Sept 6th Monday 2010. I have never been healthier or stronger in my entire life. The fact that my sister died when she was exactly my age, practically to the day, is forefront in my mind. Irony? Injustice? Luck of the draw? I’m not sure but I have a sense that anything I do from now on is all a bonus. It could have easily been me instead; we have the same DNA after all.
8:40am I set out to run 12.4 miles for the very first time. I have never gone that distance in my life and there’s a real possibility I’d just not be able to do it. I logged a few 10 mile runs, not easy or pretty mind you and I suffered finishing those. What would the extra 2.4 miles do to me? Too late now, the hay was in the barn, it was stacked and the only thing left was to run the race or burn down the barn. I had a reasonable goal, 2:30:00; I had a plan, 12:00 min mile pace for the first 6 miles, finish strong with negative splits. If I didn’t go out too fast I could do it.
Tony and I planned to meet jokingly at the 3rd porta potty from the left but as I parked the car and checked my voicemail, his mom had taken a turn for the worst and he wasn’t coming. I started getting my gear ready. I remembered my friend Paul says don’t worry about digestive problems just keep going, well that’s what I was afraid of so while I was taking the last a swig of Kaopectate I got a phone call, which I missed. I hit re-dial; it went to Barb’s voicemail. We left messages back and forth, since neither of us can figure out how to answer a phone call in voicemail, yeah we’re both rocket scientists sometimes. In the end I found out my friend was here. Perfect.
I barely slept at all last night. I was so nervous and excited but I felt good. I felt alive and I had race day nerves. New Haven was jammed packed with people, most of them running up and down the streets. I started to jog towards The Green and a runner passed me, he had that Kenyan thing going on, long legs, skinny, oh yeah and black. He made a 7 min mile look like it was a leisurely stroll. The Green was full of people, tents and toilets. I found Barb and we chatted and joked around and the next thing I know, Barb mentions that I might want to go to the starting line. It was almost gun time!!! I couldn’t believe it all this preparation and I almost missed the start because I’m so into the atmosphere of the race.
The line-up always chokes me up. Ever since I had to take months off for recovery from an over-use injury I generally cry at the starting line. I looked around and saw many friends amongst the crowd of 2300. (3200 for the 5k) After the national anthem I lost it, tears full bloom. Kaboom, a loud cannon went off; I mean ear splitting loud, it nearly scared the crap out of me if not for all the Bismuth Subsalicylate in my gut. We were off. I continued to cry for the first mile. I normally don’t do that, I normally focus on running my butt off but I was trying to take it easy, remember I wanted nice slow 12 min miles in the beginning. We were all in a pack it was great, there was the roar of running shoes hitting pavement, like horse hoofs on a racetrack or rain on a window, it was this intense amount of rhythmic energy moving down the street as one.
Mile One: 10:24. What the hell happened to 12:00?? I was screwed already. The first mile was too easy, it was glorious, I was elated and I was running it at my 10k speed. I would pay later on for sure. I tried to slow down to at least 11:30
Mile Two: 10:30. I am my own worst enemy. It still felt so good and right and I was strong. Besides crashing into the guy at the first water stop it was all a beautiful dream. 10:30 was never so easy but I must must slow down.
Mile Three: 10:54 I have run 5k’s slower than the pace I was holding. I am a fool. At this point it should be noted that there are some people not so amused with the 20k runners. These fine upstanding citizens have important appointments to keep with their drug dealers or need to report in to their parole officers but since all the streets are closed they are having a melt down. I heard a few such drivers make some comments, honk horns, yell at police and one such prince decided to take matters into his own hands. A large black man in a silver SUV, that I hope to god the traffic guard got his license plate, nearly hit me and others, right at the start of Ella Grasso at one of the cross streets. He drove into the race path. Simply amazing. I overheard some guys behind me comment on the friendly New Haven locals. All over New Haven people were so supportive, all the neighborhoods we ran though had their own flavor, the people were inspirational and this guy has to be a dick. As it turned out further on down Ella Grasso at another cross street I see a silver SUV stopped, this time there is a police officer doing the traffic. I really hoped it was mister dickhead trying to get back.
