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Encouraged by my friend, Jaclyn, I registered for the Thelma & Louise Half-Marathon a few months back mostly because I loved the movie, it sounded like a fun race and I’ve never been to Moab, so why not? Somewhere between registering and the actual race, I got a wild idea of trying to qualify for Boston at the Big Cottonwood Marathon in Salt Lake City in September. Suddenly, this race seemed like a perfect training goal along the way.

With the race day approaching, my husband and I loaded up the RV and headed out for the weekend – just the two of us, sans kids for once. I’d had a good two months of training under my belt where I had averaged around 40 miles per week for the last 4-5 weeks. I felt I was strong, but still untested in a race environment and hadn’t been used to real competition in several years – even if it was just competing with myself. I was very nervous, saying my first goal was simply to break 2 hours – a feat I hadn’t accomplished in over six years. My secret goal was to break 1:50, since that is the pace I would need for Boston and mentally, it would give me a boost to know that I’ve reached unchartered PR territory. I didn’t know if it was truly feasible this early in my training, so I mostly kept that goal to myself because speaking it out loud really scared me to death. I’d held the pace I needed for as much as 8 miles, but never for 13.1 and it seemed a very lofty goal to achieve.

 We had a great trip down, even though Jaclyn’s pop-up camper got a flat and we ended up having to stop in Glenwood Springs for repairs…and beer. It put us into Moab a bit later than expected, but our campsite was nice and we made it to the expo in time to purchase a few items, including the Thelma & Louise DVD, which I stayed up way too late “studying” in hopes of winning some prizes in the trivia contest after the run. (As it turns out, I did know many of the questions, but never had the luck of having my bib number pulled to actually answer. Darn. What IS Thelma’s middle name??)

Jaclyn and I got up early and made it to start line in plenty of time, leaving the men behind at the campsite with her two young kids. Though I didn’t get much sleep due to the hellacious rainstorm overnight, I was doing slightly better than Jaclyn who was awakened at various intervals to tend to her baby as well as a collapsed outdoor tent during one of the harder rain torrents at 1am. Still, we were excited and ready to run. It was pleasantly cool – perfect race temperature – and there was a party atmosphere with line dancing as well as two Thelma & Louise look-a-likes making the rounds for photos. Jaclyn decided to run a mile or so to warm up and I warmed up by taking pictures and chatting with other runners milling about. Pretty typical.

 At the start I saw the first two pacers with signs for 1:45 and 2:00. I certainly didn’t want to be behind the 2:00 at any point during the race, but was fairly certain that 1:45 was going to be too fast. I lined up between the two and decided to just run my pace and see what happened. Because it was such a small race, I ended up being in the front pack for the first mile or so and was giddy thinking that for once I wasn’t in the mid to back of the pack, as I typically am. My training must be working! The girls up front seemed smooth and confident – very unlike how I was certain I must look, but all the same, I kept up for about a mile and a half and then settled into my own pace, which was slightly slower. I was feeling really good.

 I looked at my TomTom and realized around mile 3 that if I could hold on, I was paced to actually finish under 1:50 as I had hoped. I actually felt very much at ease with the pace and figured I could probably run even faster, but was too scared I might then implode somewhere along the way and ruin the mojo I was enjoying. If 1:50 was my PR, I’d just try to stay there since it suddenly seemed like a very possible goal. It became a mental struggle to hold onto the pace and not try to chase the few women that passed and faded along the way. I kept repeating that I was steady, consistent and strong. These women were running their own race and I had to run mine. I was so focused on my own stride, breathing and hydration that somehow I completely missed that the first water station was manned by 10-15 young men dressed up as Brad Pitt from the Thelma & Louise movie.

I knew from the race description that there was a “Brad Pitt stop” on the course and somehow after missing them at Mile 1.5, I spent at least 5-6 miles wondering where in the hell that stop was and how did I miss it? I passed a sheriff car manned by a dirty, Rastafarian man that looked NOTHING like Brad Pitt, as well as some firemen on a truck that still didn’t satisfy what I felt was my entitlement. WHERE IS THE DAMN BRAD PITT STOP?? I’m certain I grabbed a cup of water from them on the way out, but did not realize until the way back who was actually handing me the cup. My bad, but good focus?

