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Race Day

4:00 a.m. – the crickets in my phone start chirping.

4:33 a.m. – I’m driving down my driveway eating breakfast in the car – hard boiled eggs and a couple slices of very crunchy bacon and white bread, water and banana. The fruit I decide to save. Protein and carbs to get me through the run (or at least a few miles of it).

As I drive toward downtown Nashville, an eyelash of a moon winks over the city.

4:55 a.m. – sitting completely still on I-24. I take a minute to post on facebook, “It’s gonna be a hurry up & wait kind of day.” Wow. Was that ever prescient.

I listen to Mumford and Sons and tell myself to relax. This is a run like any other day. Just a little longer and with 30,ooo of my closest friends.

5:33 a.m. – standing in line for a shuttle bus. Correction: make that standing in a herd waiting for a shuttle bus. It is a nice cool morning for a run. My car said 55 degrees when I stepped out.

I don’t trust the whole “check your bag” system – or really it’s the timing. I’m afraid of not having time to do that and still get where I’m going. So I just leave the car with what fits in the back pocket of my singlet and the stretchy waste band. Energy jelly beans, phone, key, ID, and TP. Hat, sunglasses, race bib. What I do trust is the race planners to have enough of everything else along the way.

6:17 a.m. – arrive at Centennial Park to walk over to Thomas’s office and gather with a few other friends from my church who are also running. And to use a clean bathroom. Down side of race day: port-o-potties. Eueww. At least I remembered my own TP for the day.

It is good to see a few friends who will be running and/or walking. It’s the last time I see them all morning.

6:45 a.m. I head to corral #22 and try to upload a message saying we are about to run, but apparently most of the other runners and spectators are doing the same, and the grid seems to be jammed.

7:27 a.m. – corral # 22 crosses the start line. The “wave start”  works this way . . . each group begins in 60 to 90 second intervals. So by the time 21 groups got started ahead of us, we were about 30 minutes behind the front-runners. Time is kept for every runner with little ‘chips’ connected to our shoes. This works really well for getting times on so many people.

The first three miles I’m right where I’d hoped to be, making each mile under 10 minutes. I don’t feel exhausted but take the advice of my brother and others and go ahead and walk while eating jelly beans and drinking a little water. This gave me a chance to enjoy Musica (picture from the previous day).  Despite the jostling of runners and walkers, I continue to make good time and love hearing the bands every mile or two playing covers of everything from 80s rock to country tunes. It is the Country Music marathon afterall.  Cheering crowds also make the running more fun.

8:31 a.m. I arrive at our church’s cheering station. Perfect timing, almost half way through the race. Another clean bathroom, an orange slice, a few high fives and go. I’m still making excellent time (for me!). I cross the 10K mark and see by my own watch that even with the two short breaks I’m still just over a 10 min mile. I think, 10K races. Cool. I can do these now!

Then came the uphill through the 12 South neighborhood.

The sun got hotter. I could feel myself running out of fuel. And my feet started complaining. Loudly. Between miles 7 and 8 I can’t find my rhythm. I finally realize I’m going to have to completely stop and stretch some very tight muscles, take on more fuel and water. I use this strategy three more times and it works. I’m able to continue running near my own pace for another mile or more, after each break.

Best ‘characters’ in the race: runaway bride and runaway bridesmaid in full costume. I traded leads with them several times throughout the race. I finally say as I pass them yet again, “You all look like you are having so much fun.” They totally agreed. Crowds along the way were enjoying them immensely. A close second was the superhero in red cape and headband: “Endorphin Guy.” He sure was walking a lot to be “Edorphin Guy.”

Best fans at the race: the friends and neighbors I knew from church of course. Yay for the village! But all the fans were great. Saw lots of dads and babies with variations on the “Go Mom Go” sign. My own personal fans planned to be there until my daughter woke up coughing. Turned out to be strep.

Best t-shirt I saw: Dear God, please let someone be behind me to read this.

Best band: A dad and several kids playing percussion outside dad’s recording studio. I know the 4-year-old who was pounding the drum. I shouted out “Best band on the entire race course” as I ran by.

9:37 a.m. I’m past the 10 mile marker. I realize that I can make it the whole way and I’ll by under three hours. This makes me glad. As I by pass the offers of salt, sports drinks and tylenol (I really considered that one!) I talk to another walker. We agree the tylenol sounds good about now. She shows me her swollen hands. This is the farthest I’ve ever run. I feel ready to go.

Mile 12 begins with more uphill. Who thought this was a good idea? Give them an idiot award. I complain out loud but keep running.

Finally the downhill and the crowds grow expansive. I feel a few endorphins kick in. Not enough to sprint, mind you. But I finish strong. And I look at my watch 10:04. That seems good. But my mind won’t do math. I just memorize the time, and decide to calculate later. And then someone puts a medal around my neck.

Water. Food. Keep moving. Find shade. My breathing was good throughout the race. It was my body that complained. Feet were the loudest.

I finally am able to calculate my time: 2 hours 37 minutes. My pace (I see the official time later) – even with breaks for walking and stretching – still just under 12 minutes. This makes me enormously happy.

The full recovery will take several more days. The training was worth it. The day was beautiful. It is good to accomplish something. There are dozens of analogies and metaphors to make. But I’m leaving those for another day.