The most important part of this post is "Yay! I did it!"
On Sunday, 17 May 2009, I managed to finish the 40th Canberra Half Marathon, with a gun time of 3:01:20. Considering my pre-race goals were to (a) finish it and (b) get there in approx 3 hours I'm pretty happy with that result. Mind you, it took me a while to realised that I'd achieved my goals. Even after all the training I managed to crash and burn at the 15 km mark. The last six kms were simply horrendous at the time. Funnily enough, when I look back on it, they're the six kms that make me proud because I got through them.
Lots of great things happened on my journey to that finish line. Realising that I could run the distance after I made it around West Basin the first time was a wonderful moment. Knowing that TB was cooking me pasta on Friday and Saturday night to help me fuel up for the race made me grateful again for having such a wonderful partner. He remembered that we'd gone to a pasta night the year before, when Jess and Nicole ran the half marathon, and decided to make sure that I had plenty of carbohydrates before I ran. I made some new running friends too, which is always a bonus.
On the morning of the race I was keen to get there. TB offered to drop me at Lennox Gardens, but I assured him that I'd be able to find parking without any trouble. I told him I'd be home around one and headed off in his ute, after checking that he didn't need it. Driving to a half marathon in a V8 is quite motivational. All that power under the bonnet!
Parking wasn't as easy as I expected. There were people and cars everywhere. I found a park and was on my way out through a gate when somebody warned me that they were locking the gate shortly. Thank goodness I was still there and could move the car. I relocated myself to the other side of Commonwealth Avenue and walked a bit further than I'd planned. I was on my way to meet the other five (Krissi, Lola, Julie, Amy and Laura) when I passed the queue to the toilets. I reconsidered, joined the queue, and finally got myself to the meeting point with a few minutes to spare. Krissi had been starting to panic that I'd decided to pull out. I have to admit, when I saw the crowd the thought did cross my mind. "What am I doing?" I thought. "Why don't I just run 21.1 km another day when there's nobody around?"
Lola, Julie and I were running together. This is us before the race. Don't we look fresh and happy?
The other three were planning to run much faster than us. While they moved off into the crowd of runners waiting for the start we found ourselves a position at the back of the field. I think we enjoyed the start much more than they did because we had a lot more room to move. It was hard to hold back when the crowd of over 800 runners headed off into the distance, but we managed to run the first section quite sensibly. Here's us at the start. Lola is leading the way.
We were running a bit ahead of schedule but we were soon left well behind everyone else. There were a few people just in front of us and a couple of ladies who were walk/running who kept passing us briefly and then catching us up. A race medic on a bike came to check out how we were going at about the 3 km mark. He encouraged us to keep a steady pace and told us he'd check up on us again about half way.
At the 5 km mark we were still ahead of schedule. We expected to run about 8:30 mins/km over the race but we were averaging at about 7:45 mins/km at that stage. We were averaging around 8 mins/km at the 10 km mark which surprised all three of us. After the half way point I started to fall behind but I was still feeling good at the 12 km mark where I was pleasantly surprised to see TB waiting for me. I really hadn't expected him to be there so it was a huge morale boost. He jogged along beside me in his jeans for a short while, then headed off home to hang out some washing, with the promise that he'd be there to meet me at 12 pm, which is when I expected to cross the line. At that stage I had started to have visions of being there 10 minutes earlier.
I was starting to feel the run but I was still confident of managing to run the whole way around. I stopped for a badly needed toilet break, which took me 90 seconds, and then headed off again. Fontessa, a new running friend I met through Krissi, had offered to run part of the way with me. I met her at about the 14.5 km mark. I was struggling up that hill, which wasn't all that big a hill, so I was delighted to see her. Then I don't know what happened. I saw the 15 km marker and I broke. I just couldn't run past it. I dropped to a walk. I managed to get myself running again, but only for a short distance.
Mentally I was a mess. I didn't say much to Fontessa about it, because I didn't want to ruin her day, but I was in the depths of despair. For some reason I decided that I wasn't going to be able to run another step. I worked out that it would take me an hour to walk 6 km to the finish at my fast walking pace. Then my maths brain went to mush and I decided that I wouldn't be able to finish in anything under 3.5 hours. In fact, I was sure it was going to take me 4 hours. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry. In fact, if Fontessa hadn't been there, I think I would have.
