Sunday morning came early, but waking up at 5:00a was easy.
I've been an athlete my entire life. Very few weekends in my lifetime do I remember sleeping in. There was always a track meet, wrestling tourney, swim meet, volleyball tourney, something happening on the weekend that I was competing in. Sleeping to the last second on competition day is not a thing. Never has been.
Usually, it was my dad who woke me up on game day. Always much earlier than I needed to be awake. He would have already been up for a while when he'd come into my room to wake me. It was the only day of the week where he was gentle about it. If it was a school day or church on Sunday he would strobe the ceiling light while saying, "It's time to get up!" with a voice like thunder until my sister and I got up.
But game day was different. Game day was special. The bathroom light would click on. Dad would walk across the floor, kneel next to my bed, place a hand on my shoulder and so as not to wake my sister whisper, "Sonya, it's time." I would get up without hesitation.
Athletics were very important in my household. My parents believed that sport and competition could not only teach us so much about how to handle real world situations, but also take us wherever we wanted to go. So Dad always wanted us (me or my siblings) to be ready for whatever the competition would bring. He woke us so vastly different on game day because he knew we would need to be calm and focused in the type of the high mental stress that is only present in a competitive setting. I truly believe that there is nothing quite like the mental toughness needed to be competitive in athletics. Your mentality will break you if you let it.
From my dimly lit room, I could sometimes hear the weather channel broadcast on the TV downstairs; other times it would be quiet with just the sound of him moving about in the kitchen. The smell of coffee and fresh refried beans climbing the stairs to my bedroom.
Game day breakfast was nearly always the same. Bean and cheese tacos on flour tortillas or beans, a fried egg and toast. Dad and I would quietly discuss how I was feeling about the competition as we ate. Me sitting at the counter, him standing at the counter's edge.
So the Sunday of the half was no different. I got up far earlier than I needed to. Got dressed by just the light from the bathroom, and moved downstairs to make coffee and beans. I sat with my thoughts for the race as I ate my avocado, fried egg, and refried beans with toast. Now, that I'm an adult I add avocado to the mix.
I didn't get in ideal training for the race; nonetheless I'd been consistent and the quality of my training was good. Those two things I knew for certain. I could have faith in that.
My friend and I got to the race early with plenty of time for a long warm up. From the moment I stepped out of the car to the time I crossed the start line I was moving and warming up.
It takes the body about 30 minutes to be fully warm you know! I see a lot of runners not spending enough time warming up. It's a common thing to use the first few miles of a race to warm up, which is not a bad way to do it, and it's what I've done in my previous halfs. Because again, I didn't have a goal or drive other than to do it. But if you want to improve on your speed you better use every mile of that race to hit your paces and you can't do that without a proper warm up. Period.
A mile into the race and I was way ahead of my training paces. But I knew the nerves would shake out after the first mile or two. I just needed to listen to my body. If I could listen to the sound of my feet and the rhythm of my breath I wouldn't run too fast too early.
At mile five I get an alert from my tracker. I'm still nearly a minute ahead of the pace I'd been training at! I felt a small tinge of panic start to creep up my spine. I hadn't even made it to the halfway point yet! But my body felt really good, so I kept listening.
In previous halfs, mile six to seven is usually where I would first stop and walk. Then I would walk on and off every 10 minutes or so for the rest of the race, but today I was gliding! I was feeling my beans and eggs! Well... feeling my Wheaties is how the saying really goes, but I like my version better.
Mile 10 of the race presents a fun little portion known as the Enfield Hills. Everyone who hasn't run the Austin Marathon or Half calls it the Enfield Hill. Singular. But anyone who has completed that course knows it's the Enfield Hills, because that stretch of road is nothing but the rolling hills that make up the Texas Hill Country.
