For the second year, I traveled to Champaign, IL to participate in events from Illinois Marathon Weekend. No marathon for me; this year I did a Friday night 5K and a Saturday morning half marathon.
And lived to tell the tale.
See, while Friday night's weather was perfect, Saturday's forecast was fraught with peril. Rain pretty much from the starting gun through mid-afternoon. Plus lightening, and even a bit of "tornadic activity." (Sidebar: "tornadic" is just an awesome word.) Still, we forged ahead, and at first it wasn't bad. I ran the first full hour with just a bit of a mist and a few legit showers.
That's the point at which all hell began to break loose. The rain kicked in for real, and the entire field of runners just sort of slogged through the streets of Champaign.
Runners wearing rain ponchos is kind of a sight to behold, but there was really no way to keep warm and dry. (You know how they talk about Arizona being a dry heat? Well, here in the midwest, we have a wet cold.) I had contemplated taking off my outer layer (which is now in the trash, thanks to a winning combination of rain, sweat and what's left after having been used as an impromptu tissue for about four miles) and I am so glad I didn't, because my last hour was a chilly endeavor like none I've ever experienced.
Around mile seven, I got sick to my stomach from taking Gu without water. (Note to self: don't do that.) It quickly exited my stomach of its own accord, and I shook it off as best I could. My fellow runners and I made our way through the course, bolstering each others' attitudes as we went. I am convinced that many fewer runners would have gotten this far without the amazing volunteers and spectators who showed up. It was rare to go very far without someone there to cheer, play music or shout encouragement. There were plenty of water stops, and even one with fresh orange slices. Truth is, Champaign knows how to support runners ... even in the worst of conditions.
Nearing mile 11, I was passing a frat house with a porch full of cheering fans and a huge yellow lab. They were playing music, and it inspired me to try speeding up a little. Which was a huge mistake; instantly, my left quad seized up and I started to fall. This was it; my race was over. But wait! One of the porch cheerers was there, catching me before I hit the road. Runners asked if I was okay as my frat friend hoisted me to the porch. His girlfriend got me water, some gel, and showed me how to stretch it out. It wasn't working; they called for a medic, and my race was over. I was close to tears, but trying to be brave.
As all this was going on, the marathon course was being evacuated. Lightening was on its way, and the race was going to be over soon. I had no idea any of this was going on, so when a little rest and stretching seemed to be working, I let the sweet medics in a golf cart know that their services would not be needed; I was going to make it to the finish line, even if I had to walk.
I walked a lot. It took me almost an hour to finish the last 5K of the course, but I made it on my own feet. Entering the stadium, it was eerily empty and quiet. While the night before it had been teeming with fans, friends and fellow athletes, today it was empty and desolate. The stadium had been evacuated and everyone was being moved to the interior areas and to safety. The jumbotron, which the night before we had seen ourselves cross the 50-yard-line today just showed a message against a red background: Athletes, please pick up your medals and exit to safety.
It took hours to get the feeling back in my extremities. Every inch of skin was pruney and water-logged. I was so hungry I could've eaten Velveeta. But I did it; I finished what I'd started.
She who does not quit can battle demons, and that's how yesterday felt. For everyone who didn't believe in me, and for every time I didn't believe in myself, I chose to keep going. And damn, that feels good.
My results were not what I wanted. I was on pace for a new PR, but with all the troubles I had, I'm pretty proud to have at least bested my last half marathon time by a tidy margin. In truth, though, I won yesterday. I entered that empty stadium triumphant.
And I wore my medals to do laundry today.