Race Day!

Every now and then, one moment in time changes your life. I had this experience when I completed my first half marathon in 2009. I was awed, humbled, and inspired by the accomplishment, and I can truly say without fear of cliché, that I will never be the same. It changed my perception of who I am as a blind person, and as a person in general. It strengthened my self-confidence. It radically rearranged my priorities and perspective.
Here is how it all happened.

April 25, 2009, Saturday
We stepped off the shuttle, into a predawn of such perfection, it took my breath away. Sleepy-singing birds and the scent of fresh air and spring grass kissed by dewdrops welcomed us to morning. As the gauzy curtain of darkness dissolved into light, we had to walk a bit to get from the shuttle to where we actually needed to be for the start of the race, and the world switched from quiet stillness to a chaos of voices in less than sixty seconds!
This was my first experience with a crowd of forty thousand people. I’ve never heard so many voices altogether at one time. You could almost drown in the sound! If you’re claustraphobic at all, the start line of the Country Music Marathon in Nashville Tennessee might not be the place for you. I couldn’t look around to pick out individual faces, so it really was like a massive wave of sound just rolling over me. It could have been intimidating, but I was with my friends, and you can never be overwhelmed by anything if true friends are standing beside you.
We stood around for nearly two hours, so long that we even had time to grab a drink from the McDonald’s at the start of the course. It was nearly seven-thirty by the time my corral took off, and with the sunrise came heat and humidity. No one expected a hot day, but it was unusually warm for April. We had a beautiful prayer, and we were finally on our way.
For the half, you walk through downtown Nashville, but the course is layed out so you get a feel for the city even as you appreciate the natural beauty of the surroundings. There is water and other refreshment every mile or so along the route. A different band plays about every mile and a half, and spectators line the course. I anticipated maybe a hundred spectators. I just had no concept of literally THOUSANDS of people who would stay out there for five plus hours to support the runners. There were high school cheerleading squads, church groups, families with small children, people stepping out onto the course to high-five you as you went by! The positivity was almost tangible!!! I guess I just imagined that things would be as they were in other athletic endeavors–the spectators would cheer for the winners, and then they’d get bored and leave, or if they did stay, the slowest racers would get jeered at the way a pitcher does when he’s having a bad night in baseball. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s almost as though the spectators saved up their best support for the slowest racers, and the faster racers joined them! No words could ever convey the atmosphere of optimism and good will that surrounded us. The magic is in the courtesy and generosity of the volunteers who make it happen, the spectators who stay til the last person is off the course, and the faster runners who will come back onto the course after they’ve received their medals so that they can cheer for those who are still walking. That’s the essence of the Country Music Marathon.
my favorite thing was the policeman around mile 11, riding along in his air-conditioned cruiser, who decided to let us know through his PA system that HE was tired! (Sir, I don’t know who you are, but i thank you for making me laugh out loud when I thought I was too tired to even speak!)
My race partners were Jenn and Donna, both of whom were participants in last year’s marathon. Throughout the race, Donna kept me well hydrated and supplied with gel packs, and Jenn was my
cheerleader/narrator. Both acted as sighted guides for me, and i couldn’t have finished the race without them. They didn’t just lead me along the streets though. They brought the visual aspects of the marathon to life for me with their descriptions of signs and shirts and people, (and remember, they were walking 13.1 miles too!). Both friends stood by patiently while I was sitting down on a cot at the medical tent trying not to pass out, even though they could have been off the course in three to four hours if left to their own abilities. Neither one complained about the slow pace. And after a nearly five-hour stay on the course on one of the hotter marathon days in Nashville, both said they’d gladly do it again next year. Friends like that are priceless.
I thought I was prepared to finish the race in my goal of four hours. But within the first hour, I could see that wasn’t going to happen. Two things slowed me down, and I don’t think I could have trained for either one of them. First, I had no concept of a crowd of forty thousand people, much less the same crowd moving quickly, and then me having to maneuver in and around them. Several times, we had to almost stop walking to avoid being run over, or running over someone. I also was not prepared for the amount of empty cups and nutrition bar wrappers that forty thousand can leave on the ground.
Second, I was always the girl to pass out at outdoor events because of the heat, even at the peak of my health and fitness. I’ve never done well with it, and I had a neurologist tell me that a healthy adult who was born a premature baby will always be susceptible to the effects of extreme heat or cold, sleep disturbances, poor nutrition, etc., things that make most people uncomfortable but don’t physically affect them as deeply. I did most of my training indoors on a treadmill, out of necessity, and I had always been on pace for a four-hour finish. I just didn’t know enough about athleticism to realize that a
fifteen-degree increase in temperature would slow me down so much. I was disappointed in my performance for about 2/3 of the race, and then I decided you don’t go from couch potato to marathoner in one shot without a learning curve, so maybe I should just be proud of what I could accomplish. Besides that, personal goals and race times meant little when compared to the real reason for the walk. When you realize you are raising money that will literally save lives, it puts your petty little concerns in perspective! my training was great in one respect, because I was never out of breath during the five hours on the course, except for maybe the last one-tenth of the 13.1 miles, which we have learned is the LONGEST tenth of a mile anyone shall ever walk.
I do know this. I gave that race 115% of my best effort. I can say that with complete certainty. I started to feel dizzy and nauseous in mile 3. I kept going. This faintness/nausea from the heat kept reappearing throughout the race, I’d drink the sports drink, I kept going. I pulled a muscle or did something to my leg, I sat down for 45 seconds, I kept going. At mile 11.8 I got as close to passing out as ever, I had to sit at the meddical tent for about ten minutes and get salt, water, sports drink, and bananas, before I could continue, but I kept going. When in the last 1.1 miles, everything was blocked out except the heat bouncing up off the asphalt, the sun blazing down into my face, and the weight of humid air smothering me, I kept going. So many people supported me but the standout was Rhonda. She didn’t feel well that weekend, and in fact, within two days, she would be in the hospital. But she stayed the entire time. I heard later that she walked about a mile just to find me on the course, and give me a hat to keep the sun off my face. The hugs and well wishes I got from her and all my other friends made quitting an impossibility. And so I kept going.
And I finished the race!
Runners are supposed to complete the half in under four hours. I finished in just under five. But I raised over four thousand dollars for Malaria No More, which translates to 420 bed nets to prevent the spread of malaria, which translates to anywhere from 420 to 880 lives that could be saved. I helped someone. That’s all I ever really wanted to do, and if you can do that one thing, you truly are a champion!

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Author: Jena

Hi there. Thanks for stopping by. I am a small-town Southern writer, book hoarder, technology enthusiast, unashamed cat lady, and huge fan of the Outlander series. I have a degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Tyler. I love nothing more than to paint pictures with words, and to make people happy, and if I can do both at the same time, all the better. Gratitude, simple joys, and optimism are the cornerstones of my life philosophy. I am totally blind, and I have non 24 sleep disorder, and temporal lobe epilepsy. These health issues make for some interesting times, but adversity has taught me wisdom I never would have learned otherwise. I hope you will enjoy my writing, and I thank you for taking the time to read it.

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