I wait in the corral, and rain splashes across my face. I have been awake for a couple of hours and it is only 7:45am. My hair is dripping with water, and at one point, I cannot tell if I am crying because of anxiety or if it is raining that hard. Slowly, the corrals ahead let out, and mine moves up. Then I am at the starting line and I am running and one foot is in front of the other. It is said that how you start a race impacts how you end it. I decide to go with the turtles strategy. Slow and steady.
At mile one, I’m thinking “wait, has it really only been a mile?” I’m pacing with some folks from my corral, friends of friends. It’s a nice, even pace. There are a lot of people packed together. I know they will thin out. I wonder how long it will take for them to thin out. I wonder if I will notice when they do. There are giant stickers on the ground, and they are facing the wrong way. That is when I realize I will be coming back this way at some point in the relatively near future.
Close to mile two, I realize the route is in the far north part of my neighborhood. I pass a water station and wonder if I should be stopping. There’s also porta-potties, which have a long line. I realize I have needed to pee since I started running. Maybe I should not stop for either. I want to keep my time up, if I can.
Mile three is mostly un-notable.
Mile four, I start to break away from the folks I was running with. It is unconscious and I am unaware until I look back and cannot easily see them. I figure if I slow to a walk, maybe they will catch up, but they do not. I grab water. Mile four takes the route over the Hawthorne Bridge.
At the end of the Hawthorne Bridge, I take a selfie with the Mile Five post. The split for the 10k follows pretty quick, and a few turns later I am worried I took the wrong turn because there is a 10k sign. Turns out it was just a marker. I have run 10 kilometers now.
Then the route turns onto Hawthorne. I have run the practice route, which involved 20 blocks up Hawthorne, but heading up to the Bagdad while running? I’ve walked that and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Even being mentally prepared for that hill, I was not prepared for that hill. There is a station with runners Gu. I try it and it is gross and leaves an awful aftertaste. Later, I learn one is supposed to consume it before water, not after.
At some point, I feel like I am running into a wall, or maybe being smashed between two walls. I keep going. My whole world is running now, I cannot imagine not running. I feel like I have always been running and I will always be running and running is all I can do but maybe sometimes I am not running I am walking as fast as I can. I think about college and friendships and all the times I have been running and I remember one time when I was running in college around the indoor track in the rec center, I remember the feeling that I could run from my fears and my pains. And I think about running in grad school and what it felt like to be successful at something at a time when I felt like I was always failing. Just one foot in front of the other, keep going.
I am pacing with a friend from the organization I am running with.
Maybe mile eight or nine is by Laurelhurst Park, which I have heard of but not really ever seen. It is beautiful and I would like to lay down there. I think about the logistics of planning an event like this. Getting permits for the roads, and permits for the music, and permission from or notices to the neighbors. I think about donors and people who might be otherwise invested in this sort of thing.
There is a point where the course turns away from downtown and I panic a bit because all I want to do is go home and wrap myself in a nice warm comfy blanket and eat a burrito or a cheeseburger or a pizza or maybe have all of them on hand. One foot in front of the other, I keep going.
I think about Justice. Justice. When Batman gets beverages, he likes to get just ice. Justice, it just is. Well, it just isn’t. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin Luther King Jr. once said. I think about the opportunities and privileges that have been afforded to me, because of my fortune and situation. The organization I am running for, The Cupcake Girls, provides support and helps to create opportunities for women who work in the adult entertainment industry, women who may not have had the privilege of choice or the opportunities to enter other careers. I think about the world as a dark place, and if this temporary pain I get from putting one foot in front of the other is all I can do to make it better, if this is what I have to do to understand even at some miniscule, micrscopic, tiny level, then this is what I have to do.
Spectators have signs of support. I stop again for water and gatorade. One sign reads “this is a lot of work for a free banana” and I giggle. Another reads “toenails are for sissies” and I remember reading somewhere that runners have issues with toenails and what if my toenails fall off, like how do I deal with that? Suddenly I feel my toenails and they feel like pain.
Perhaps it is mile twelve that starts before the Steel Bridge, and I know I am near the end but I just want to not run. I want to run this out, I want to finish and only run from here.
I start across the Steel Bridge, one foot in front of the other. As I exit the Steel Bridge, there are more and ore people holding signs. I see banners ahead, and they look like the finish line, right? I get closer and I see they are not, but I do see the real finish line and all I want to do is stand there and look at it. I just want to stop moving. Foot. Move foot. Next one. Right left right left right left so on.
I slow to a walk for a second. I could just walk across the line, I mean, it does not matter how I get across, as long as I do.
No, I must run. I did not come all this way to walk across the finish line. I start jogging again. I see friends cheering, and I know I have just enough energy to make it. It is so close. 13 miles. That means only .1 left. I sprint. I sprint past runners, left, right, dodging. My legs extend fully, feet touching the asphalt for just a second. After moments that seem like an eternity, I cross the finish line and slow to a walk.
There are medals and water and Gatorade and I want to sit down, all I want is to just sit down.
And as I sit, with my banana and power bar and Gatorade and chocolate milk and water and pretzels and Jimmy John’s sandwich, it starts to sink in.
I just ran a half marathon.