Blessings come in many different shapes & sizes

this one came in the form of 13.1 miles.

If you haven’t been brought up to speed on my mindset regarding this 2nd half marathon, you should probably start by reading this entry first.

Caught up? Ok. Good.

My hubby and I left for Mankato Saturday morning after a very tiring day dealing with some life/adoption issues Friday. I was worried because I definitely did not have a lot of hours of sleep stocked up leading into the half, and I feared my exhaustion would take over my mind and start playing tricks on me. I chose to proceed as if that wasn’t even fathomable and just powered on through the weekend.

Mankato is about 90 miles south of our house and I was looking forward to an overnight away just doing fun race-related things. We immediately made a pit stop at their local Noodles & Co (conveniently located directly across the street from the Expo) and I devoured my traditional pre-race meal of their Whole Grain Tuscan Linguine with Grilled Chicken.

After heading across the street to the expo a few really wonderful things happened.

1) I met up with Kristi, one of my fabulous running friends, who was there getting pumped up to run her FIRST MARATHON! I had a great time chatting with her, calming down a bit, and I got to meet her family.

2) I got to listen to a few of fabulous speakers that Final Stretch had booked for the expo.

3) And then THIS HAPPENED…

I know, right? JOAN BENOIT SAMUELSON and little old me!!! Did you hear me? That’s JOANIE! Shut up! I almost pooped my pants when I walked over to her table and saw I was one of only 2 people standing in line to talk with her. I kinda get just a wee bit star-struck in moments like this, so it took every ounce of my being not to stumble over my words. Our convo went something like this:

Courtenay: Hey Joan! It is so nice to meet you! Would you be willing to sign my bib?

Joan: Sure! What’s your name?

Courtenay: “I go by ‘Coco.’” (WHAT?!?!? I mean I really do go by “Coco” with my close friends, but why am I telling JB that my name is Coco? Too late).

Joan: She hesitates at “Coco”for a sec, but goes with it. Phew! As she’s signing my bib: “So you’re racing the half tomorrow…what are your goals?”

Courtenay: “I’m actually coming back from a tibial stress injury and had to take most of the summer off from all training. I was just cleared to start running again 2.5 months ago, so I’m just thankful to even be here.”

At which point she smiles and says…

Joan: “I totally get that.”

The picture was taken and then I proceeded to almost die via cardiac arrest as I walked away and let her speak with other runners.

Joan was the keynote speaker at the Expo and then went on to give an hour-long presentation on why there should never be a Finish line regarding running in our life. She had a forum for questions and I was just so enthralled the whole time. She is 55 years old and ran a sub-2:50 marathon 2 years ago in Chicago. She is totally amazing and so inspirational. I never once got the impression that she was anything but humble about who she is and all she’s achieved in life. She was literally there to just have a conversation about running and to have an awesome time running the half herself the next morning. Yeah…I totally ran the same race as Joan Benoit Samuelson (PS she came in over an hour ahead of me).

Alright! RACE DAY!

So the hubby and I clearly need to pay more attention to reviews on before booking a place. If I had, I would have been fully warned (at least 150+ times) regarding the drunk partying, unattended running/screaming children through the halls, and the freight trains that run ALL.NIGHT.LONG. right next to the hotel downtown. But alas, I did not pay attention and I basically got only 2 more hours of sleep on my already-exhausted body.

I was up and out of bed at 4:30AM. I usually get up 2 hours before I have to leave for a race so I can eat my whole wheat bagel with pb and get my bowels movin. Yep. Oh come on! We all know that runners are obsessed with pooping and it’s imperative that it happens prior to the start line, am I right?

I headed to the start around 7AM and got dropped off by my hubby and made yet another pit stop in the porta-potty. Honestly I just needed to warm up. The temp was 43 degrees, with 20 mph winds (not joking) and the wind chill was 37. I could see my breath, but the high was supposed to be in the 70s later that day, so t-shirt, shorts, and tube sock throw-away arm sleeves was what I was sportin for the race. FREEEEEEEZING. I’m so glad I wore my Zensah compression sleeves because then it was only my quads freezing up instead of my entire leg.

I was able to meet up with Kristi again and we took a pic before heading to the start.

I walked over to the group of runners lining up and saw the 2:20 pacer guy (10:42 pace). Since I had absolutely no plan other than to chillax during this entire run, I thought why not try running with a pacer for once and just see what that’s like? I knew if I stuck with this guy the whole time I 1) would be running a whole 1:20-1:15/mile slower than I normally do a lot of my runs at, 2) might have someone to talk to, and 3) would possibly PR, but knew I’d have to let him go at some point to ensure that wasn’t going to happen.

After the national anthem, we took off. I stayed about 10 feet behind this guy and felt very comfy at the pace we were heading off in. Unfortunately, he was chillin a touch faster than 10:42, and while that didn’t feel hard for me, I was a bit concerned that I would bomb out faster than I wanted to as I knew the last half of the race was a ton of hills. I stuck with him, though.

After mile 1, we found ourselves out in the middle of a corn field and farmland. It stayed that way until about 5.5. Unfortunately with the 20 mph winds, and nothing to shelter us against that, it was a bit of a challenge for all of us. I mean it was INTENSE. You all know that I hate wind. Of any element God could have thrown at me that day, wind was the worst one. Even though the wind kept catching the underside of my bib and my shirt kept trying to rise up to my throat (hello there!), I found myself actually thankful for running in what felt like a hurricane as it kept my slower pace in check and I just decided thereĀ  wasn’t the time to fight it.