I came up with all sorts of solutions. Maybe I could call TB and he could pick me up. Maybe I could suggest to Fontessa that we run back to her car and drive around to the finish line. Maybe I could ask one of the officials to give me a ride back with them when they packed up. In the meantime, Fontessa was coming up with all sorts of encouraging suggestions. Perhaps setting a goal ahead to run to would help. "I don't think so," I would reply in what I thought of as a sad pathetic voice, suitable for a loser who couldn't run any further than 15 km. She'd jog along beside me as I walked. I'd try to run again, thinking darker and more desperate thoughts. I felt guilty because I was ruining Fontessa's run. I felt guilty because I was going to be late to the finish line. I felt guilty because I was letting everyone down by failing to run the whole way. I felt guilty because those walk/run ladies were now out of sight somewhere ahead of me.
I realised that I was last as there was an official riding a bike just behind me. I'd been so sure that I was going to finish ahead of the walk/run ladies.
Then a light dawned. I used to be one of those walk/run ladies. I used to push myself through walk/run intervals. Maybe I could do it again. After all, my goal was to finish the half marathon. I'd vowed I'd get across the line even if I had to walk the last few kms.
I started running for a minute and then walking for a minute. Fontessa kept encouraging me and trying to distract me with general chatter. Somewhere I changed from running a minute at a time to running to a tree or a signpost. I told Fontessa that her goal idea was working for me and she started setting the goals for me, a little further than I would have set them, but I dug deep and headed for her goals. After a couple of kms of this I tried to run a bit further than the goal each time. I made it past the point where we used to meet to start our long runs and I came to a halt again. "I can't run any more," I said. "I'll walk from here."
Fontessa stopped jogging and started walking with me. We turned a bend and I saw a lovely long flat stretch of bike path beside the lake. I started to run again, telling Fontessa I was going to make it to the official at the foot of the Commonwealth Bridge. She started jogging with me again, encouraging me all the way. On that stretch I decided that I was going to walk up to the highest point on the bridge and then try to run the rest of the way. I managed to get myself going again. Fontessa chatted away, distracting me, and I kept running.
I saw TB sitting on a bench a short distance before the finish line. I was so glad to see him. I just wanted to run over to him, hug him and burst into tears, but I wanted to finish the run more. I knew he'd be disappointed if I stopped so close to the finish line so I said a quick hello and kept going.
On my way to the finish line I saw another running friend, Michael. He was yelling out encouragement. I didn't say anything to him. I had my eyes on that finish line. Fontessa stopped running with me and let me run towards it by myself. As I ran up the grass I could hear my name being called out by other running friends. Even crowd members were yelling "Go Kathy". I could hear the announcer encouraging me. I heard a squeal and then saw Krissi tearing down beside the ropes to scream encouragement at me. On the inside I would have loved to do the whole arms in the air and enjoy the moment thing but I just put my head down and ran to that line. I was never so glad to stop running in my life.
That's me, a moment after I crossed the line. I'm amazed that I don't look like I'm about to collapse. I saw the 3 hours on the clock and I heard people yelling "Three hours, well done!" as I passed them, but it didn't register that I'd made it in the time I'd hoped until about half an hour later.
I found all the girls I'd trained with and congratulated them. I said hi to the running girls who'd come out to the finish to congratulate Lola and I on our first half marathon. I found Fontessa to thank her and TB found me and gave me a huge hug. I did all that in a daze of disappointment. I was trying so hard not to let people know that I was miserable. I was smiling and thanking people for their support and being pleased with their times and all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of failure. I really couldn't leave there fast enough.
I was dropping Fontessa back at her car before heading home. TB had magically managed to park next to me, so we walked over to the cars together. I'm glad I didn't park further away! He offered to drive Fontessa back for me, but I wanted to thank her again for all her encouragement so I took her. It was something Fontessa said, although I don't remember what, that made me realise that I had indeed achieved exactly what I'd set out to achieve. I think maybe that the sugar from the fruit juice they handed me with my participant's medal had kicked in to, and that my brain was finally starting to process information again. I suddenly snapped out of it and realised that I had done it!
It wasn't until much later in the day that I finally asked TB if he thought I'd come last. I was pretty sure I had but I needed to check. He laughed and assured me that I had. I asked him how he knew. There might have been a runner another five minutes behind me. "The fire truck took off when they saw you were ok." I hadn't realised that the firemen had also been keeping an eye on me. Fontessa had remarked that she hoped they were cute but I didn't have enough energy to check them out when we went past them.
The provisional results are out now and I definitely was last. I came 843rd and I'm so proud that I achieved a placing instead of a DNF.
All the training paid off. I was a little sore after the run but I recovered even faster than I did after the last long run before the race. The next morning, when I was driving to work, I decided that I'd run in next year's half marathon. This time I'm going to cross the line in less than 3 hours!