Mile Four: 10:51 If this was a 4 mile race I would be happy with this time….it’s not. I will pay.
Mile Five: 11:25 Finally I have slowed to a reasonable pace. I mean for me that is, for others this pace would be walking. In fact, yes it’s true someone power walked by me. It was surreal, like in a dream when you are running as fast as you can and not going anywhere and the monster easily catches you, he is on you and going to do something terrible, you keep screaming “wake up, wake up, wake up; this cant be real.” Ok it wasn’t that bad, but when someone WALKS past you and you’ve trained for 3 years it is a nightmare all the same.
Mile Six: 12:11 This is what I did not want to happen, I did not want to slip below 12 ever and here I am letting my pace slide off the cliff. The coolest thing about mile 6 was that on this race course they have bands almost every mile. I turned the corner approaching a bridge underpass and I hear my brother n laws voice wailing on Summer Time Blues but I don’t see him. I assume he must be under the bridge but when I get there… no Tom. ??? I keep running, come out the other side and there’s Tommy Baby. I yell; arms up; he yells back; it was great. He then says over the PA “This aint easy what you’re doing, I give you a lot of credit. You’re all heroes today.” That little adenine rush lasted 60 seconds, as soon as I passed him I thought and now it gets hard. I just ran faster than my first 10k race and I am only halfway though. I was only 2 mins slower than my PR 10k. I am an idiot. I will be punished for certain.
Mile Seven: 11:44 Ok maybe I can squeaked this out after all, I am sub 12 if I can hold this pace til the end I will be stoked. I am hallucinating; who am I kidding. I don’t remember anything about mile seven unless this is where Donna passed me. She’s great, she gave me the thumbs up sign as she took off. Donna always does that to me, not the thumbs up part, the passing me part. I have never beaten her. I always lead the first half of the race she always passes me the 2nd half of the race. If I ran a 12 in the beginning I would be running with Donna at the end. I will not be running with Donna again today. Somewhere on Long Wharf is the last I will see ever of Donna until the race tent.
Mile Eight: 12:26. Ut oh. 12:26 and it hurt too. If 12:26 pace hurts at mile eight I have entered into my own personal hell and will not emerge until mile 12.4. Eight was not great. Eight was awful. And then like a vision from the heavens there standing on East Street, all alone, er I was all alone too, the pack had long taken off, where was I? Right- all alone with a big smile and a camera TONY! Holy shit! Wasn’t his mother dying in the hospital? Was she dead? Last rites? And he’s here? Um I want to ask but this is no time for chit chat. I yell Tony! He yells Carole! We are happy, he tries to take my picture but in our excitement he accidently shuts his camera off instead. I can’t hang around for it to reboot.
I am running, running, running and throughout the race I think of certain things, certain people, certain memories. I picture my bird Pook who passed away this year, she’s on my shoulder flapping her wings pushing me along. I am starting to have moments like this fantasy memory things. I run past a religious supply store and bam it hits me, those in my family that have passed on. My sister died about 12 years ago, her body deteriorated and was wheelchair bound. In the end she couldn’t feed herself, she still liked to have a cigarette but needed people to hold it up to her mouth. I am running 12.4 miles today and she’s been dead about 12.4 years. I’m her age. Nuff said, it’s a big day for us. This is what happens to me and I imagine happens to a lot people. I get lost in my head, I go somewhere that I wouldn’t go if I wasn’t completely drained from the physical world and what could be the edge of death. I thought of relatives, lovers, bosses and friends and think about what could have been or what might be and then somewhere I wake up; the reality of the situation kicks in, all I think now is what the f*ck am I doing? I’m never going to make this. Right now I am running in the worst section of New Haven, I know this section because I used to live here and they used to shoot into my house on a nightly basis. An old black woman comes to me on a corner yelling "water" in my head she is a Haitian Voo Doo High Priestess bearing a dead chicken but in reality she only has a cup of questionable water, looks a little brown, I say "no thanks" and she says “oh you don’t look so good.” Has she just cursed me with a spell?? “ You never gonna finish.” Little does she know at this point I am surrounded by the bright white light of protection. I am strong, I have trained, I have hay in my barn. I reply confident “Oh no. I WILL FINISH” I chuckle to myself. Her voodoo has no power over me. She doesn’t know who she’s messin with. I know that she could not run 12.4 miles but I can. She is trying to discouage me because of the limitations in her own life and projecting them on me. But she forgets. I am not her. I am me. And whatever my doubts, and however many times I thought I could just walk back to The Green I know I will finish no matter what the ‘little me’ or anyone else said about me.
