(Crossposted on Operation 26.2)

Honestly, signing up for and running the BAA Half Marathon on Sunday was worth it the moment I started to walk down Lansdowne Street during my meandering route to the start line. It was a crisp morning and I’d seen dawn reflected off the windows of the Hancock as the Red Line passed over the Longfellow Bridge. Fenway was waking up, slowly starting to prepare for the playoff game just hours away, and I was able to walk the sidewalks surrounding it in quiet, soaking up inspiration and touching Teddy’s cleat for good luck.

The knee felt great and my body was wired despite my complete inability to sleep the night before. I felt like a runner ready to take on the course. I’d trained, prepared and psyched myself up, and the confidence was only bolstered by the text messages I was receiving from friends and loved ones.

(Know a runner? Send them an encouraging text before a big race. It does make a difference.)

I was blaring Kevin Rudolf (“Let It Rock”), Jay-Z and Linkin Park (“Points of Authority/99 Problems”) as I made my way down Jersey Street to Roberto Clemente Field, where I laced up, pinned, stretched and quelled the jitters that were starting to set in. When the horn sounded, my part of the 5,000 runner field cheered and began to bounce up and down as we walked our way up to the starting line and took off past the crowd of well-wishers on either side that created a gauntlet of positive energy that put a grin on my face I couldn’t repress.

The pace was slow during the first stretch, as the field was thick with runners committed to not overdoing it at the start. I wove my way in and out a bit over the course of the first two miles, all the while conscious of the fact that it’s easy to accidentally adopt a faster pace than you should. The adrenaline and competitive spirit can cut time off your pace that you come to regret in the later miles.

All in all, however, I was feeling good. Confident. Settled into a pace that allowed me to enjoy the signs that were on display, the clusters of friends and loved ones peppered along the route to cheer for a specific runner or – and this is truly awesome – to just cheer on all the runners. I saw a little girl clutching a sign that said, “HOORAY!” as she and her family cheered everyone on.

The field grew less dense and the crowds thinned as we made our way along, but the weather was perfect – sunny and warming up, but still a gorgeous autumn day – as I realized that I was feeling AWESOME. I knew that the knee would begin to bother me at some point, so I elected to make the most of the time I had and increase my pace. It was all about strategy: if it came to be that I would have to slow down my pace or walk, I’d be able to have more time with which to work and still reach the finish line before my 2 hour 30 minutes deadline.

half marathonWe wove our way along until we were crossing the Forrest Hills overpass. The view of the Boston skyline was gorgeous, putting into context how far we’d come. I chose to ignore how far we still had to go and focused instead on continuing my way through the Franklin Zoo to the halfway point…

…at which point the knee started to hurt.

Nonononononononono.

Technically, I had two options: push through or stop and have someone take me back to the finish line. But really, I had one option.

I don’t not finish things.

So the second half of my first half marathon experience was pretty much agony. I hobbled, jobbled (which is what I now refer to as hobbling and jogging at the same time), walked with a look that I hope was more “Eyes of the Tiger” than “pissed off girl” and otherwise counted down the miles that stood between me and my medal. I passed other walkers. Others passed me. Spectators cheered me on, some offering up the ultimate runner lie – “You look great!” – but one saying exactly what I needed to hear when she yelled, “YOU ARE SO STRONG!”

Truth. I was strong. I was running 6.5 miles on one freakin’ leg.

The pain intensified as I continued. What started with my knee spread up and down my leg until I could feel it at my hip and my calf. Whenever I thought to myself that I might not be able to finish, my stubborn side kicked in and told the rest of me to shut up. I had time to work with and I’d worked too damn hard to get to this point and give up. My plan was to power walk the last mile up until the bend in the road that signified the approach to the finish line. My family and roommate would be there and I wanted them to see me running.

About a quarter mile before the bend, that plan flew out the window.

“VICKIE!”

Oh, balls. I turned to see my mother waving. “HOW’S THE LEG?”

“IT HURTS!” OK, run time.

half marathon3I jogged as best I could up until the bend in the road, at which point the crowd thickened. “You’re almost there!” “You’re so close!” “KEEP MOVING!” I found myself responding, my legs picking up the pace and the adrenaline flooding for one last push so that I could run to the finish line and get myself my medal, some water and hugs from my loved ones.

I’ve run races where I’ve finished strong. But I don’t think I’ve been as proud to finish strong as I did on Sunday. Even though my time (2:22:55) wasn’t what I would want in a normal situation, I like to think that the half showed not only what I’m capable of now, but what I’m going to be capable of in future runs – whether another half, the 15k I’m running on Nov. 1 in Chicago or in April when I take on the full marathon.

This is what I did hurt? Just you wait to see what I do healthy.

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