It’s dark, and the morning air is cold.
I’m nervous. I know this because these are the same nerves that have been tickling my stomach for the past 72 hours. My husband knows this because I’m usually very quiet in the morning, but this morning I am chatting away about this nonsense and the other. We are driving around a random neighborhood in Mesa, AZ blindly following a van that we’ve determined, with no evidence to the fact, is 1) en-route to the same drop-off area as we are, and 2) knows how to get there. Eventually, both said van and my husband find their way to a cul-de-sac with a few other vehicles and a police escort.
“This must be the place,” I say watching four women dressed in lululemon and Nikes pile out of a van.
“Go catch up to them,” my husband encourages. “I don’t want you to have to walk alone.” I feel seven, not thirty-seven, but I too like the idea of not walking alone in the dark.
I meet Megan. She is friendly and also anxious. This is her first half-marathon. She was coerced into running by the bubbly and energetic friends walking next to her. We chat for another minute as we near the big red glow of the starting line. I spot a single, stand-alone porta-potty off to the left and know it’s either go-now or suffer later. I wish her luck and make my exit.
It’s 6:08 am. There are tall space heaters every 10 feet that line both sides of the street to keep us Arizona runners warm and comfortable before the race. I’m standing adjacent to a group people huddled around one of the heaters. I raise my mitted hand attempting to reach the heat, but it’s no use. I’m too far removed from the inner circle. I wonder how early people showed up, in the cold, just to guarantee personal refuge from the cold. Even I, in my mittens, 2 jackets and ear warmers, find the humor in this. It’s 42 degrees and crisp, but it’s Phoenix; not Boston, New York or London. We are just that spoiled living in the desert.
I don’t need the heaters. My anticipation fused with race-day energy has me warm enough. The emcee on the loud speaker is counting us down to the 6:30 am start. I need to start stretching and warming up my muscles. Pre-run exercises have become just as important to my training as logging miles, and I know it’s critical to a successful and injury-free race.
“9 minutes, runners!” I hear over the loud speaker.
“I’m not a runner. I don’t like to run long distance. Running is hard on the body.” My mind is a flurry of old beliefs. I’ve said these sentences and maintained them for years. Even now after months of training and hundreds of miles completed, I’m defaulting to their discouraging mantra. Nevertheless, I laced up my sneakers this morning, completed my pre-run warmup, and I’m ready to run! I am a runner.
The emcee announces that we have 5 minutes until the race begins. He asks the crowd to remove their hats and stand for the National Anthem. The performer sounds far away and muffled, but the sentiment is still there, accompanied by fireworks and communal anticipation.
It’s time for the race to start. Runners are inching their way towards the starting line at an expectant pace and I am one of them. Here I am amongst thousands of runners approaching the start of my first half-marathon, and it’s all thanks to Peloton. I chuckle at the absurdity of the thought, but it’s true.
In just 3 months I’ve logged 200 digital classes consisting of runs, boot camps, pre-run stretches, post-run stretches, and strength workouts for runners. I’ve run over 300 miles with Peloton coaching in my ear for most of them. Peloton provided the training and brought me to this moment as I cross the starting line in a composed jog.
Slow and steady; I’m pacing myself. I’m not using the Peloton app today rather the “Marathon Prep” playlist I created on Spotify, but I can hear my favorite Peloton coaches just the same. They keep me focused even as runners are passing me; on left and on the right.
They are out of the gate strong and on the move. The competitor in me doesn’t like this one bit, and I’m tempted to pass them or at best match their pace. I hold back because my training has taught me otherwise. This is my warm-up mile. My mile to get my mind and body in sync with the road and the race ahead. I will make up the time later and be stronger for it in the end.
The 2-hour pace runner passes me. Now I’m panicking. My goal is to complete the race in under 2 hours, and I won’t be happy with anything else. The distance between me and the small red 2:00 hour sign, held high by the pace racer, is getting greater. Momentarily, I feel my goal slipping away, but I have a plan and a playlist to compliment it.
Mile 2 starts with Pharrell Williams singing Come Get it Bea. The beat drops and my feet instinctively know to pick up the pace. This is the first song where I plan to incorporate pick-ups, short, gentle increases of speed. Peloton’s Coach Selena Samuela taught me about pick-ups in her 30-minute 80’s Rock Fun Run. For 30 minutes Selena incorporats pick-ups of varying duration and speeds as she shares stories about dancing with her girlfriends and her Mom’s favorite band, INXS, which just so happens to be one of my mom’s favorite 80’s bands as well. This is one of the classes that helped build my endurance.
I see the Mile 5 marker, and I feel great. Invincible, in fact! I can keep this up all day. Maybe, I should have trained for the Full! A sharp pain stabs me in the right abdomen. I examine the pain. I’m surprised because I don’t get cramps often, and I thought I was pacing myself well. I pinch my side applying pressure over the cramp and wonder if this is, in fact, a proven technique for relieving side cramps for just something I learned in high-school track.
I’ve been here before though. Me and coach Matty Maggiacomo during his 60-minute 90s Pop Fun Run. It was a sunny and perfect 65 degreesday. I was outside running along the plush green golf course near my house when the pain surprised me then too. It was during an endurance drill to the quick beat of Vengaboy’s We like to Party. I was only halfway through the 8-mile course I had mapped out for myself, so whether I turned around to head home or pushed forward on the path ahead I still had another 4-miles to go. I pushed on. I steadied my breath and brought my pace down to a light jog. Focused on Matty talking about 90’s dance parties, snap bracelets and scrunchies, and his beloved bulldog Luther, the cramp diminished, and I got my stride back. Matty is a pure delight. His runs are full of laugh-out-loud commentary that both distract and encourage me when the run gets challenging.
So, I slow my pace down to a comfortable run and take long intentional inhales and exhales until the cramp subsides, and I’m able to return to my race pace. At this point dawn has turned into daylight and spectators are cheering us on from the sidewalks holding up large signs with words of encouragement.
I know miles 8 and 9 are going to be my toughest but I have a Peloton plan for that too. This is when I actually invite Coach Becs Gentry to officially join my run. I transition from Spotify to the Peloton app on my phone and choose a 20-minute Fun-Run with Becs. She’s my favorite and deserves all the credit for me entering the race. It was, after all, her 60-minute Outdoor Marathon Prep class that inspired me to start training. Becs is a chatty, spunky Brit who loves running and talks so passionately about the sport that I can’t help but love it also. Her coaching is expert and effective, even via an app. My form, endurance and confidence have all improved thanks to Becs, and I always feel like I’m running with a friend who loves to share stories and experiences of her favorite or most challenging marathons. I want those experiences too.
By the time Becs and I wrap up our 20-minute run together, I’m back to my playlist and only have 3 miles to go. It’s also at this time that I spot the 2-hour pace runner ahead of me. I’m not holding back the competitor in me any longer. I pass the pacer and I keep going strong and confident all the way through the finish line. Official time, 1 hour 58 minutes and 31 seconds. Goal crushed!
I’m not going to lie, my body hurt all over after the race. Even as I write this 2 days later my glutes and my knees are still achy. I might even lose a toenail, which I’m grossly and oddly proud of like it’s a rite of passage. Despite all that, I’m still riding the high of completing 13.1 miles and ready for the next challenge. Will it be another half? A full marathon perhaps? I’m not certain what I’ll run next, but I am certain I will rely on Peloton and my coaches to get me ready.