Where do I even start?
I have tried to write this post about 4 times now, and each time I was not sure exactly where to go with it and ended up nowhere near where I wanted to finish. So here is my best effort of staying focused and on point…
This past Sunday, I got the opportunity to complete something that literally seemed impossible to me when I started out in all of this just 10 months ago. I think I’ve said this before, but if you told me that I was going to be running for 13 miles straight I would have laughed and said “why don’t we just make it 100? …because they are both impossible”. Even when I made up the plan I thought it might be a stretch to pull this off, but here I am, having run in and completed a half marathon and it feels freaking unbelievable…
There is so much that I want to touch on, between the race itself, all the people who helped make it such a special day for me, and now that I have had a few days to digest it all, some thoughts looking on back on a day that I will never forget.
First and foremost, this post is about the race itself, so let me start there. It was the perfect day. Literally perfect. Cool in the morning and then heating up to the mid 70’s. Partly cloudy but more sun than clouds. If you could custom create an ideal day to go for a run, this would be it. So not sure if it was just the hype and environment that goes with it being the day of the race, or the sheer volume of people, or a combo of the both, but I was not nervous at all, just excited and anxious to get started. I got down there around 7, and met up with my Uncle Mario, who I was running with. (more on that later). After we met up, he tracked down one of his buddies and I tracked down my peeps too. Everybody met, caught up, and then got stretched and ready to run. So the way they run these massive races (21,000+ runners for the race) is to start people in waves, rather than all at once and risk a massive bottleneck at every turn. So we ended up in corral 19, which meant that we did not start running till approx 20 min after the initial starting gun went off. Kind of anticlimactic, I know, but it allowed me some breathing room, and I’m a big fan of that. As for the run itself, it was a great one. It wrapped through Philly, running through center city, all the way down to old city/ historic district, and then out to the part of the city where most of the runners go…”the loop”, as they call it. Out Kelly Drive on one side of the Schuylkill River, over the Falls Bridge, and back down West River drive on the other side of the river, finishing right in front of the “rocky steps” at the art museum. The starting in waves actually worked, because even though there were 21,000+ runners in the race, you would never know it. It was crowded all the way, but not mobbed, everybody had room to just relax. Settle in, and run their own race. As for me and Uncle Mario, we started out strong and never looked back. Actually, we actually had to dial it back a little a couple times because we just kept slowly getting comfortable and creeping into a faster and faster pace as we went along. It was pretty cool to just relax and chat it up the entire time.It did start to get challenging on the final leg of the run down West River drive, and the talking did start to get more spread out, but even then it was still all good. Uncle Mario got hit with a few leg cramps as we got into miles 12 and 13, but we were both able to fight through and finish it out strong. We ran 13 of the 13.1 miles together, and as we came into the final stretch he waved me off and I was not about to argue, the adrenaline was not like anything I have experienced before. I just took off sprinting and hauling ass for that finish line. The only time my focus wavered was when I saw and heard Jenn jumping up and down cheering me on right before the finish line. Having her there and finishing that race is one of the best feelings I have ever felt. I actually had to bite my lip as I crossed the finish line to keep myself from getting emotional. The course, the water stops, the bands that were set up and playing every mile…everything was well planned and executed. It resulted in a race that actually lived up to its billing…it was just a ton of fun. I loved it. Not to mention all that on top of the fact that it was the culmination for me of 10 months of hard work and dedication. Let me tell you, there are a few moments that have come out of all this that are standouts to me, the times where I have been so invested, both physically and emotionally in what I am trying to accomplish that once I get there it really blows me away. This is one of those times. I can say that I will literally never forget taking those last few strides over the finish line. It was a combo of being so happy I am ready to cry and being so amped up that I felt like I could have run for another few miles at the same time. (case in point, after I crossed the finish line, I went to open my water bottle and take a drink…with my teeth like I always do and I was so amped up I ripped the open/ close thingy clean out of the bottle; looks like I need to spring for a new one now).
The race was amazing, it exceeded every expectation I had. (And that was just the race itself) There were a collection of people there to support me that pushed the experience so far over the top I’m afraid I’ll never be able to match it.
The first people I wanted to mention are Moe and Lauren who also ran the race. You have heard about these ladies before, they are the same girls I ran my very first 5K together with. It’s a great feeling to see how far we have all come since that snowy morning last February. Girls, you have both been an every day source of support and sounding board for me, and I thank you for that. Awesome ladies, for real.
