What if it rains on race day?

If you had said to me 6 years ago,

“Kyla, the day will come when you’ll get dressed, eat toaster waffles and bacon with Nutella and head out into the rain to run your third half marathon”

I would have laughed at you.

And yet this morning, that’s what I did.

I tucked myself into bed. I heard the heard on the roof.

I woke up at 3am to pee. I heard the rain on the roof.

I woke up at 5:30am and heard the rain on the roof.

I got up and made coffee and heard rain on the roof.

Waffles toasting, rain on the roof.

Nutella spreading, the crunching of the waffle underneath, the drip of the coffee maker, rain on the roof.

Maybe I would skip this one. Maybe just do the 5K and call it a day.

“What if it rains on race day?”

I packed two pairs of socks in a ziplock bag. I got my biking rain jacket. I put on long running pants (for the first time in a few months). A USAT hat instead of my visor.

“What if it rains on race day?”

We piled in the car, I cranked some tunes, I sipped my coffee and walked myself through my race plan.

3 walk/run intervals per mile. That would mean a 13:30/mile. If I followed that, I would PR. If I pushed, just a little at the end, I would come in under 3 hours. Totally doable.

Stay on top of hydration and nutrition. Huma gels every hour, at the top, Skratch and water throughout. Top off at every aid station. Gatorade if you feel like it. I had a plan, a good plan. Sticking to it would be easy.

As we drove, the rain got worse. Maybe I should do the 5K. I could do it twice. Even three times if I really wanted to. It would be a good training day, nonetheless. It would keep me close to home base. If I got too cold or the rain was too much, I would never be more than 1.5 miles away from warmth and dry.

“What if it rains on race day?”

As we pulled into the parking lot it hit me light a bolt of lightning.

Your goals have changed.

  1. Finish

  2. Don’t get hurt

  3. PR.

I would do the half. I would give it my best shot. I would stick to my new plan. Running in the rain is tough. Your feet can slip, the ground gets gross, there are puddles to avoid. It can be treacherous.

I left my phone in the car. I left my headphones in the car. This race was going to be a mental race. I needed to be able to hear my body. To listen to my body. Since goal #2 was don’t get hurt, I needed no distractions from whatever my soaking feet would be saying, my aching knees, my tired back, my strong heart. I needed to hear them all.

We got a late start since we thought the race started at 8:15, not 8am. It was no worry, everything was chip timed. It was just a bummer that I *started* in last place. That meant a huge battle to get to not-last.

As I passed mile 1-ish I ran into a wonderful woman who was walking. We chatted. Turns out she went the wrong way. She was supposed to do the 5K, and just followed everyone else who was doing the half. We laughed and talked until we hit mile 1.6 and then she turned around. What a lovely experience, and a nice way to get warmed up as she was walking a lot more than I was.

Shit. She was walking a lot more than I was. I was off my goal for PR’ing already. It wasn’t even mile 2.

Your goals have changed.

  1. Finish

  2. Don’t get hurt

  3. PR.

I took a deep breath, shuffled up the first giant hill and figured I’d make up the time somewhere.

At mile 3.3 I looked at my watch. 51 minutes. I had 9 minutes to go .7 miles. I could do that, as long as I kept running for the whole .7 miles. So I did that. And finished the first 4 miles just under 58 minutes. Whew!

Then I did the math. Shit. That meant a 15min/mile. Crap. I was going to have to pick up the pace. I talked myself up. I had to climb two hills. I slowed and talked with that wonderful woman for a mile. Of course I’m off. That’s OK. There’s time. I’ll make it up.

And also, the universe reminded me: Your goals have changed.

  1. Finish

  2. Don’t get hurt

  3. PR.

I settled into a nice rhythm. The “clean everything up after the last runner” cart was slowly crawling behind me. They stayed far enough away that I barely noticed them. When I could hear them, and it started playing with my head, I pretended that I was actually at the lead. And they were my escort. I laughed at this and fell right back into a rhythm.

