My original A race for the year is in the books! I registered for the Celebration Half Marathon a while ago and was counting it as an A race for 2018. This was before I knew I would be running Chicago, but I’ve got time to make that an A race too. Last weekend will go down as one of the most fun and inspiring races to date. I loved almost every minute of it. I’ll get to the minutes I did not love shortly. Here we go!

A couple of ladies I coach (Jenni and Jen) had asked if I wanted to stay with them and some of our other running buddies at a vacation rental home they had access to and stayed at last year. I enjoyed Celebration two years ago when I ran it and so I decided it would be a fun little girls trip this year. I knew I wanted to run the half and I waited until last week to really lock in a goal pace. Based on my 5K time and the humidity I decided a 1:50 would be challenging and yet still attainable. Both Coach Jon and Coach Nick offered me sage advice pre race about embracing the suck and going after it. I have had some ups and downs in my long runs lately so I was a little concerned I’d mentally suffer. I listened carefully to what they said and filed it into that part of my brain that holds sage advice I sometimes ignore.

In addition, another athlete I coach, and dear friend, Judy, would be racing the full marathon and going after a Boston Qualifier (BQ). This was a pretty big deal as she had always sworn off the full marathon after not really enjoying it in years past. This changed when she realized how the BQ was within her grasp and I fully supported it. (Along with her besties and family, of course.) Judy is an easy athlete to coach. She does everything I say and is mentally very tough. She makes my job as a coach easy.

Oh and lest I forget my buddy’s Kevin, Harold, and Cate were also running the full. Essentially it was a big old party in Celebration. And by party I mean quiet dinner and bed by 8:30 at the VRBO. (I may have been uninvited for next year due to my asking for a bit more quiet at bedtime. Every party’s got a pooper…)

Anyway, my friend Kelly and I decided to caravan over to Celebration on Saturday afternoon and meet the rest of the ladies, sans Judy, who was staying elsewhere, at the VRBO. We grabbed our packets and chilled out a bit before dinner. Some of our group headed to Bongo’s for Cuban while a few stayed in, and Kelly and I went to an Italian place to meet Judy and Brenda. Confused yet? Yes, there were a lot of us!

Over dinner we talked about our goals. Judy seemed ready to rock and roll. I felt pretty good about the 1:50 but of course secretly hoped I could break that. It’s been quite some time since I’ve gone sub 1:50. My all time PR is 1:44 so I definitely want to keep working my way down to that. It may never happen, but I will keep trying.

Fast forward to race morning – it’s early. We get to the race start at 5:00 AM as we all want to park close to the finish line. It’s a relatively small race, capped at about 1,800 total for the full and half. And since I knew I was staying to cheer Judy in, getting a close spot was crucial. I wanted to have a clean change of clothes nearby. I got to see my two other athletes, Jenni and Jen, off to the start. We were all a little unhappy about the humidity and warm-ish temps that were creeping up as the day progressed. But I told them to do their best and I would do the same. I also got to see Judy and was really pleased when she said she felt more confident in herself than she had at marathons past. This was a sure sign to me that this was going to be her day.

I lined up more toward the front of the race than my 1:50 finish time goal but I know this race has some narrow and winding boardwalk sections and I wanted to be in front in case I needed to pass anyone. I was respectful during the race to stay to the right lest someone needed to pass me. After the national anthem, at 7:00 AM, we were off.

One thing Coach Jon had said to me, that I often say to my own athletes, was to start conservatively and “don’t get greedy.” What do I do immediately at mile two? I get greedy. I had that, “Oh but I feel so good!” moment and hopped onto the 3:35 marathon pace group. They were running an 8:12/mile average and I thought I could hang on and get that sub 1:50. As it turns out, by mile five, this was a mistake. I let them go and tried to hang on to 8:15-8:20.

As I ran, I reminded myself of how badly I wanted this 1:50. I was sweating buckets and wished I could take off my tank top but my dang bib had the timing chip and I didn’t want to deal with that. I read the funny signs along the course and laughed when I saw one that read, “Surely you can’t be serious. I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley!” And then another one read, “Have fun storming the castle!” I’m a sucker for movie quotes and I enjoyed these signs immensely. The race had put out a ton of these signs along a boring stretch of road and they really helped. (I may have suggested this to a race director I know very well.)

At mile eight it was a fight to stay on pace. I saw Coach Nick at mile 10 cheering and yelling to me that Kevin was just ahead of me, which I knew as I’d watched his bright orange Tribal tank from behind for about five miles. Nick’s presence gave me the boost I needed as I had dropped to an 8:25. I picked it back up and hung on. Those last three miles were tough as hell. I yelled internally, “HOW BAD DO YOU WANT THIS?” and did the best I could to acknowledge the pain but not let it slow me down. I ran this race with more heart than I can say.

My friend Michael ran by me around mile 11.5 and I knew he was aiming for a 1:50 too so I tried to stick with him, but he had a bit more pep than I did. I knew I’d be cutting it close. At mile 13 I saw Judy’s husband, Hugo, and their boys cheering and offering a lot of cowbell. It was awesome. Hugo snapped this pic, I was hurting. You can see that plainly on my face and in that form. Yowza.

Fortunately I only had a bit left to go and I ran as hard as I could knowing it was going to be a squeeze. When I saw 1:50 and change on the clock I knew I’d make it. And I did! My official time was 1:50:27! Good enough for 12th out of 172 in my age group.

After grabbing my medal and water (and sitting on the ground for several minutes stretching), I headed to my car and met up with Kelly. Kelly hit her sub 2:00 goal and we discussed the humidity. It had begun to get warmer so I checked my phone for updates on Jenni, Jen, Judy and quite a few others.

Kelly and I changed our clothes and met up with a few from our crew who had finished as more of my group that was running the half came in. We got some food and found a spot to cheer runners in. I was communicating with Hugo as to where Judy was and when she was at mile 21 I got a stomach ache because I was so anxious for her! I seriously had to dash to a porta-potty while talking with friends. Ha!

Me, Coach Nick, and Kelly post race.

As Judy got closer our little group grew when Hugo and the rest of Judy’s support team all gathered near the finish line. Harold came in just in front of Judy so I got see him even though it was he who saw me first! It’s nerve wracking to be a coach waiting on an athlete trying to BQ. It’s normally nerve wracking waiting for any athletes to finish when they have big goals, but I’ve known and coached Judy for so long now that I was getting super emotional knowing she’d make it. And of course, soon enough, we saw her across this little body of water and screamed our heads off.

Judy’s BQ time is 4:00, so we all know she needed to run faster than that to actually register. She came running in and I ran with her and we held hands for bit as I told her let’s go Judy! I let her go and into the chute she went for a finish time of 3:57:08! She’d done it! She BQ! Time will tell if it’s enough to register, but I couldn’t be more proud of her!

Me and Boston Qualifier Judy!

Why yes I am happier for her than I am for my own race finish. It’s a big accomplishment and the fact that she trusts me to help her achieve her goals is just a phenomenal feeling. I am SO proud of you and INSPIRED by you Judy!

I don’t know how to finish this post as it was such a cool day. My athletes all did well and hung tough in less than ideal conditions. I’m really impressed by everyone who ran yesterday and I highly recommend the Celebration races. Congrats to all!