Speaking of ladies who were also running the race, I need to mention my buddy Donna. I met Donna when I first started dating Jenn. I would go up to her college to visit her every weekend, and since Jenn was on the rugby team at school, that’s where a lot of her friends came from and consequently I got a chance to hang with all the “rugger” girls on a regular basis. Donna was on the rugby team (read: she’s been an athlete for a long time now) and I got the chance to meet up with her before the race and then I bumped into her along the course as well. I only got to run about a mile or so with her, but it was really great. This is what I was talking about when I say that she was out running miles back at a time while I was not running anywhere but to the car so I could hit the next drive thru. Now I’m in a position to hang with her. Kind of puts things in perspective for me. (And feels fantastic)
This leads me to the last person who I wanted to talk about in terms of running the race. I have to take a second and talk about the now infamous “Uncle Mario”. So here’s the deal, I have a very close knit family. My mom and her two sisters are pretty much inseparable, and the three associated families are all very close. Uncle Mario is married to my mom’s sister Andrea and has known me since I was a little kid. So he has consequently had the chance to watch me grow up. (This includes watching me both before and after that point in my 20’s where I started to pack on the weight and blow up the scale). We have always been relatively close, but I feel like our relationship has taken a whole new turn over the past year. I’ve gone into all this before, but it’s safe to say that he has become kind of my mentor when it comes to all things running. I’ve said all this to him offline already, but it feels like “thanks” does not quite cover it all…he’s been one of my #1 supporters from before I even started any of this, (even back when I was still just planning things out) and has been a constant source of insanely useful advice, encouragement and guidance through the entire process. So thanks, this race/day would not have been everything it was if I wasn’t running beside you on this one.
Then I come to the rest of my entourage. I put out a message on facebook a few weeks back with an open invite to any friends who happened to be free that day to come on down and celebrate with me. Not surprisingly, a lot of people were busy with families or other plans, etc. There were a few people that went out of their way to come down and cheer me on, and I wanted to send a quick thanks to you as well. First, my buddy Kevin and his wife Courtney biked down (with their young daughter!) all the way from Conshohocken to Center City to cheer me on. They saw me and cheered me on at three (3!) separate places along the course. I’d pass, they’d cheer and then move on to the next spot along the course. I’d pass again; they’d cheer again and move on again. Extraordinary effort on your part, and believe me, it gave me a tremendous push. And last but certainly not least, My family (and Tara). I had 4 beautiful ladies all waiting for me when I crossed over the finish line. Jenn, My Mom, My sister Jennifer, and our good friend Tara all were hanging together while I was out running all over Philadelphia, and they made for a fantastic welcome party when I was finished. All of my favorite people were there, and it completely made the day for me. Our friend Tara has been a huge supporter of mine as I went through everything, and she is an all around awesome person and great friend. Plus, she and I will always have a special bond. Let’s just say I was given the opportunity to play an integral part in her wedding last summer. As for my mom and sister, it means so much that you were both there. To hear you say how proud of me you are, it makes all the effort worthwhile. And Jenn, Jesus, where do I even start? We have talked at length about all this, but suffice it to say that you really are my driving force and without you, none of this ever happens. I love you babe. So much.
OK, enough sap-sap-sappy stuff. Back to the race. Looking back on it now, it was an amazing time and I can’t wait to run my next one. Now that I have had almost a week to digest everything (and come down a little from the high of finishing the race) looking back everything was still as good as it felt immediately after. The race pictures from the official photographer came back in and although I’m still not sure if I’m going to buy any (because I might have to re-mortgage the house in order to afford them they are so expensive), the general theme is that I look happy and relaxed for the entire race…except for that last .1 in between 13 and 13.1 mile marks where I was really pushing and sprinting it out. Apparently, when I am really bearing down and hauling ass, I get “Angry Andy” face. I look seriously scary and intense. I have no idea where that came from, but there it is. Angry Andy. I’ll have to work on not looking like a serial killer as I’m sprinting out the end next time…haha.
The other revelation that I had during the race and then has been reinforced all this week (although it may seem obvious to most people) is that: I AM a runner. Up until this point, I kind of viewed myself as a weight loss guy who was using running to assist in the weight loss. Now things have flipped. I am a runner. I really enjoy running, and I have proven to myself that I can actually hold my own and hang with the real deal runners out there. Now, I am not an elite runner, and I will never have the burning desire to run a half marathon in an hour or anything, but I have really unlocked something inside myself that I never knew or could have imagined was there. I really enjoy this and I am not exaggerating when I say that it has changed my life. The way I look at things, the way I look at myself and every aspect of my life has been altered, and I owe a lot of that too running. It’s very true what that say, Running does give more than it takes. I’ll say it one more time, I AM a runner.
And lastly: I can easily see why people can get hooked on running in general and on running in these races. I have 3 more left on my calendar for the year, and I am looking forward to each of them for different reasons. The Runner’s World 10K will be my first race with our good friend Rock. Then there is a local 5K around Halloween called the Hatboro YMCA Skeleton Skurry that I am getting the privilege of running with our friend Katie (it’s her very first 5k!), and then The Philly Half Marathon coming up in Nov. I will go on at length about that one later.
This is MORE than enough for now, so I hope you enjoyed the recap and the pics below.
Talk to you soon; and until then: Take it easy.
The Starting Line around 7:00 AM Me, Moe and Lauren
Me and Uncle Mario…before the pain.
Me and Uncle Mario…after the pain.
Me and Donna after the race
Me and my Favorite Ladies: my sister Jennifer, my Mom, and Jenn
Me and Tara
Me and the love of my life: My Jenn
Happy Andy! This is what I lloked like for 99% of the race. Until I turned into…
Angry Andy! Still not sure where this face is coming from.