Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Half That Kicked My Ass Across the Finish Line...AFM 2012

Today I really don't feel up to focusing on current "stuff."  I don't want to write about stents or bloating or being exhausted.  I just want to think about getting back to running. I've been reading about it all day. Other people's experiences with marathons, ultra, and trail running.  So, I decided share my own story and at the same time be a bit lazy.  This is my descriptive essay from last fall's English 101 course.  I wrote about running the Air Force HALF Marathon. The flow is different from my natural, free writing style since it is a more formal paper.  (all photos are my own...and I DID get an A.) 
The 2012 United States Air Force Marathon is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.  The pre-race anticipation of the crowd was energizing. The experience of meeting new people along the route was inspiring.  Learning what it means to “hit the wall” was humbling.  And being able to finish a 13.1 mile race meant more to me than I ever imagined.

    The morning of the race we arrived at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at 6:30 am.  The sun had just started peaking over the horizon. Venus was still visible in the sky.  The air was crisp and the mist was low to the ground.  It was a perfect morning for our first half marathon.  As we passed through the security check I started feeling the energy of the crowd.  People were milling about, jumping up and down, trying to keep their muscles warm before the gun fired.  There were runners checking in bags at the baggage claim tent.  These people were the smart ones.  They would have dry clothes after the race. And more importantly, they would have comfortable, loose fitting shoes in which to make the trek back to their cars. There were also hundreds of people in line at the porta potties, bouncing from side to side with pre-race anticipation. I do not think I have ever seen so many blue outhouses in one place in my life. Oddly, the same people who were just minutes away from either running or walking 6.2, 13.1, or 26.2 miles were not willing to walk a few extra yards to an empty porta john.  
Early morning mist before AFM start
      As time got closer to the start of the full marathon, a group of about 14 airman lined up near us; all carrying fully loaded back packs weighing about 60lbs each. Two were carrying flags; one with the U.S. flag, one with the Air Force flag.  Over the loud speaker, the announcer told us to prepare for our National Anthem. The airman stood at attention and the crowd encircled them.  As the woman began to sing, you could have heard a pin drop.  Everyone stood respectfully, some with hands on their hearts, some with hands clasped behind their backs.  I truly believe this was the most emotional National Anthem I have experienced.  There was something special about hearing an Air Force officer singing live, while looking at the flag being held by one of our servicemen.  As I looked around, I saw grown men wiping tears from their eyes. 
Loaded down getting ready to run the 10K

     It was time for us to retreat to the sidelines so the 10K and full marathon runners could line up.  Just seconds before the gun went off; the B-2 Spirit graced us with a flyby. I have seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for how large the stealth bomber was.  It looked like a giant black triangle, yet it managed to be beautiful and elegant.  I was also unprepared for how quiet it was.  One would think that by its name, I would have expected that. But after living near an Air Force base the better part of my life, I was still anticipating the body shaking rumble of afterburners. 
B-2 Flyover

      The runners lined up according to their expected finish time. Some were running with official pace teams, to keep them on track for a 3 hour 5 minute marathon finish, down to a 5 hour finish time.  And there were those at the front of the line, who ran alone, who would finish in well under 3 hours, the elite runners who easily qualified for the big one, the Boston Marathon. There was also an unofficial “back of the pack” pace team whose goal was just to finish by the 7 hour cut off time. I was in awe of all of these runners and walkers. They were about to do something I could only dream of.  They were about to conquer 26.2 miles. I was only going for  half that distance and the thought scared me. 
Runners lining up

     Soon it was our turn to line up.  We headed straight for the back of the pack as we knew it would take a while to finish. Thankfully, my husband and I decided to complete this race together.  I knew I would need his encouragement to make it to the finish line.  

         The first mile and half was slow. We had six hours to complete it and knew once the crowds thinned out we could speed up.  When we reached the top of a hill, we looked down to see hundreds of runners in front of us, fighting their way through a bottle neck.  This was a little distressing to see. But the good thing about being at the back of the pack, it allows time for things like that to clear out.  

