I approached the Dartmouth Green at mile 9.5 of the CHaD HERO Half Marathon on Sunday, I could see my family at the corner before they could see me. I waved wildly. I’d just conquered the beastly hill at mile 9, recovered to my cruising pace and was about to overtake the 6th place woman. I felt tired, but seeing them would energized me.
As I ran past, I could hear my kids cheers as my hubby snapped a few pics. I was tired, I knew the final three miles of the race were going to be a fight, but I thought I had a chance at catching the #5 woman if I could just hold on. In that exact moment as weighed the effort that it would take to make it through the rest of the race I was passed by a girl in a pink jacket. A quarter mile later two more girls passed me and steps behind them two more.
Maybe I gave up a little in that moment and my mind made my legs feel even more depleted than they really were. As I approached the next hill at mile 10.5 I told myself, “you can always hurt a little more.” And I did my best to push ahead on legs that felt absolutely dead.
You can always hurt a little more
It’s true. You can always hurt a little more, you can always handle a little more than you think you can. It’s just as true of racing as it is of life.
That’s really the story of every family of a CHaD Kid, not by choice, they’ve been forced to hurt a little more, to handle something they never thought they possibly could. Whether that’s a child born prematurely or a child born with a birth defect, cancer, debilitating illness or even the loss of a child, every family that has ever walked through the doors of the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is hurting a little more than they thought they ever could.
Our experience at CHaD and the knowledge that every day a family is going through some incompressible struggle is what compels me to raise money and race the CHaD Hero Event. It’s become a special event for our family, every year we head up to Hanover, NH for the weekend to attend the Heroes Tribute and then participate in the CHaD HERO event.
CHaD Hero Event
In 2013 and 2014 I was the top individual fundraiser, raising more than $7,000 each year (I’m not gonna lie, that’s something I am very proud of–more so than any other running related accomplishment). This year I raised just over $2500 thanks to you help. That money will go to make a huge difference in the care and support services that CHaD is able to offer its patients and their families. At the Heroes Tribute we get to see all the families and staff at CHaD who have become part of our lives now. It’s a great little reunion and is so much fun.
This year I had the chance to present the top high school fundraising team with their award and after speaking a few words of thanks, we had to take a picture. Because obvs, if there’s no picture it didn’t happen, right?!
We headed back to our hotel that night to try and get a good nights sleep for the event the following morning. Just before we all woke up I could hear Sophia and Jack whispering to each other in the bed next to ours. “Are you excited?” Jack asked. It made my heart swell. Though we spent some time explaining to Jack why we were even at the event, he still doesn’t grasp everything that happened to him as an infant. The fact that he was excited for the kids fun run and all the other festivities that go along with the day was really special.
We spent the morning hanging out in the VIP tent with other families and volunteers who we have come to know and love. We all know each other’s stories and share special bond. This year I finally was able to meet up with Cassie, a Run Far Gear Ambassador and a CHaD Kid mom. She and her son joined Jack, Sophia and I at the start of the kids fun run (Mark was feeling sick so stayed behind with Liam).
The kids clipped along at a good pace and we finished the mile course in just under 15 minutes. This has always been my “warm up” because the half marathon and 5K go off right after the finish of the kids run. Once we crossed the finish line and made our way back to the tent I switched in to race mode and made my way to the start line of the half marathon.
I surveyed the other runners, trying to gauge who was there and what the competition would be like. I thought a top five finish would be within my reach if I could follow my race plan and run strong. My goal was to go out around 7:40-7:30 for the first three miles and then settle into 7:00’s through the middle miles and then do my best to close hard and finish strong in the last three miles.
I know the course is hilly. I remember those hills so well from when I ran it four years ago (I’ve done the 5K the past few years), but I felt like I could be smarter and run harder and at least finish strong. My last half marathon was the Big Lake Half, which was a strong run for me on somewhat tired legs from Boston. I went out fast in that race (sub 7’s for the first 4 miles) and then paid for it on the back half of the course, where I slowed to 7:30’s and 7:20’s. I was hoping to reverse that on this course and go out slow and finish strong. The race didn’t play out as I had imagined.
(7:21, 7:18, 7:08) I felt like I was holding back, staying comfortable. I kept my pace in check by glancing at my Garmin every-so-often. Around mile 3 I started to pick up the pace a bit and felt like I was cruising at “comfortably hard.”
( 7:00, 7:11) A downhill then gradual climb took us up into Norwich, VT at one point a volunteer yelled “You’re 8th woman.” I could see the five women ahead of me, they were all in a pack 45-60 seconds ahead of me. At the time was running alone and knew I needed to latch onto a group. This one of the major changes I’ve made to the way I race this year. Since Big Lake I’ve been more aggressive, I’ve taken more risks. I don’t just settle to “run my own race,” I try to race against the other runners that are out there. Running alone takes a lot of work, running with a group makes it easier to stay on pace.
(7:10, 6:59) I made a little surge going through mile 6 and caught the runners in the back of the group I had been chasing and in so doing I moved from 8th woman to 7th woman. In those miles I felt really strong, I was working hard but it felt like the same effort I gave at Big Lake. This portion of the course was a gradual downhill back to the river and the bridge that would take us back in to New Hampshire.
(6:43) We ran along the river where the course flattened out. It was my fastest mile and the women in front of me started coming back to me. I kept telling myself to keep it up, that if I kept it up they would come back.
(7:24) After crossing the bridge into NH we go up the first big hill on the course, my paced slowed but I felt like I was climbing with a good rhythm and was strong. This was where I bonked the last time I ran the half marathon and I ended up walking that hill, it felt good to be running it and with a relatively good pace. I crested the hill and tried to get back to that cruising pace as we came back into the Dartmouth campus. It was at that point that I saw my family.
(7:41, 8:05, 7:27, 8:04 and 1:09 for the last .3) After I saw my family and was overtaken by five women a lot of the push that I thought I had left me. I was just hanging on for dear life. Suddenly I felt really hot, my face was super salty and my legs were lead. The woman who had been in 7th place was still just steps ahead of me in her Oiselle kit. As I came along side her I said “Nice job Oiselle!” she responded, “I’m toast!” I tried to move past her but we ran stride for stride for a bit. We hit the hill at 10.5 miles and it felt like my pace slowed to a stand still. I just.could.not.move. She ran past me. I crested the hill and on the gradual decline caught back up to her. “I’m going to run with you. I need to run with you.” I said between breaths. “Yes!” She answered, “we can do this!” It was such a relief to latch onto someone. We exchanged stories–turns out her name was Sarah too–and chatted as much as we could between breaths. We ran side by side silently until mile 12.5 when she was able to surge ahead on the last hill. I’m not sure I would have pushed as hard as I did in those last miles if I hadn’t been trying to stay with her and run together.
There’s one last hill with about a quarter mile left, it’s a total momentum sucker. I gave one last push into the finish and once I saw the finish line did my best to get up on my toes and sprint in. The course was a bit long by .2 which made that last push feel like it took forever.
I don’t feel disappointed, not like the way I did after my race in 2014. I just feel like I’m on a mission and I know that the journey isn’t over. I’m going to keep going back to this race until I can run it, put the hammer down on those hills and beat that course.
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