Every year for the past five, I’ve joined 14,000 other runners for a 7am start at the Publix (formerly ING) Full/Half Marathon. One of the best things about it always has been hitting a bridge that goes right over the city, just as the sun is coming up.
There are lots of great things about this race – amazing tour of this history-rich city, fantastic neighborhood cheering sections, great charity support and actual coffee at the finish line (take a memo, race directors). There are also some not-so-great things. It is a brutal course filled with hills. Miles 9-12 are merciless. This is one that will leave you sore on Monday.
The race took place on Sunday, March 17 – St. Patty’s Day! It was funny/horrifying/strange to be driving to the race at 5:30am that morning, seeing people still out at bars, celebrating the holiday in an entirely different fashion. (Ironic to say I could run 13-26 miles in a stretch but not manage to stay up all night partying… does that make me lame, old or smart?)
Starting from the A Corral – with Sweet Gail! – was exhilarating and humbling. The people around us were very clearly runners. Seriously wiry, strong, swift looking folks and more than a few SFBG’s. We got to see the wheelchair racers go out, and the first moment of fighting tears came when I passed one of them at mile 2. It was a man pushing another man. He’d slowed to give the man in the wheelchair a drink (not worrying about one for himself). What a tremendous example of love for another person. Truly awesome. I was so glad to use CharityMiles to support Every Mother Counts, but really, that’s just clicking on an app. Thoughtful, maybe, but not real sacrifice and very easy. (Oh, and you should do it too.)
We hit the bridge and I took a deep breath, excited to see the sunrise. It was dark. Boo.
That’s when I really noticed what was happening. I was running comfortable, letting my body – not my Garmin – tell me how hard I was pushing. Checking my watch, I had 6:43/7:01/7:01 splits going. It felt waaaaay slower than that, well more comfortable. Then again, it was early, mostly downhill at that point, and I was just getting warmed up. I cautioned myself to pay attention so wouldn’t bonk later, and kept going, planning to keep things comfortable.
And the rewards came. Because I was running comfortably, I was really able to take in my surroundings. (Typically, I’m just worried about not keeling over during this race.) After the bridge, you get to run through the Martin Luther King Memorial area, which is thick with history. It was beginning to get light, and as we turned into the next neighborhood, the sun came up. It was one of those ‘angels singing’ moments. At the end of the long, straight road, the sun was halfway up, burning bright and rewarding us for the early start.
I was overwhelmed. I choked back tears (for the second time, darnit), said a quick prayer, recommitted the run to God, thanking Him for the ability, the place and the glory of the day, and kept moving.
It’s those moments – the sunrises, the example of human tenacity and care, and the realization of your gifts that make life so precious. It was an amazing run and a finish I’m excited to put on the records. If I could hang those moments on the wall to refer back to, I would. I guess the very sparkly shamrock medal will have to suffice.