few paces and then walking again. I felt myself feeling superior because I knew I was running the whole thing and I thought about how just a few miles earlier I was feeling so insecure and worried that I wasn’t as good as anyone else. It’s a funny game the mind plays of feeling less than or better than, just to motivate the id. I guess that’s why at least. In the end, I knew I was just another slob doing her best, just like everybody else. When I had the finish line in my sights, I sprinted the rest of the way, pushing through the crowd and finishing in 2:32.
The absolute best part of the day was right after I finished. Walking through the corridor of people handing me things like metals and water and food and taking pictures and looking for my family. To have the culmination of all that training behind me was a great sensation and one I won’t forget. I don’t know if I will run another huge (12,000 people!) race like that again. But if I do, I hope I’ll be able to outrun the crowd.