Mile Nine: 11:59. It took 9 miles but I finally hit my goal pace. I remember hitting nine thinking just a 5k or so to go. I can do a 5k in my sleep it’s time to kick it up. The other thing I remember about nine is I ran through a Puerto Rican section of town and suddenly I wanted to be Puerto Rican. HOLY TOELDO! The energy the enthusiasm, the music, the party, the total feel, Yaozoa! . I was so pumped up after that I wanted to hug everyone, I wanted to personally thank them, I wanted to get drunk with them all later. Any year I don’t run NH I am putting on a load of bronzer and setting up camp at mile nine waving the PR flag.
Mile Ten: 13:19 Hello walk run. Hills and pain. Ten Ten Ten, let me never hurt this bad again. I believe this was my wall. A was trying to do math in my head about splits and projected finish times...No way....I couldn't even recite the alphabit, I was shot.
Mile Eleven: 11:42 After the 13.19 slump I picked it up. I think this was the really cool part. I ran in the middle of the road through East Rock Park. It was beautiful. Shade, trees, the baseball field I practiced softball on 20 years ago. I loved mile 11. Plus it was downhill and then……….BAGPIPES.
Miles twelve: 11:49 God make those bagpipes go away. I ran as hard as I could to get them away from me. Now it hits me if I ran 12’s at the beginning I’d be clocking 10’s here. I’d look awesome. Uh no such luck I look terrible. I remember Tony caught up to me a couple times en route, the second time I saw him I hugged him, I was soaked with water, sweat, Gatorade, snot, Gu’s, yeah ewwwwl comes to mind. So gross. Tony is the best! I still wanted to ask about his mother but now didn’t seem like the right time. I wanted to crank this mile I had a plan to rock it. But I was spent. There were people handing out ice and I thought they were sent from heaven. Some guy paced with me and said lets sprint to the end. I said “Cool, I can be talked into anything.” Off and on we paced with each other and then I saw Meg, my running partner from earlier this year. She was playing guitar, doing a solo, no clue what she was singing but I yelled MEG! And she yelled CAROLE! Is that you! You’re doing great!” I’m telling you there is nothing better. It pumped me up. I ran hard to the end. I crossed the finish line. I was queasy and looking for water and………they ran out. But better than water, Barb met me right when I needed her. I was shot, she was so cool, walked me to the food tent, found me a bottle of water I sat down and Tony walked up. He found me in 6,000 people. What a guy! Although I was disappointed I didn’t see about half of my friends, it’s cool seeing the ones I did. And his mother is okay after all. It was a day I’ll never forget. I went home ate a lot, showered, slept for a couple hours and feel like it’s the best day of my life. Alls good in this section. So ask yourself: What will make you feel like this? What will push your limits and inspire you to take an hour to write out your experience? Find something that will better yourself, that will lead you to the person you always dreamed you’d be and live the dream. I never thought I could run 12 miles and I did. We can do anything.
I almost forgot...2:24 I hit my goal