The wind was awful. I felt like it was always gusting in my face. And driving little pellets of rain into my skin. It was painful at times.

And then the road curved and wandered through a forest. Trees lined the road, a babbling brook laughed and gushed next to the road. There was no wind. The rain was a mist. I listened to the wind in the trees. Felt the mist on my face, heard the birds singing, the creek gurgling… I laughed at how beautiful all of it was, this stretch. And how I would have missed it if I had been wearing headphones or carrying my phone. I would have tried to take a photo, or a video or something to capture it. Instead, I let myself sink into it. I turned my face to the sky and felt the rain. I skipped. I laughed.

And then I turned a corner and the wind almost knocked me over. And the trees were gone. And I was back to real life. And the soybean fields.

Around mile 8 my left knee (which has been giving me problems ever since I fell off my bike in March) started talking to me. “I’m at a 4, Kyla. Just so you know.” OK. I filed it away. 4 out of 10 wasn’t bad. And it wasn’t a stabbing pain. More like a dull ache. I stopped a few times over the next half mile and stretched.

Somewhere before mile 10 there was a downhill and the first step I took over the top my knee started screaming. Well shit. I wasn’t about to run down the hill, but now I can’t even walk?

New rule- limp down the downhills, run the flats and hills. Stay on the intervals, unless it’s a downhill. My time had been slipping, and I was at a 15/min mile. If I hustled just a bit, I could still PR (come in under 3:13:13).

And then my knee said I don’t think you’ve been paying attention:

Your goals have changed.

  1. Finish

  2. Don’t get hurt

  3. PR.

And you know what? I’m changing it again.

  1. Don’t get hurt

  2. Maybe finish

I slogged through the next mile limping on the downhills, running and walking as my body said to. My pace had slowed tremendously. I knew this. I didn’t have to look at my watch.

I hit mile 11 and my knee was done. So I walked the last 2.1 miles. In the rain. And the cold. And the wind that almost knocked me down more than once.

Finally, I saw the banner for mile 13. I tried a little run, just to see if running down the finishing chute was going to happen. 3 steps. Pain jumped to 8. NOPE.

I sped up my walking until the pain was at a 6. As I turned the corner to head down the finishing chute I couldn’t help myself and I ran. The pain jumped to 8 almost instantly.

And then there was mud, and puddles and I slowed down, not to walk, but to avoid stepping into a knee-deep mud puddle. At one point I full on stopped to think about which way to go.

The pain in my knee was at a 10. I bit my lip and ran across the finish line. And stopped moving.

Vince was there, banana suit and all. I asked for ice or the med tent. Neither existed.

I grabbed some chocolate milk, a banana, a granola bar, and my medal.

I could barely walk, and there was no choice but to keep walking. Through unstable mushy ground. More than once I twisted my ankle just enough that pain went shooting through my knee to my hip.

I made it inside. Vince had gone to the bar and grabbed a bag of ice, since there was no med tent.

I limped to a chair at the table where our friends were waiting. I collapsed into the chair and iced my knee. I wasn’t tired. My body wasn’t tired. My heart and lungs weren’t tired. My knee had called all the shots. I had plenty of gas in the tank; my nutrition was on point, breakfast was fantastic, I was well hydrated. My knee was unhappy with all of it and took over.

Around the table, over glasses of wine and chocolate milk, stories were told of the rain and the wind and the mud. One friend got 3rd in their age group. Another had a PR. Vince got 2nd in his age group.

I finished. I finished last. For the second time. In one season.

I’m beginning to question what this means. I’ve not blamed myself for being out of shape, or too fat, or too slow.

Each last-place finish had its glory or its pain.

Each last place finish is a badge of honor.

I was last so someone else didn’t have to be.

The universe thinks I’m strong enough to handle it.

I’ll rise up into that responsibility.

New goal: every race I finish, I’ll finish with joy, with a smile on my face.


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