I cruised along until the turn around point, high-fiving Jaclyn as I saw her headed back in holding fifth place. GO THELMA! There was a slight incline heading out of the turn-around point, but I was still feeling strong at 54 minutes and was on pace for my PR. I actually wondered if I wouldn’t try to pick it up a bit if I felt the same way in a mile or so. I had a gel in my SPI-Belt that I’d considered trying at the half-way point, though I’ve run numerous half-marathons and never done such a thing. I considered the option and decided that since I still felt very good and relaxed, I wouldn’t try to add a new habit to my race routine. On I ran. It seemed for the moment that although the road was legitimately flat, it was downhill to me with the wind at my back. Life was good.

Somewhere around mile 8 a woman approached and began running RIGHT off my left shoulder, breathing heavily and slapping her feet on the pavement. She wasn’t passing. Just hanging there. Breathing. Loud. Slapping. Breathing. Loud. Slapping. This action typically elicits the same response I have for knuckle-cracking and chewing with your mouth open, so I quickly decided something must be done. If she won’t pass, I will make her pay for intruding in my space so conspicuously. I picked up the pace for the next half mile while she struggled to accelerate in order to keep her position. Finally, I managed to drop Slappy and praised myself for earning some solitude and peace once she was gone.

However, the celebration was short-lived as I realized that the effort took a bit more of me than I had planned and for the first time in the race, I felt a little fatigued and hoped I wouldn’t lose my pace. I stared endlessly at TomTom, doing the math over and over at every mile marker. I was still on pace, though I’d lost about 30 seconds off where I wanted to be. At mile 11, I was still on track for the PR, but noticed it was starting to take a bit more effort to maintain. I figured anyone could suffer for only two more miles and began to set my sights on the women in front of me.

 There was a pack of three – one with a younger woman who’d passed me many miles before and although never really broke away, always managed to keep at least a 200 yard lead. She had a bright orange shirt and socks so as the most visible, she became my target. I pushed my pace, heard my breathing pick up and decided that I WOULD finish in front of her. Closing in, I began to pick off the pack one-by-one. First a smaller girl, then my orange target, then one more older lady that was at the front. I could see the finish line approaching and wanted to put as much distance between myself and those ladies as I could. As I started to pick up my finish line pace, I heard feet suddenly pounding behind me. Someone was chasing me. There was no time to see who it was, nor did I really care. I just knew that I did NOT want to be passed at the finish line and certainly not by any of the ladies I’d just worked so hard to beat. The feet got closer and I ran faster. The feet ran faster too. I could hear them and I could hear the breathing getting louder and stronger. I pushed my legs harder and flashed back in my mind to the “strides” that my coach, John O’Neill always insists I perform after each run. This is my stride. It’s time to do it NOW. FAST. You must be FAST. What do you have left? I poured it all in and crossed the line at a full-on, dead, oh-my-gosh-my-lungs-and-legs-hurt sprint. My competitor, orange shirt girl, crossed the line exactly one second behind. I had won. I checked my TomTom and realized that I’d finished in 1:48 – just under my “secret” goal of 1:50. I was ecstatic. I turned to give orange shirt girl a high five and say thanks for challenging me, but she reluctantly waved her hand and wandered off, apparently not interested in my sentiment. Two men appeared and leaned over the finish chute railing to congratulate me on a great finish. The crowd apparently liked the small drama of intensity, so I said thanks and smiled at my achievement. On an additional happy note, I soon found Jacyln and discovered that she had managed to fight for third place overall and made the podium! Perfect!

I had run faster and stronger than I can remember. I’d reached my goals and finished happy and healthy. There isn’t much more I could ask. Or is there?

This Sunday will be my seventh Garden of the Gods Ten Mile race and my second as a member of the PikesPeakSports.us Triple Crown Runners. Since I’m running so well, I can’t help but hope for another PR. I’ve been training with my Colorado Running Company Garden Ten Miler team for a few months, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be prepared. The plan is simply to run hard, be confident in my training and above all, HAVE FUN! See you there!

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Comment by Vanessa Shawver on June 9, 2015 at 10:02am

Thanks, Katie and CONGRATS to you as well! I know it feels good!!

Comment by Katie Benzel on June 9, 2015 at 10:01am

DUDE. YES. AWESOME. I ran under 1:50 for the first time this weekend, too! Kick ass!

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