I warn you now, I've been gone for almost 2 weeks and just left Madison for the last time for a long time...this is going to be a long, rambling, and possibly ridiculous one, half of which really doesn't have anything to do with running...
Last night, I couldn't fall asleep. Not because I was thinking about the fact that in 3 days I'm moving across the country to a bigger city than I've ever lived in before, not because I was concerned about how I was going to find a job or have enough money when I get there, not about packing and the 20 hour drive overnight in a truck and the hassle of moving again...
But because I was thinking about running.
Unfortunately, too much of the past couple of weeks has been about thinking about running rather than actually doing it. I ran a total of once while I was up north, for a lovely grand total of 19.1 miles on the week. I feel a little guilty, but not completely awful about that - I mean, I was hiking through forests and climbing on rocks and waterfalls the whole time, not sitting on my butt. The one time I did go running, I was fairly terrified the entire time that a bear was going to show up and eat me [yes, there are bears in the north woods of Wisconsin] so that was kind of was a deterrent too. Then I got back and got off the week to a good start with a 7.5 and an 8 miler, but it has just been awkward finding time and motivation to run when I'm either sleeping in someone else's house or at home attempting to organize my life into boxes. I'm starting to worry that I made a mistake getting myself into this madness, that I'm not going to be ready, that I've been lazy [yes, some how 50 mile weeks represent laziness to me?], that I'm tired of the training and why the hell am I doing this? But more on that some other day.
And then there was the half marathon. Short story: it did not go well, and there are many reasons, even legitimate excuses, for that, the main one being that I woke up the morning of the race and could not take a deep breath without hacking up a lung. I honestly thought about DNSing. I honestly could not forsee how there was any way I was actually going to be able to run 13.1 miles on this day. It didn't help that I had gotten approximately 2 hours of sleep from a combination of bartime noise, a man playing a saxophone, and an ill-fated attempt to use a beanbag chair as a pillow the night before. Not to mention - I was just NOT in the mood to race. But then again, I had never thought of this as a race, I had never planned to do it as a race, it was just kind of...there...and as good an excuse as any to come back to Madison one last time.
So I did it, and it was awful. I ran the first 2 miles with Claire and Nicole, the WTC girls who have been there from the start. Claire had to peel off to go work the "back of the pack crew", but I wanted more than anything to be able to stay with Nicole. As I think I've mentioned before, she was one of my first friends I met when I got to college, and we've both made this utterly absurd transition from 100 meter hurdler to 800 runner to miler to half marathoner [and god knows what else we'll do in the future haha]. She actually ended up finishing in 1:37 something, which is a) AMAZING, and b) I don't think I could have done that even if I hadn't been feeling like utter crap! But anyway. So sadly I watched her pull away at around mile 3 and pretty much just focused on not dying. I actually just felt sick. I couldn't breathe and my stomach was sloshing around and I just didn't feel good at all. As I continued to watch my mile splits unravel and swarms of people kept passing me, I honestly just wanted to sit down on the side of the road and cry. This wasn't how it was supposed to be at all - this was supposed to be a glorious victory lap to end my career in Madison, not a death march that felt like I'd backtracked right back to where I started. I thought about stopping more times than I'd like to admit. And the one thought coming through it all was - if I can't even do THIS, how am I going to run a marathon?
My pain during this half was so different than the other two I've done, because I was so focused on how much my lungs hurt as I struggled to breathe and how sick I felt that I hardly noticed the leg fatigue which is usually my demise at around mile 9 of the race. In retrospect, that also probably had something to do with the fact that I wasn't running very fast...but whatever. Jade and Claire eventually found me and decided to run along with me to the finish, since I was obviously in need of some support and they really had nothing else better to do. And while, in the end, I finished only 15 seconds faster than my first half marathon [which, uh, doesn't make me very happy], I give those two full credit for the fact that I didn't finish any slower. Because they would NOT let me give up. The entire last 2 miles pretty much went like this:
"Audrey, relax your arms, just think about that and you'll go faster!"
"Get around this pack, they're not speeding up, you can!"
"OK, that mile marker was a lie, there's more than a mile to go" [I will admit, that wasn't that helpful haha]
"Come on, FINISH!"
And my personal favorite/the one that almost made me burst into tears with a quarter mile to go:
"This is the last race in Madison....GO!!!"
