I’m a runner because I run, not because I love it. To me, runs are endured not enjoyed. Except for that one run, every once in a while. It’s the one you feel good, you seem to glide and your mind is in a good place. You finish it with such a rush of endorphins that you chase that feeling for the next three months before another good run comes by.
The Miami Beach 13.1 race was one of those runs.
I signed up because I didn’t run the February Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. Judging by my Facebook feed that day, I was the ONLY person I knew who didn’t race it and was strangely jealous.
I did race the Tropical 5k with ThumbsUp (a nonprofit that pairs able bodied and adaptive athletes) the day before, and that was the first time I ran even a mile since Ironman Arizona last November.
So when I saw the Miami Beach 13.1 was on March 1st, I signed up. Even so, I was in a funk and couldn’t find motivation to train; motivation found me in the form of Manuela.
Manuela is a twenty six year old Colombian woman who has Spina Bifida and is therefore wheelchair bound. She and I share the same swim coach as she is aiming to qualify for the Colombian paraloympic swim team. She raced the Tropical 5k with me, and sent me a perfectly timed email asking “are you going to be competing in any other races soon?”
Well yes, yes I was.
I told her about the Miami Beach 13.1. I explained that I haven’t been running, I was slow, this was a harder course, and it would take significantly longer than the 5k. She wasn’t phased and signed up to race with me.
That got me out the door to run again.
A few days later as I was picking up Fearless at school, Holly, a mom who had previously asked about being an able body for ThumbsUp, asked if there were any races coming up. Out of my mouth came: “yes, want to race a half marathon?”
As soon as she said yes, I regretted it. Holly is fast. She runs an 8:45/mile pace, while I was at my Ironman pace of 11:30/mile. I only knew her in passing, so perhaps she was one of those runners who cannot slow down and get frustrated. Or maybe she would push me when I didn’t want to be pushed, or mess with my already volatile self-esteem. We were not a perfect match, but once she signed up for the race there was little I could do but prepare her for a very slow run. She insisted that she would be fine, though I wasn’t sure I believed her.
I was uneasy. On my own I could walk and get through it; I could be the last finisher and still be okay with it. But I felt accountable to two other women. It was that accountability that got me out to train, and I began to run again.
On race day, I was at Manuela’s house at 4:45am since the Miami Beach 13.1 started at 6:15am and parking on South Beach could be a nightmare. Her parents were up and came outside with her. They were so gracious and thanked me for taking their daughter and encouraging her to participate in sports.
I wondered what they thought because it was completely the other way around. It was Manuela who had the drive and roped me in. If anyone should feel gratitude here, it was I.
By the time we met up with Holly at the start line, we only had a few minutes before the race started. Thank goodness, because the first moments of getting together are always a bit awkward. I only knew these women in passing, and this was the first time Holly and Manuela met.
That would soon change.
We lined up with the Achille’s Foundation hand crank athletes at the start line as wheelchair athletes begin two minutes before everyone else. The gun went off, and since the hand cranks flew in front, while the others hadn’t started, we owned the streets of South Beach. Holly started pushing the chair first as I secretly hoped that would slow her down a bit. Right at four minutes, the first runners caught up to us. They were a quiet bunch, focused on their breathing and their pace. They made running look so free and easy. I cheered on several of my speedy friends, and as we kept our 11:30 pace, more and more runners passed us by often cheering us on.
I kept asking Holly if she was okay, needed help, or wanted to switch who pushed the chair, but she insisted she was fine. Our first attempt at a water station was a bit chaotic as by then, the crowd of runners had thickened and we had to cross through it to get to the table. We decided instead I would run ahead, grab waters for everyone, and then run back to the girls who would wait for me.
As the miles clicked by, we began to talk. Having to filter my words AND run was asking to much of me, and soon we were talking from our hearts. Holly spoke of a difficult situation she is going through, and how there is light at the end of the tunnel. We all laughed because as she was describing what she was going through, her pace would pick up matching her feelings.
Manuela was facing forward so she couldn’t participate actively in the conversation or she would end up with severe neck pain, so we would tell her what we were talking about. I knew from our conversation in the car that she too was going through a difficult period having just been laid off from a job. Perhaps I was projecting my own internal state of affairs, but I felt the three of us were there to overcome something.
I felt terrible that I was slowing Holly so considerably, but was driving her nuts by continually asking if she was okay. We agreed that she was well aware of her options: run faster on her own, run faster with Manuela and I finish alone, or take a break from pushing and walk. But she was steadfast and strong. She runs for the love of running and rarely takes a watch; it’s what she does to feel good and that is what she was doing that morning with me. Having someone like her around was incredibly refreshing because she had the attitude that I am striving to have.
Holly used to push her two kids on a jogging stroller and you could tell. She would take the turns easily, and didn’t seem to miss using her arms at all. I was trying to keep up and direct traffic where needed, as many times runners had headphones and couldn’t hear our calls that we were passing. I would have to tap them so they would notice and move over. One guy running in front of us suddenly stopped and we ran him over. It must have hurt a little …. but it was unavoidable as the momentum from the chair makes it difficult to suddenly stop.
The race gave us a little bit of everything. We caught the sunrise as we went over a bridge, rain kept us cool at mile six, and then the sun had its revenge making the final miles hot. The course is spectacular as you run next to water for a large portion. It also is a little demanding (by Miami standards) as it includes four bridges, however, I will take this course over the Miami Half Marathon any day.
At about mile nine, I began to get goose bumps a sign I was getting dehydrated. I drank water at every station, and I had a large water bottle on the chair but I had gone through all of it. I sweat more than most people and I usually bring salt pills or BASE Salt. I know for a fact it revives me. There have been times I was sure I couldn’t keep going feeling weak and dizzy; I took salt and POOF, I magically revived as if nothing had happened. Because this was “only” a half marathon and in theory it is still winter, it didn’t occur to me to bring salt pills. The last few miles were a struggle.
However, they had beautiful views and more spectators around. Their cheers certainly helped. If I had been alone, I would’ve probably walked the whole end of the race. But I wasn’t alone …. I told both Holly and Manuela how I was beginning to be unkind to myself. How my negative voices of “you’re too slow, you’re too fat” were coming through and Holly would not hear any of it. She would encourage me to think positively and then said “we started together we are going to finish this together.” I just begged her not to sprint to the finish.
Which is impossible. The crowd of a finish line seems to just literally pick you up and carry you through. And even so, Holly stuck to our pace and we crossed the finish line, teary eyed. We finished in 2h30m at a perfect 11:30/mile pace.
That was MY real pace, Holly pushed Manuela the entire time (bada$$) and could’ve gone faster. I couldn’t. That was the best I had that day, and though there were times I would refrain from telling you my speed or was appalled that I cannot go faster, this is not one of them. I had fun; I enjoyed the race.
And the weirdest thing happened. The next day I woke up, itching to go for a run if only my legs weren’t so sore….