Crossing the finish line. Us runners will do just about anything to achieve that brief moment of pure joy when we finally stride across the last timing mat of a race. Then we go back to analyzing the clock, nit-picking every moment of the race – “oh, I totally could have shaved a few seconds off if I had pushed that last hill,” and trying to recover our freshly tight muscles. We overcome a lot before we get to cross the finish line. We wake up early for races, try to eat the right foods at the right time, dodge hundreds of other runners for the first mile before we get into rhythm, battle our screaming legs and play the same mental mind games again and again. At the Frederick Half Marathon, one of my obstacles on the journey to cross the finish line included convincing a medic that I was stable enough to get from mile 12.5 to 13.1.
My college teammate Christine and I had been planning to run the Frederick Half Marathon for months. I actually registered back in December (proud moment for actually doing something ahead of time). Last Friday, Christine made the trek from Troy, New York to Baltimore to stay with me for the weekend. Her visit consisted of lots of yummy food and catching up. On Sunday, our alarms went off at 4:15am and we stumbled out the door to drive an hour to Frederick, Maryland for the 7am race. The two of us are very much of the same page with our running at the moment – we have both come to realization that maintaining running is tough while balancing a full time job. We run when we can with local groups and on our own but we are not serious about our training at this point. Christine and I were looking forward to a comfortably hard long run – we would give it our best but weren’t planning on racing (if we were, she would be miles ahead of me anyways).
After getting my hair braided and shuffling through a pitifully short warm-up, we were off! We dodged hundreds of the few thousand other runners in the race for the first mile but quickly settled into our pace. We were surprised to see that our miles were flying by fast and we were comfortably running faster than expected – coasting at 7:20-7:35 pace. One dud mile floated back to a 7:38 but we quickly regained our pattern. It was so nice to have a friend chugging along by my side. I remember thinking that it would have felt a million times harder to run that pace without Christine right next to me. We felt even and steady and kept passing other runners one by one. We didn’t even talk much but knowing I had a fellow Marist red fox with me was all I needed to get through.
The last three miles of the course were definitely the toughest. Miles one through 10 were filled with rolling hills through neighborhoods and lines of shops. The course was lovely! Then after mile 11, longer hills emerged for a challenging last 5K. I definitely started to fatigue – looking back this was the longest I had run since my half marathon last June, but I figured it was just because we were nearing the end of the race. I kept on telling Christine to go ahead because I could tell she was hurting less than me, even as we kept an even pace.
Then came mile 12.5. I guess I should start by clarifying – I do have a history of fainting starting from when I was an infant and I can remember passing out about once or twice a year through elementary and middle school. Once from my third grade teacher describing an eye surgery, a couple of times from a steamy shower, once while jump roping in gym class. A particularly bad fall on the cement during swim team practice landed me a trip to the emergency room. These cases were much worse as I hadn’t figured out the warning signs and often the episodes involved mild seizures.
I eventually learned to sit down and put my head between my knees when I felt “the feeling” – black splotches closing in on my vision and numbness washing over my body. Eventually these episodes disappeared – only re-emerging when I was really sick or on an extremely hot day. Also for those curious, I have been tested for everything under the sun – I wore a heart monitor, had brain scans, took blood tests and nothing out of the ordinary besides low blood pressure and sodium levels. I really could write an entire post of this but we are summarizing here (reminder that this post is actually a half marathon race recap).
My fainting episodes made a re-appearance during my junior and senior year of college. Eventually, it was more rare for me to remain vertical after a race then it was for me to find myself stumbling around or on the ground somewhere shortly after the finish line. I would feel the feeling coming on towards the end of races – the last lap of a 3K track race, the final half mile of a 6K cross country race – and fight through it with the only thought in my head being “cross the line and then you can go down.”
Unfortunately, at mile 12.5 of the Frederick half marathon, I did not have those warning signs. Suddenly I found myself perching on the pavement, thinking “I can’t believe this is happening right now.” These moments are a little fuzzy for me but I can remember trying to stand and then stumbling down again and staring at my hands on the ground thinking, “Am I going to have to crawl the last half mile?” Definitely a dramatic thought but my hazy brain was latching on to any idea for how to move towards my final destination.
A nearby race official eventually came over as Christine helped me stand. At this point, I knew that if I could stand, I could run. But, the official, being a sensible person, wanted to make sure that I was in fact stable enough to continue. As I watched a few hundred runners race past us, Christine and I waited for a medic truck so the official could check my vitals and medical history. And even though I was stationary, my runner brain was still racing – “you only have a half mile to go. There is no way you are not crossing that finish line. You can’t race 12 and a half miles and then stop. No way are you letting this happen.” On the outside I was trying to remain calm and logical while planning my escape route in case I needed to sprint away from the official, “please sir, please let me finish the race, I know myself and I feel fine.” I really was begging at this point. All this time, my dear friend Christine stayed by my side and helped convince the official that she would with me the rest of the way.
In total, we stopped for about five to six minutes, and when we started up again I felt horrible. I was trying to get up to speed again but my legs felt like lead and I had a sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to stay vertical for long. Christine and I ran the last .6ish of a mile and crossed that finish line. I experienced that brief moment of joy when all the pain for last hour and 45 minutes felt worth it…and promptly collapsed again. The medical team at the race was amazing and once again, Christine stayed by my side while I regained my vitals in the med tent (is she a great friend or what?).
The funniest part of this whole experience – at some point during that 12.5 mile pit stop, I stopped my watch (a subconscious habit?) so I have our unofficial running time – 1:39:03. A time I’m sure would have been even faster had we not have stopped. A time that would have been a half marathon PR for me. Am I upset? How can I be? I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon in almost a year with wonderful friend by my side and got my moment of joy.
Garmin mile splits: 7:47, 7:35, 7:26, 7:20, 7:26, 7:29, 7:20, 7:38, 7:28, 7:25, 7:28, 7:48, 7:53
However, that was not the only finish line I had to reach that day. After a stay in the med tent and figuring out how to retrieve our medals and running jackets emblazoned with the Maryland flag (best premiums ever), Christine and I bolted back to my house for quick showers so we could start the two and a half hour drive to Rider University where our college team was competing in the second day of our conference championships. I think I sweat more during that car ride than the half marathon because I was so focused on getting there in time with the traffic on the roads. Thankfully, we arrived with a few minutes to spare before two of our best friends stepped on the track for their last race in Marist uniforms.
We cheered our teammates on during the 5K race and then sprinted to the finish line to watch them cross that final time and experience their own brief moments of pure joy. All the driving and hustling was worth it when my best friend Annie locked eyes with me and promptly started crying, hence making me cry. Christine and I had so much fun surprising everyone; we had planned this moment for as long as we had been planning to run the Frederick Half. These emotional moments made me think – sometimes it’s not about crossing the finish line yourself, it’s about being there for others when they cross and experiencing that joy right alongside them.
When people ask me about the Frederick Half, I reply, “It was fun!” because really it was! I got to cross a finish line for the first time in 2017 with one of my best friends by my side AND was healthy enough to go on with my day to be there to support my red fox teammates as they crossed their own finish line. That’s a pretty amazing day if you ask me.
And now, more than ever, I’m fired up and looking for as many finish lines to cross as I can! Any suggestions for late summer/early fall half marathons?