The last 3 miles of the Austin Half are sharp up and down hills that lead into the biggest of them all. The hill at the Lamar crossroad, which feels like the most crowded portion of the race. Nearly everyone walks up the hill and the street is lined with spectators, making it a bob and weave situation. I don't think I've ever gotten up the hill without touching someone.
When you round the corner onto Enfield you're smacked in the face (or should I say the quads) with the first hill which is roughly a 43 foot incline in the space of 200 meters. At the top of the hill is the 10 mile marker, which you can't see because the hill is too steep.
I heard the whisper from somewhere deep in my mind, "This is too hard. Just walk." And I nearly listened. For the first time of the whole race I almost walked; because that was officially the farthest I'd ever run without stopping. For a split second I thought that was an accomplishment in itself. Which is was! But not enough to reward myself with a little walk break. I checked in with my feet and my breath. I was fine. I could handle this. I have felt these paces before.
And I kept running.
Just after the 10 mile marker you start going back downhill. I felt proud that I'd made it up that hill without walking! The downhill was a chance to shake my legs and catch my breath.
In that moment, on my way down the hill, out of nowhere I said aloud to myself, "I'm running with Dad."
My dad passed away in 2017. He was the biggest supporter of my siblings and I playing sports. He rarely missed any of our events. It didn't matter if he had to be on the north side of DFW in the morning for a pole vault competition and then all the way in Waxahachie in the evening for the finals of a wrestling tournament; he would be there. Hoarse from cheering all day long, but still going strong.
I started to get short of breath. Dad was talking to me. He was letting me know he was with me. That I could do this. I was beginning to hyperventilate. I could hardly breath. I was going to start sobbing if I didn't get my breathe under control, but I stayed calm and worked through the breath.
"Your mind will give up way before your body does," He told me multiple times during competition, "Don't let your mind give up. You can do anything you put your mind to."
So that's what I did. I wasn't going to stop breathing. I sure as hell wasn't going to stop running. I was going to make it to that finish line. I was going to finish that race without walking. It took about a minute to get my breathing under control again but it came back and I kept moving.
"You're gonna mess me up Dad!" I literally said this outloud with a smile. I'm sure the runners around me thought I was nuts! I had 3 miles to go and nothing could stop me now. There was no way this race was going to beat me!
My husband was in the crowd just before I got to the big Enfield Hill. I kissed him mid stride and continued to run to the sound of him yelling, "THAT'S MY WIFE!"
I bobbed to the left. I weaved to the right. I slowed on the hill a lot and bumped into a couple of people. My legs were on fire, but I was not going to walk! "I can handle this feeling." I repeated to myself, "I have done harder things than this."
When I turned the corner at the capitol building I could see the finish line. It was right in front of me. The jets turned on and I sprinted the last 200 meters as fast as I could through the finish line.
I had done it. I had run 13.1 miles without walking.
I checked my mile tracker which I stopped at 13.28 miles and it read 2:00:44. It would be close. The official chip time would be the determining factor if I'd done it. Because no people, your watch tracker doesn't count towards official race times.
My official results posted later that night. 2:00:22.
I hadn't broken 2 hours. I missed the mark by 22 freaking seconds.
But this was just a training run, and a damn good one at that! I had crossed the finish line with a PR of 13 minutes and 11 seconds! And I had done something that not too long ago I thought I wouldn't be able to do.
This race was everything to me. It was exactly what I needed to get my competitive edge back. I needed to have something to challenge myself after lockdown. I needed to go through the foot injury so I could be reminded that quality training is better than quantity. I needed to fail at one of my goals, and I needed all the internal panic to remind myself that my mindset is everything. I needed all of that.
It all feels so good, even not breaking 2 hours. It's lit a spark that only a near accomplishment can light.
I've got a lot of work to do to qualify for NYC, but I know what I need to focus on. It may not happen in 2022 and who knows maybe it will! That I cannot know. Not until the time comes. But what I do know for certain is that I can get through 13.1 and next time my official time will start with one hour. I can promise you that.