Dictionary.com defines “homecoming” as a noun, meaning a “…return to one’s home…” It’s a very broad definition for a term that is mostly associated with college reunions, dances, pep rallies and football games. It’s been over 15 years since I’ve participated in any traditional Homecoming activities. However, maybe because it’s fall, when thinking of how to recap my race this weekend, the “homecoming” theme seemed appropriate. This weekend, my homecoming was twofold: reunited with my first love (racing) in my hometown (Columbus).
I have just celebrated my two-month anniversary of living in Boulder. Although I am starting to feel more settled in and love it, Columbus will always be my home. I lived there for almost my entire life! When I arrived in Boulder, I quickly joined a new running team and learned that their fall goal race was … wait for it … Columbus! There weren’t many weeks left to train, and I was a little unsure at first, but then I decided to sign-up and head back. I’d get to see friends, run, and wear a new singlet, which to me is better than any sparkly homecoming dress.
I arrived late Friday night, and first on the agenda for Saturday was a five-mile shakeout reunion with my running friends. I had trouble sleeping that night because I was excited to see everyone! I didn’t even care that it was raining when we started off on our run. Just like old times, I barely remember what we talked about. After the run we hung out for hours just talking, laughing and joking. What a great way to kick off my homecoming weekend! Throughout the day, I visited some of my favorite places. I even saw my old chiropractor. I got to watch my beloved Buckeyes barely squeak out a victory. The day was capped off by having a perfect date night with my hubby at our favorite restaurant. It was a great day, and I never stopped smiling! But, I did realize that homecoming meant more than just fun times, hard work was ready to greet me at 0730 that very next morning!
The racing gods blessed all 18,000 runners with great weather: no wind, 40 degrees and forecasted sunshine. It was very humid, and some foggy areas awaited us on the course, but beggars can’t be choosers and that forecast I just described was near perfect for racing. (Plus, some of the pictures have some cool effects with the fog)! My hugger shorts, race singlet and arm warmers would suit me just fine!
The race has grown tremendously in the past five years, and in order to make sure everyone was in their properly assigned corrals I had to line up no later than 30 minutes before the start. Many racers around me complained about the extra waiting, but unlike them, I had a blast! I was surrounded by my new teammates, and we talked about the race and where to go out later that night. I caught up with old teammates and running acquaintances. I got to look around and see the sights of my hometown which hadn’t changed a bit.I started to feel that race excitement again, which is something that was foreign to me for so long. Finally, with about three minutes to go, I tossed my extra layers aside and let the pre-race fireworks and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” fuel my adrenaline.
Going into this race, I was still unsure of my fitness level. I’ve had a solid eight weeks of focused running; however, it was tough for me to gauge how fit I really am. When asked about my goal time, my response was always “…as close to 1:30 as possible…” As much as I wanted to break that 1:30 mark, deep down, I knew it was a stretch. A finish of 1:30 is an average of 6:52/mile, and I hadn’t been consistent hitting that time in workouts. Realistically, I figured 1:33 would be a great race; my overall goal was to break 1:35, which was my time in the spring on an unhappy hammy. My goal was to start conservative (7:15 mile/1:35 half) and try to chip away at it. First mile: 7:14. My legs, lungs and everything just felt great, and most of all, it felt easy. Next mile: 7:09, and starting to get a wee bit faster. Heading into mile three, I still felt that I could go harder, so I picked it up a little.
It wasn’t until then when I realized how much fun I was having. I felt good, and I started seeing so many familiar faces on the course. People I hadn’t seen in a long time were yelling my name as I went by (I wasn’t wearing my name or anything to be recognized). I smiled, I waved, I yelled things. I even tried to pose a few times, but I’m not that coordinated. Soon, 7:09 got down to 6:57, 6:55, 6:54 and even 6:47. After seven miles, my average time was slightly under 7:00, and I still felt great. I got a big pump up at the 10K mark having gone through the best race course water stop, sponsored by Columbus Running Company ( my wonderful running buds). I felt like a rock star and almost stopped just so I could hang out with them….I didn’t, but I did slap a lot of hands along the way.
Miles seven and eight went well, and I still maintained 7:00 pace. I dropped to 6:55 in mile nine, but then….some bathroom issues started to arise. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake it. I pulled back to 7:12 and kept my eye out for a port-a-john. No such luck…I either missed them, or I just didn’t see them. Fighting it through 10-11, I experimented with trying to pick it up again, but it wasn’t happening. I got a little frustrated and for about two minutes, got pissed! This hasn’t happened on any of my long runs AND I took care of business way before the start. Why was this happening now? Rather than continuing to get mad, I just dealt with it and carried on. After all, the turnoff for the half marathon was up ahead, and I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t have to run nearly 14 more miles with an unhappy belly. Oh well, it happens!
My overall finish time was 1:32:57; it was far from a PR or a PW. I wasn’t disappointed; in fact, I felt just the opposite. This race confirmed for me that I still love running. Since I have recently rediscovered my joy of running, this race just continued the positive momentum for me. My body felt fine, it felt good to be back in a race, and of course, it was wonderful to be back in my hometown. I crossed the finish line to be greeted by my new teammates, most of whom shaved minutes off existing PRs. We all hugged and shared our stories before the chills and shivers set in, and we had to seek warm clothing. I was so excited for one of my Boulder friends, who threw down one hell of a kick at the end to beat me by four seconds and cross the line with a PR! What I realized the most at that moment was how fortunate I was to be surrounded by new friends, old friends and participating in my favorite sport. It was wonderful!
Well, I wasn’t quite finished for the day…… Earlier in the week. I talked with a dear Columbus friend, who was competing in the marathon aiming to run sub 3:45 for her BQ. I offered to jump back in for the last few miles and pace her to the end. Once the Boulder crew was done celebrating our race, I headed back to the hotel to quickly change out of my cold, wet racing clothes. Then, I headed back out to dodge closed streets and started running the course backwards starting at mile 25.5. I found her at 22.5, and instructed her to keep an eye on my right shoulder. We held 8:30 pace, slowing when needed and picking it up when we could. She wore her headphones, so there was no conversation between us. I just made sure she hung off my right shoulder. We passed struggling runners and tried hard to get them to latch on. We helped one girl, who resorted to walking, pick it up to keep chasing her BQ dream. I made her go ahead so she could hit 3:40 and called her pace as she chased her goal. I stayed in until mile 26, where I peeled off and gave her a big hug. She finished in 3:40:22, which was four minutes faster than last year! It was great to hop back in and help her along with others; I enjoyed every moment of it. Total daily mileage was 20 for the day! Yikes!
Wow, what a lucky gal I am: I got to see old friends, got to know new friends better, run a race, spend time with my husband, be back in my hometown and help a friend reach her running goal. I felt truly blessed that my Homecoming weekend was filled with such great fun and confirmed that I am excited to train hard again. My body is healthy, my attitude is positive, and I am looking forward to the next adventure!