Turning 21 in Nashville was messy, hot, sweaty, dehydrating and seemingly never ending.
So was running my first half marathon.
Being the innovator I am I combined the two experiences and dubbed it my literal "21 Run."
Over those 13.1 miles I learned life lessons and more about myself than I cared to know.
My first lesson came at 6:00 in the morning.
We had woken up at 4:30 to get ourselves prepped, fed and semi-put together. The number one rule in racing is never to wear something new on race day, so I stuck with some well loved gear, with a few exceptions. I had been sorting through costume ideas for race day for weeks and then waited until the day before to actually get my act together and make them. They turned out fine, although the number of times someone called me "princess" over the race course was far more frequent than I would have liked.
We arrived at the parking lot around 5:20 to find a slough of other runners bundled up in their cars waiting for the sun to rise. At around 6 we decided to brave the port-a-potties, where I learned a valuable lesson; bring your own toilet paper on race day.
After our port-a-potty experience we trekked our way across the bridge to the start line. The St. Jude Rock & Roll Marathon is huge, talk about crowded. Having never run a long race before we had made sure to give ourselves a lot of time to finish, putting us in one of the last corrals. This really did not matter though, because even though we were at the corrals in plenty of time most were full by the time we arrived. So, we squished our way into a random corral and made some new friends. Someone told me that Tim McGraw had run the full marathon last year, casually I might add, lesson number two: train harder next year for the full and find out if Tim runs in a hat.
We must have started 30 minutes after the official start, although to be honest I have no idea when we actually started I was so nervous and excited to just be in Nashville running my first big race.
Lesson three found me as I was dogging, weaving and generally trying to sink into the pace and plan I had created pre-race over the first two miles. My goal was to run to every water station and then walk through them for a rest and to have some hope of getting more water into my mouth than down my front. My pace was quick compared to my training runs due to the unavoidable adrenaline rush.
Miles 3-4 taught my calves a huge lesson; Nashville is not flat. Whoever told me that the south was flat forgot about Nashville because ohmygoodness were my legs on fire. All the same, I kept a consistent pace and stuck to the plan. I really started to understand that I could do it in these miles, even though I was barely into the race and was blind to the hurdles ahead.
Miles 5 & 6 are when I can remember hitting a wall. Because we had left the start line so soon after everyone else a lot of the sideline cheering was dwindling away. In a totally mental way I started to waiver, I remember there being a few people on the side offering alcoholic beverages and just about invited myself over for a birthday shot. My mind did prevail over my weak body and we kept chugging along, thinking about the water station ahead.
Miles 7-11 were tough. The sun was out full force by then and my Northwest was showing. I was hot, sweaty and ready to be D-O-N-E. For most of the race I had one earphone in my ear half listening to music, but more focused on the crowd. In some mean twist of fate the song 'DONE' came on over these tough, humid miles. I can remember thinking to myself, all I want to be is done!
It was also in these tough miles that I had time to reflect, to think about my life and how big this race was for me. I found myself smiling through the mess.
I ran on and off with two other girls who had asked me about my birthday crown and found them to be a great help over these tough miles. I also found out just how lovely the people of Nashville were in these miles. As I passed by a group of girls running one of them had called out happy birthday. I slowed to chat and she kept telling me how much she loved me and how great I was. It was so what I needed to hear, not only in terms of the race, but also in the grand scheme of my life at that moment.
Miles 12-13.1 were a total blur. Ask the other half marathoners if they saw a mile 12 marker, as far as I am concerned there wasn't one. This confused all of us and it wasn't until mile 13 that we realized just how close we were. I noted the full marathoners passing on the other side of the median and thought how cool it was that they were finishing too, only to find out that they were only at mile 16... ouch! As I came into the finish line the announcer said a congratulatory happy birthday and I threw my hands into the air. I had done it. I ran 13.1 miles on my 21st birthday. I suddenly felt worthy, powerful and in charge. I knew in those moments that I could do anything I put my mind to if I stuck to it long enough.
I celebrated post race with a trip to Margaritaville and the most fabulous nap.