And I will admit, with all of that, I managed to run like a 7:20 last mile, though I seriously almost killed myself to do it. Finish time: 1:48:31. Ugh. But what are you going to do. And as the BF put it: "You said you just did this race so you could do your long run with people...well, it's not every day you get a medal for finishing your long run!" [And I will say, the finisher's medals are SWEET. Huge and very shiny = win] And I guess, if the goal was to run 13.1 miles at around marathon goal pace...mission accomplished!
It's funny, because I was thinking about that comment - this is the last race in Madison - and I thought of kind of a pattern that I see with "last" races. My last 100 hurdles race of my high school track career, I tripped out of the blocks and missed out on a bid to state. My last cross country race of college, I had dead legs and was never in it. My last 5K on the track of college was crap, and my last actual track race - a steeplechase - sucked because I felt like throwing up the entire time. And it always makes it extra devastating that whatever thing I loved was ending, because I ended it on that shitty performance, and I always beat myself up extra hard as a result. That didn't happen as much in this case, because this time there was a perfectly good reason for why I didn't run well: I was sick. Also, it's not like this is going to be my last half marathon ever. Oh no. This distance kind of pisses me off. I still haven't put together a good RACE at it yet...but I will. Oh, I will.
And as for my last actual run in Madison, well, that turned out to be beyond incredible. You see, all I wanted was for my last run there to be amazing. It sounds kind of stupid, but that city is where I became a runner. The roads and trails and parks that I ran year after year, mile after mile...they mean more to me than the city itself. The past couple weeks I lived there I had a lot of crappy runs, my last one before I left especially so, but I figured, hey, I've got the half. Well we all know how that turned out. But when I woke up Sunday morning, albiet a little hungover, the sky was a gorgeous shade of blue, it was a perfect 65 degrees out, and just to make things a little more perfect, there was an event going on with a 6 mile loop of major roads closed to traffic, open only to walkers, bikers, and runners. I was going to get my perfect run.
I ran with Claire, which was amazing, and I was practically on the verge of tears the entire time. Because you see, this lovely road closure deal led us along my favorite route, the Lake Monona bike path. The sun was reflecting off the lake as the most perfect puffy white clouds floated by, there was a cool breeze blowing and I felt incredible. If only the race had been today! But really, that didn't matter. I was purely and utterly in heaven. I think there are some experiences that go beyond words and for me, this was one of them. It seems so mundane - an easy 6 mile run with a friend on a late summer Sunday. But it. Was. Perfect. Forget the awful race - here was my victory lap, along the shores of Lake Monona, soaking in every last blissful moment.
And that run was the beginning of what, I swear to God, had to be one of the most magical days I've ever experienced. When I say magical I mean it was like everything in the world had conspired to make mine and the BF's last day in this incredible place the best one ever. Our hangovers magically dissapated. Every single animal at the zoo was out and playing, even the ottters, the red panda, the baby deer, the ones we NEVER see. The sun reflected perfectly off the flowers at the botanical gardens as butterflies fluttered around. A blue heron flew by as we gazed off Monona Terrace over the lake. We turned on the radio just as the opening strains of "Don't Stop Believin'" began to play. I had orange custard chocolate chip ice cream on the terrace with Nicole - fitting that, as the first friend I said hello to that I'm still close with today, that she would be the last I would say goodbye to - watching a perfect sunset over the lake.
I don't mean to be super nostalgic or cheesy - but lets face it, that's kind of my style. And I feel like I'm being completely truthful when I say that the 4 years I spent in Madison have made me into the person I am today. I am confident. I no longer feel like I need everyone's approval to be who I want. I am a runner. I am a better person. And I am all of these things because of the people I met and experiences I had there. I am thrilled, and excited beyond belief to move to Boston and for everything that's in store there, but it is strange to be ending this chapter of my life which I think has really changed me as a person. And the track club, the glorious glorious WTC, had so, so much to do with that. My teammates and my best friends, these were the people who were by far the hardest to say goodbye too, and it was fitting and perfect that I spent this weekend with them. But the wonderful thing about the running community is that I know we will stay friends. And 10 years down the line, when there's a marathon in somebody's hometown or a national cross country meet, or maybe even someday at a WTC sponsered race, we'll meet up and reminisce on those days when we ran all day and drank all night in a beautiful place called Madison, Wisconsin.
And as I drove out of the city, watching the silhouette of the Capitol fade in my rearview mirror for the last time, all I could think was of this quote:
"But for those of us who have had our lives shaped between these lakes, Madison means hope, it means promise, and no matter where our lives take us, for those of us who have been touched by this city, Madison will always mean home." -Mayor Dave [as the mayor is known]
And that, I think, pretty much sums it up.