Right after I ran my first marathon, a coworker told me he knew I had it in me. He also brought me cake, which was amazing, but he kept saying it: “I knew you’d finish.”
I’m still kind of stunned at that response. Because I didn’t know. I admitted that, later on, to someone because I kind of felt like a fraud. I didn’t really believe in myself to know I could do it. My body kept telling me I couldn’t. So did my mind. Everything told me I couldn’t do.
“Then when did you know?” the friend asked me, concerned.
“At mile 26,” I responded.
You read that right. I didn’t know until mile 26.
Sometimes, you doubt yourself all the way to the end.
This year’s Oakland Half Marathon was exactly that way. I didn’t know until 13.1. And even then, when I was this:::close to the finish line, and still not quite there.
I didn’t really know until 13.3. The moment I crossed the finish line and turned off my Garmin, I knew.
No matter what my official time was, I had a PR. I wanted, so badly, for it to be in the 2:20 range. But I had it. Without question. There was nothing, even running .2 out of my way (damn tangents), that could have stopped it. I had it.
If you would have told me 2:21:04 seconds before that I would have the race of my life, I would have called your bluff. I spent most of Saturday trying to figure out how not to get to the start line. I just didn’t feel like running. I didn’t feel like pushing myself.
But Oakland, as it has for several years, has a way of bringing out the best in me.
Let’s rewind to 2005.
I was a fresh college graduate. Living on my own for the first time. New place. New roommate. Uncharted territory. And I chose Oakland to live economic and personal reasons. The rent was inexpensive. I always knew my roommate. My husband’s brother’s girlfriend at the time had an extra room. She was kind enough to rent it out to me for two years, though I’m pretty sure she was tired of me by the end.
In Oakland, I learned to be a better reporter. I learned more about journalism academically in my two years at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism than I did in three years a communication major in college. More importantly, I learned how to finish a story.
People ask me all the time why I went to graduate school, especially since I already had a nice padding of experience right out of college. I went because I would get halfway through a long project and not know how to finish the story. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t get to the point where the words flowed. It was my “wall” at mile 20.
Berkeley helped me finish my story. Oakland helped me define the characters in it.
So I chose Oakland, in 2011, to be my first half marathon. Because it was familiar. Because I’d run those streets before. And, because, I wanted to give back to a place that had given so much to be. Races like this bring in a ton of money into communities. I wanted my money to go to Oakland.
My first half marathon was an amazing experience that ended in a 2:35:36 finish. My next Oakland experience had me finishing in 2:32: 27.
This year, the experience wasn’t even comparable. I thought I’d run races before where I left every single bit of me out on the course. On Sunday, I realized I was, again, in uncharted territory.
I came into Oakland this year unable to finish my story. Over the past few months, I’ve struggled with gaining perspective about everything that’s happened since January. I’ll start with this: I’m glad it all happened. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t where I am today. I’m better for it.
So on Sunday, even though I didn’t realize it, I came to run. And that’s what I did.
Mile 1: 9:24 — Are you kidding me? That’s faster than I run. I feel so comfortable. This can’t be right. It must be the Gu I took right before the start.
Mile 2: 9:57 — OK, better legs. I don’t want to be done before I’m actually done.
Mile 3: 11:25 — WHY IS MY SHOE UNTIED? MY SHOES ARE NEVER UNTIED! Pull over, tie shoe, start running again. When the Garmin beeps, I consider it the “beginning of the end.” Well, I had two good miles in me, I figured. It’s over.
Mile 4: 10:06 — Or not? Better take a Gu.
Mile 5: 10:56 — Battling some uphills here, over the Lake Merritt crossing, it gets a little congested. Weaving in and out of people.
Mile 6: 10:24 — Feeling the Gu. Picking it up.
Mile 7: 11:18 — That moment when you ram into someone because they stop right in front of you? That happened. I’m not two for two in running into people in half marathons. It wasn’t my fault, though. She stopped at a water station and just came to a dead halt.
In this mile, a guy also ran by me and whacked right into my arm. Seriously? That hurt. I let out a sound similar to a baby velociraptor in pain. The guy stopped dead in his stride. He actually turned around, came back and started talking to me.
“Are you OK? Did I hurt you bad?”
“I’m fine, dude. I just have a broken arm. You didn’t do it. I came that way.”
The concern on his face was amazing. He actually hung close to me for two miles. He told me he was afraid I’d pass out. I don’t know what I looked like, but apparently it was bad.
Mile 8: 10:55 — Only now was I getting tired. I took a Gu.
Mile 9: 11: 40 — The climb into the park around Lake Merritt is here. After nine miles, I really felt it.
Mile 10: 10:16 — This was the point I looked down at my Garmin and realize I was coming in pretty early.
Mile 11: 10:53 — I started mile 11 under the two hour mark. I couldn’t believe I started mile 11 under the two hour mark. This is where everything comes into play in terms of questions. I can definitely beat last year’s time. I can beat my Pasadena time. What do I have to do to beat my PR? Too much math. I can’t think. Just keep it under 12-minute miles, I thought.
That should be good enough. Right? Follow the plan.
Mile 12: 10:42 — Follow the plan. Just follow the plan.
Mile 13: 10:31 — RUN. FAST. NOW. GIVE IT ALL YOU HAVE. DAMN IT. RUN. DIE LATER. JUST RUN.
Mile 13.1: Where’s the finish?
Mile 13.2: I should be done by now. Why am I not done? What the hell?
Mile 13.3: UP THE HILL. RUN. RUN!
Total time for that .3 miles: 2.47
I saw my Garmin move past the 2:20 mark before I crossed. I closed my eyes and just gunned it. The full inertia I had behind me didn’t stop until I was nearing the medals. And then I knew. I fell a little bit, and had a moment of joy I haven’t experienced in a long time.
I had my story’s end.
Six months. Multiple bad situations. Turmoil. A lot of self reflection.
No regrets. A healthy body. My husband at the finish line. A PR.
I gave the Oakland the race it had deserved for three years. I finally did it. I came away stronger than I ever thought I was.
As I sat on the lawn, taking it all in, I had a moment where I started tearing up. All the self-doubt started to fade for the first time since last October. Suddenly I felt as if I was back in control. On Sunday, I really did have the race of my life. I felt like somewhere in those 13.1 miles, I shed every ounce of upset and took myself back.
Two years ago, Oakland made me realize I could do anything when I finished my first half. Last year, I struggled with every step because I was mentally and emotionally spent. This year, Oakland gave me back something I didn’t even realize was still gone.
All of these things came rushing to me before my husband found me. I let myself cry. I deserved a good happy cry.
But before I got up, I decided to check my official time, even though I knew it wouldn’t be that far off.
I’ve mentioned in previous race posts that I always start my Garmin a little ahead of crossing the start, just to make sure it works. When I loaded up the page with my name, I realized that elusive 2:20, which I didn’t even realize was a goal for me, had been achieved.
My official time: 2:20:52.
That elation? The bliss? It all was just that much better.
I then realized that while this may be the picture-perfect end to one story, is now just the beginning of the next. What’s my next goal? How I can break it? Can earn a 2:15? Those are questions I didn’t think possible before all this stuff happened to me. Now? It seems doable. It seems realistic.
For me there was no better place to finish this story, and start a new one, than in Oakland.