     At mile five I saw a young man, about my son’s age, in fatigues carrying a loaded backpack.  As I got closer to him, I noticed the name on his bag was Jenson. I saw that he was hunched over holding his arms across his chest. I realized he not only had a fully loaded rucksack, he was also wearing a weighted breast plate. I walked next to him and I asked how much weight he was carrying. He told me it was eighty-five pounds.  I smile and told him I thought he was amazing and then I picked up my pace so he would not see me start to cry.  I am grateful for our military, but as a mom, all I can think about when I see these young men and women is how I should be protecting them, not the other way around.  
Thank you for your service.

     By mile eight, I hit my first wall. I had always heard about the dreaded wall, but never truly experienced it.  At this point on the course we hit a long and steep highway overpass. Halfway over the bridge I started crying a second time, now out of frustration. I told my husband I was not sure I could finish and that I would NEVER do this again. He grabbed my hand and told me to go at my own pace, we would finish this. After a few minutes I started thinking about Jenson and how he would have to walk this same overpass. I also thought about my cousin, who was suffering from complications after having a C-section just days before.  I knew I would never forgive myself if I gave up. I decided if my own pride was not enough motivation for me to finish, then I could at least finish for them. 
My first wall. THIS SUCKED SO HARD!

     By the time we reached the end of the overpass, I was feeling a second wind. As we approached mile nine, we heard spectators cheering on the runners. Soon I was able to hear our daughters yelling. Seeing them sent me over the edge and I started crying, yet again, this time out of pride; pride for myself and for my wonderful girls who were doing their best to encourage us. Thankfully, I was drinking plenty of water and Gatorade, so I stayed hydrated.  
My second wind.

     The next two miles were not bad.  The volunteers at mile ten handed us cold wet sponges. Although it was only 70 degrees, we were still very warm. The cold water running over our heads and down our backs was invigorating.  By mile eleven volunteers were cheering us on saying, “Only 2.1 miles to left! You’ve got this!”  Here is when I hit wall number two. And when I wanted to punch someone for telling me I “ONLY” had 2.1 miles to go. In my head, 2.1 sounded like 100. 
Wall #2. "Only 2.1 miles to go!" Screw You!!!

     Somewhere between miles eleven and twelve, I needed to stretch my legs. We veered off the course to sit in the grass.  Within half a minute of sitting down, two EMTs on bikes stopped to make sure we were okay. We told them we only needed to stretch, but they insisted on staying with us until we were back on our feet.  I made sure to thank them for being there for the runners.  

   About a quarter mile later we saw a runner on the side of the road curled up on his side. He was in a lot of pain. Unfortunately, the EMTs had gone in the opposite direction.  We could hear other runners ask if he was OK, but nobody stopped to help.  As we got closer my husband ran across the road and asked if he could help him up. He said no, but it was obvious that he could not stand on his own.  Another woman stopped and together they helped the man up. They draped his arms over their shoulders and helped support him for about a quarter of a mile. He was able to work out his leg cramps and after a time started walking on his own. As I watched my husband walk with the man I temporarily forget out my own discomfort. Seeing him help someone else was inspiring and I could not have been more proud to be his wife.

Unfortunately, after the man was able to walk on ahead of us, I was reminded that I still had another mile to go, and somehow that seemed impossible. The last mile was very slow going. Every time I tried to speed up, my legs resisted. During the last half mile, I could see the finish line. Instead of feeling elated, I was feeling defeated. I had wanted to finish this race with a smile and energy to spare. That was not going to happen. I tried to run the last few yards, but my claves cramped up. Instead of crossing the finish feeling like I had just conquered a half marathon, I limped across the line feeling like 13.1 miles had conquered me. As I hobbled through the finishers corral, a female Air Force Bird Colonel looked me in the eye, said “Congratulations, Elizabeth” and put my finisher’s medal around my neck, I changed my mind.  I most certainly did conquer a half marathon. 

Next time I WILL get to enjoy the finish.

     Although this was one of the most physically and emotionally challenging things I have ever done, I am grateful to have had the experience.  I learned a lot about people’s characters, especially that of my husband. I was confronted with many of my own weakness and managed to overcome them. And finding out that I have the ability to finish 13.1 miles in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 20 seconds has given me the belief that there are many more challenges ahead that I have the strength to surmount—maybe even another half marathon.
Why the hell don't I have a picture with my medal??


  1. Stop making me cry! That was beautiful!

  2. You don't have the picture with the medal because we didn't buy it.

  3. Great essay Beth! Yep, it definitely brought tears. You are so inspiring.