Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Partners-In-Crime

This is beautiful Carissa.
Carissa is my training partner.  Our "partnership" is mostly electronic.  We message each other when we run, lamenting when it's super tough and celebrating when we fly through a run.  We check in with each other for accountability and encouragement and once a month try to run together.

Over time our partnership has grown from running accountability to life accountability.  We check in with each other, lamenting when life is super tough and celebrating when we're in a season of victory.  We pray for each other.  Carissa rolls her eyes at my crazy antics and laughs at my jokes.  I appreciate her take-charge attitude.  Going somewhere with Carissa is like going somewhere with Curt.  She does all the planning, takes care of the details and I just show up at the appointed time (or maybe a few minutes late).  Like I said, we're good partners.

Us before our race.
We celebrated Mother's Day a week early by running the Eugene Half Marathon together.  Our husbands were kind enough to hold down the fort for 24 hours so we could go play.  The ride to Eugene was a great chance to catch up on life.  It's much easier to share a story sitting in a car than when you're out of breath and laboring up a mountain.

Our goal for this race was to run fast and beat our previous best times.  For me, that meant anything under an hour and 46 minutes (1:46).  For Carissa, it was anything under 1:51.  We thought if we ran a great race we could finish in 1:45 (a flat eight minute mile pace), although we were both hoping for our time to read anything with a 7 in front of it for our pace.



We picked up our race packets at the runner's expo and found ourselves lingering at the pace table.  Wristbands were organized in bins according to anticipated finish time.  Our hands hovered over the 1:45 box but neither of us picked one up.  I looked at Carissa and she had a mischievous gleam in her eye.  She slowly reached for the 1:40 wrist band and said, "I think we can do this.  Wanna try?"  It defied common sense but that pesky little voice in the back of my mind whispered, "The course is flat.  You're training fast right now.  You might as well get your money's worth and leave it all on the course."  Eye for eye, mischievous gleam to mischievous gleam, we simultaneously picked up the 1:40 wristbands and shoved them in our bags.
this is what I look like at 5 a.m.

We got up at 5 a.m. on race morning, something Carissa does frequently with a big smile on her face and something I do only on race days with lots of grumbling and coffee consumption.  It was a perfect morning for a long run - cold, crisp and beautiful.  The shuttle bus dropped us off at Hayward Field, the start and finish line of the race.  We crammed into Corral A with thousands of other runners, blowing on our hands to stay warm and shuffling from one foot to the other to expel nervous energy.

The National Anthem was sung by a 9-year-old little girl.  We couldn't see her from our spot in the starting gate but her clear, pitch-perfect voice wafted over the still air as she slowly and carefully sang.  Every time she'd get to a high note she'd pause, take a deep breath, and then belt it out.  She never missed a pitch and we were all giggling and hooping loudly as she finished "...and the home of the brave."

Before the gun went off Carissa and I huddled and prayed together.  I always get weepy during the pre-race prayer.  There's something about mixing the culmination of weeks of training and race-day excitement with the realization that it's God who gives me strength and the ability to run that reduces me to a blubbering fool. We asked God to help us run with strength and power to a personal best, to remember that we are Not Our Own, and to bring Him glory through our actions and our race.

We got in a quick hug and then the gun went off.  A sea of humanity surged toward the starting mat and we were off and running, weaving through the masses of people and trying to find our pace.  The first few miles were really crowded and we did quite a bit of dashing around slower runners, running on sidewalks, and edging around parked vehicles.  Even with the added obstacles we clocked a blistering 7:20 pace for our first mile.

Love having those finisher medals around our necks
Carissa was clearly in the zone - flying down the street and barely breaking a sweat.  I was huffing and puffing to stay close to her.  In between giant gulps for air, I reminded her that our goal pace was 8 minute miles.  We laughed and then compromised.  She slowed down from the break-neck pace we started at.  I ran faster than I thought I could maintain for the long haul.

Even with our compromise Carissa was still chomping at the bit and I didn't want to hold her back.  At the five mile mark she picked up her pace and we ran the rest of the race separated.  I kept her in my sights, but couldn't settle my breathing into a steady rhythm to catch up and maintain the pace she set.  In the end, we finished a mere 29 seconds apart.  Who would have thought?

The course was marketed as "flat and fast" so I was slightly insulted when we climbed not one, not two, but three hills big enough to slow me down.  Even with the hills, I enjoyed every step of the race.  I haven't spent any time in Eugene so it was cool to start in the heart of the University of Oregon campus and run through neighborhoods, the city, across the river and through the woods on a nature trail.  It was really lovely.
We did it!

The last 200 meters of the race were on the track at  Hayward Field, home to the University of Oregon track and field team and the Olympic trials.  Rounding the corner into the stadium and onto the track was electrifying.  The stands were filled with screaming fans ringing cowbells.  Every athlete on the track was up close and personal on the jumbotron.

I haven't run on a track since 7th grade and when my feet hit the 200 meter mark, I had to sprint.  The noise dimmed to a dull roar and the only thing in my sight was the twenty or so runners between me and the finish line.  I left it all on the course, sprinting as fast as I could and surprising myself with all the runners I passed in the final 200 meters.  Most of them were dudes which made it even sweeter.  In the last few seconds of the race, I caught up to and passed two guys, one of which threw his hands up in feigned disgust and hollered, "Well crap."  It was one of my favorite moments of the race.

Me post-race
Carissa was waiting for me in the finisher's area and we giggled at how we'd run the race separate from each other but finished so close together.  I still can't believe the times we logged.  Carissa finished in 1:40:46 securing herself a 29th place finish in her division and 367th place out of the 3,884 people who ran the half-marathon.  I am older than Carissa (SIGH) and in the age division above her.  My finish time of 1:41:13 got me 9th place in my division and 378th place overall.  It really was exciting.

We made it back to our hotel early enough to squeeze in a shower before checkout and then headed home to our husbands and kids.  It was a wonderful experience and one I hope to repeat again next year.    Thanks Carissa for pushing me to run faster and harder than I would have on my own.  You are a great partner in crime!

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