Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Crossing the Finish Line

This past Saturday was an event I have been preparing for over the past five and a half months, since I started running last October: the Holyoke St. Patrick's Road Race. 6.2 miles. 2 1/2 miles of it uphill. And, they are big hills!

This is a bit of a race report mixed with my observations on what it is like to do this type of event. I don't know the specifics of how large other races are, but this particular race had a lot of people, reportedly over 7,000 runners. Somewhat intimidating to me. As I have mentioned in a previous blog entry, my husband was running the race by himself and my friend, Heather, and I were running together. It was such an incredible experience that it has taken me a few days to get my thoughts together before I write them down.

The City of Holyoke, Massachusetts takes St. Patrick's Day seriously. The parade, which is the day after the road race, is one of the biggest in the country, maybe even the biggest. So of course, the road race is a big deal as well. People dress up in green clothes, costumes, and all kinds of other garb for the event. We were no exception. That is the reason I have pushed so hard, as a new runner, to try and get myself ready for this year's race, rather than waiting a whole year to compete. The race is just fun. While I have been training consistently, I knew another year might have made a big difference in the difficulty of running this race for me. However being as inpatient as I can be, and honestly, none of us knows what can happen in another year, I knew I had to attempt the race this year.

 We got to the race area pretty early because of the high volume of traffic and people who were expected to be in attendance. Because for as many runners as there were (there was also a walk), there was probably just as many spectators lining the streets. After about two plus hours of waiting, stretching, and waiting some more, my husband went to his starting line up position and Heather and I went to ours, in the very back. This year, the race was starting in waves and we were going to be the last group, besides the walkers, to depart from the starting line. There was definitely a feeling of excitement as we heard the gun go off, indicating that the first wave of runners was on the move.

Heather and I had a plan to start the race walking for a few minutes, mostly because at my last race, I panicked and started off much too fast, causing me to have a difficult time. The other part of our plan, since we are run/walkers, was to speed walk the hills and run as much of the rest as possible. As we started off across the start line, I was shocked by the amount of people lining the barricades, rows and rows deep. I started to get a little panicky having all these people watching me.

After a very brief walk, we did start running. I tried to not be too conscious about how far back we were. I just kept reminding myself that pacing myself was the key to us crossing the finish line. However, it was hard to ignore the ambulance that was very closely trailing behind us. Being someone who has so many medical struggles and has recently spent time in an ambulance, I found this a bit disconcerting. I just kept reminding myself, "pace yourself", pace yourself."

Since Heather and I have been training together for months, we have developed a good pattern of communication while running and I think that really paid off during the race. There were points where she was struggling more than me and other points, especially towards the end, where I was struggling more. But overall, we stuck with the plan and mile by mile, I realized that we were absolutely going to finish, and likely at a faster time than we thought. According to my running watch, we were averaging about a fifteen-seventeen minute/mile walk and about a twelve-fourteen minute/mile run. I had thought that if we finished the race in 1:40-1:45, I would be happy. Anything under that would be an even bigger accomplishment. By my calculations, we had a shot at finishing at about 1:30. We had discussed during one of our training runs that 1:30 would be the icing on the cake, so to speak.

The experience of this race is one that I will never forget. It definitely had its challenges: leg issues for Heather, a previous injury for me, nausea after my first water stop when I tried to drink water, and WAY too many hills! That all being said, overall, it wasn't quite as difficult as my first race on New Year's because I had more months of running behind me and the temperature was at least  thirty degrees warmer. My family turned out to cheer us on at two different spots along the race course and it is still amazing to me how many complete strangers cheered us on along the way. I'm not talking about cheering statements like "keep going", but rather comments like: " you can do this....you're almost there...you SO got this...last hill." Comments that actually spurred us on when things got tough. There were people on their front lawns playing bagpipes, Irish music being blasted from people's homes, and LOTS of clapping and yelling. The kinds of things you need when doing your first 10K race.

The three of us did finish the race. My husband came in at just under an hour (59:57) which was fantastic for his first 10K. When Heather and I turned the last corner to head towards the finish line, it was all I could do to keep moving and not only was I moving, but I was running. I made a promise to myself when I started running, that I would NEVER walk across a finish line. No matter how difficult running is for me or how tough a race is, I would always run my last quarter mile. I would always be a strong finisher.

It felt quite surreal when Heather pointed out how close we were to the finish line. As we got closer, we heard the announcer say our names on the loudspeaker.That is the advantage to finishing towards the end of a race, we heard our names announced because we weren't in a pack with a bunch of another people...it was just her and I. Usually the only time my name is ever announced, I am in a medical appointment waiting room. This was a nice change of pace!

Right before we crossed, I looked up at the time: 1:40. I was slightly disappointed, although I shouldn't have been. But I did think we had done a little better than that. It didn't matter though. We had finished. I, a person with a life-altering chronic illness, had accomplished something that I never before thought possible, even when I was healthier.

The three us spent some time in Holyoke rewarding ourselves with some hard-earned beers (not the gluten-free variety, either) and during that time, I got a text message. The company that monitored the race, Racewire, texts your time after the race. I never even knew that was going to happen. And then, a sudden realization hit when as I was reading the text. Our 1:40 time on the finish line screen did not account for the fact that we were in the last wave of runners to start, delaying us by about ten minutes. Our actual finish time was 1:30:56! We did achieve what I previously thought was unattainable. Was a 1:30 finish time a remarkable feat in the world of competitive racing? Not by any means and I know that. But that doesn't change the fact that for us, it was truly a remarkable feat.

The aftermath of running the 10K has been difficult for me; a lot of it has been ignorance and neglect on my part in post-race recovery. More of it has been my usual daily physical struggles exacerbated by putting my body through an unusual physical challenge. And finally, part of it has been a nagging leg injury that is totally ticked off at me for running all those miles. But as uncomfortable as I am, it still doesn't feel as bad as my worse day as a Sjögren's patient because mentally, I am stronger and I feel like I have accomplished something that I was never supposed to do.

My only question now is: when is the next race?


  1. Congratulations, Chris!! You are amazing, and what an inspiration to us all!

  2. Congratulations Christine. BTW, you look fantastic. Have you lost more weight?

  3. Thanks, Annie! I had gained some when I started back on prednisone last Sept/Oct. but since Jan, I have lost about 12 lbs. so I am about the same!