At mile 4-something, my pacer guy just up and left the route and headed straight for a porta-potty. WHAT?!?!?!? Dude, I need you to keep me in check! I guess when nature calls, you gotta answer. I figured I’d never see him again, so it was up to me to just keep going with the comfy pace as I was handling it super well.

There were tons of volunteers and cheer zones along the corn fields so I had plenty of distractions and a great time just high-fiving people, making sure I stayed hydrated with both gatorade and water (although it was hard to tell the 2 apart at times), fueled with my sport beans, and I just literally took my time.

At mile 5.5 we veered off the county road and headed onto this paved trail until mile 9. I was still hanging on and had only walked 2 times through water stops, otherwise I was still running. All of a sudden, my pacer guy was back. Way to go pacer guy! He must have hauled it out of the john to get back on time. By then we’d all kinda dispersed, but he seemed to hang out right by me for a bit. Right before mile 6, I slowed down and texted my hubby to let him know where I was. I’d had specific mile marker points to text him as I was hoping to meet up with him at a spectator viewing point at mile 9.5. After a brief text, I decided to take a pic for ya’ll. Since there were no expectations, I felt free to do whatever my heart desired. Here’s mile 6 for the half marathon (it was probably mile 20 for the marathoners). Do you see my pacer guy up there in the red/yellow singlet?

The course was beautiful, but kinda manic at this point. One minutes we’re cruising along on flat ground, the next we’re going straight up a steep hill. Then, 2 minutes later, we’re going down a hill so steep that if you didn’t sit down into it and slow down, you might be propelled forward directly onto your face. I hung out with my pacer guy until 7.5 miles and then I decided that was enough and it was time for me to start doing some run/walking to the end. I hadn’t run 7.5 miles straight since my last run prior to injury on June 22nd. So the fact that I had just done that comfortably was a miracle in and of itself. I thought I’d give my body a break and run when I felt like it and walked when I needed a moment.

At mile 9, I texted the hubs again, but unfortunately, due to an unexpected barricade along his planned walking route to get to the viewing point, he missed me. There was some frantic texting after that, but I assured him he just needed to head to the finish line, that I as surprisingly feeling FABULOUS and that I’d just see him at the end.

I really was feeling fab. It was surreal. At mile 10, I glanced at my Garmin for the first time and realized if I kept going at that pace, I was going to PR. I made a decision to throw the PR away at that point. I know a lot of you are asking WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING SO STUPID?!?!? Because I worked my butt off for Fargo in May. I trained the proper way for months to ge there. That time and that race held so many different meanings for me than what I was trying to accomplish out there this past Sunday. I was out there to hang out with other runners, just run for fun, and to not get stuck in my own head or expectations. I knew I could PR, and I knew if I let my mind decide to go for it at that moment, I would have ignored any potential warning signs in that last 5K that would have been telling me to stop. It wasn’t worth it. So I purposely stopped and walked. And I walked up some hills, I jogged a bit, I even stopped to re-tie my shoes even though they hadn’t come undone. I literally just chilled. It felt great. Sure my splits were in the 11′s at that point and I think mile 11 was actually 12:02 or something like that, but I didn’t care in the slightest. I was having a blast running comfy for the first time in my entire life.

It was astounding to me that after all I’d been through in the previous months, and the fact that I literally had not trained an ounce for this race, I was out there feeling stronger than ever! I was definitely encouraged by what I was experiencing and how well my body was responding.

I tend to benchmark ALL of my training runs against a 9:45/mile pace. ALL runs. If I see anything slower than 9:45 on my Garmin, I get terrified, angry at myself and the thoughts in my head get nasty. I had just purposely run this entire race at 10:42 or slower. While I didn’t feel like I really pushed myself hard at all, I was having fun and definitely achieving what I’d set out to accomplish that day.

Around mile 12, we headed back into downtown and I could hear and see the crowd around the Verizon Wireless Center finish line. Normally finish lines like that make me antsy and they feel like they’re a million miles away and I’ll never reach them. This time around, I didn’t want to reach it so soon. I honestly did not want this run to end. Sure my hips were hurting, my shins were kinda screaming, and my left plantar fascia in my foot felt like a rubber band stretched to its breaking point, but I was ready to go further. I didn’t want to be done.

I saw my hubby off to the left right at the start of the finish line chute smiling at me, with his “Go Coco! Go!” sign and banging his cowbell. It was the fuel I needed to pull off a massive finishing kick that had me at apparently a 5:04 pace. I sped through the chute all smiles and the crowd on all sides went ballistic. Go big or go home.

The irony in all this? My time was only 3:03 slower than my 1st half in Fargo. Ya’ll…that is astounding and definitely something to rejoice. There were no tears this time, but a heck of a lot of smiling. I had conquered my mind, my body and this injury, and I crossed the finish line of a race I had sworn off months ago as even possible.

I cannot wait to see what my future holds. This was absolutely HUGE for me on so many levels. I came back stronger than ever and I am so thankful for God giving me that moment. I will cling to it in the future when the going gets tough, because it’s proof that where there’s a will, there’s a way.


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3 Responses to Blessings come in many different shapes & sizes

  1. Gigi says:

    Awesome recap…I have only done 1 half so far and I was seriously undertrained and got hurt…finished but was hurt. My next is in March and I plan to train well and have a race just like this one :)

  2. Welcome back to running and racing!!!! :) Great recap.

  3. Rachel says:

    Sounds like the perfect race. I had one like that. I ran a half 2 weeks after my fasted ever. Wasn’t sure I could even finish, but I ran slow and steady and finished like 20 minutes slower, but felt amazing doing it! So proud of your attitude.

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