Last Saturday, I finished my third half marathon and my second race with Team Challenge. Once again, it was tough, but awesome.
My alarm went off at 4 am and I felt awful. Usually, even when I’m flaring, I wake up feeling great until breakfast, but Saturday morning I had no desire to eat my usual pre-race bagel and get moving. Maybe it was the early hour or all the restaurant meals the day before, but my digestive system just felt wrong and I wasn’t even 100% sure I was going to get up for the race. For 10 minutes, every time I sat up I laid right back down.
And then I picked up my phone, checked Instagram, and saw this:
Our Team Manager, Lauren, has Crohn’s and she was in the hospital for eight nights, including race weekend, due to a flare. We met her the day before the race and she’s amazing. She posted tons of encouraging photos for us on Instagram and Facebook all weekend. As soon as I saw this photo, I knew I was getting up. It was this that woke me up enough to remember that this wasn’t just any old race. This was my Team Challenge race, the race for my family and friends with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
So I hauled myself out of bed and got dressed:
Everything I wore was something special. The Run<3 purple headband and orange and blue sparkle skirt were gifts from my friend Beth to cheer me on during the season and look forward to wearing them on race day with her. The orange singlet is the one that all Team Challenge participants wear; the singlet makes it so easy to spot other TC participants during the race and builds awareness as we run. The sunglasses were an impulse purchase at the Team Challenge pasta party the night before, Beth and I bought matching glasses and they turned out to be so necessary on the sunny course. Finally, the blue and orange gecko pinned to my singlet was a gift from Patrick, one of our honorees. He made them for our whole team and wrote an encouraging poem to go with it. I wore mine for good luck and it worked. Thanks Patrick!
I laced up my shoes, made a bagel, grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and Beth and I ran out the door just as one of the team managers was calling to make sure I was awake because it was 5 minutes after 5 and we were supposed to meet at 5. I hate being late and felt terrible, but we really did move as fast as we could considering my bellyache. When Beth and I got downstairs to the lobby we took our team photo and headed immediately to the race bus. My friend Mary (Patrick’s mom) noticed right away that I wasn’t feeling too well. At the pasta party the night before she’d been commenting on how healthy I looked and how I had my spark back, but we both knew it was just gone when I got on the school bus to the start. Beth and I shared a seat across from Mary and her son Will. Even though we’re part of the National Team we still feel like our own tiny Western PA team, which is one of my favorite parts of Team Challenge.
We drove along Lake Michigan as the sun came up and slowly I started to feel better. I ate part of my bagel and drank some Gatorade, I took it slow. I mostly said good-bye to my hope of finishing the race in under three hours and prepared for a day full of walking. We still had about an hour before the race when we arrived at the start so we walked around a little bit, chatted, took some photos, I finished my bagel and was starting to feel pretty good with some calories in me.
We’re not sure how, but Beth and I got stuck in the last corral, O, which was full of mostly walkers. We’re not speedy runners, for sure, but people we met who run at our pace were a couple corrals ahead of us. So, once again, we had a long wait in our corral for the start. We couldn’t see the start line, but we could see the waves of runners ahead of us already getting started.
Around 7:15 am, still waiting to start, I got hungry. Which made me nervous. Usually I eat one and a half or two bagels before a half, but since I felt so yucky I only ate one. Usually I make it to mile seven before I get hungry. I tried to push the thought out of my mind and vowed to grab Gatorade instead of water at most of the stops to get the sugar in.
When we finally crossed the start line at 7:32 am it was rough. Because we were in a corral with slower runners and lots of walkers and the start of the course is very narrow, we found ourselves taking baby strides for the first quarter mile and my calves were burning immediately from the awkward pace. We stopped at the second bathroom stop, less then two miles in, to go to the bathroom and stretch. We were grateful for the 16 minute minimum mile pace because we knew we’d have some catching up to do after the early stop.
Beth and I were completely out of sync in terms of how our bodies felt. This is unusual for us, but we have an agreement that we start races together but we can split up along the way as needed. So we ran part of the race together and part of the race apart.
After a few miles, I actually started to feel really healthy. I ate my first bag of sports beans (jelly beans made for runners!) around mile three and by mile four I was ready to run. Beth and I split up for the first time around this point, we caught up to each other and split up a couple more times, but we were mostly on our own for nine miles. Luckily, we had this amazing view to keep us company.
And since I had my Team Challenge singlet on, I also met several runners. Some were participating in the race and some were just running in the park. One woman who was just running along on her usual Saturday run and slowed her pace to jog with me and ask about Team Challenge. She has a friend with Crohn’s and has thought about Team Challenge before, but was nervous about the fundraising goal. I told her the truth: it’s a lot of work, but the rewards of friendships with other with IBD, raising awareness, and working towards cures are amazing and worth every minute of fundraising work.
Beth and I were together again for a few minutes at mile six, which was great because she noticed that they were handing out gels at that water stop and I did not. I was grateful for this because by mile six I had already eaten my second pack of sports beans and only had one Gu gel left, not enough to get me through. I grabbed two chocolate gels and stored them in my Spibelt for later. That would be enough to feed me until the finish line. This race had excellent support. There were gels at one more stop, water and Gatorade stations every mile, tons of portapotties, real bathrooms in the park, and I even got some sunscreen from the medical volunteers at mile five (which means I got an awesome tan instead of a sunburn).
I felt really strong during the second half of the race and actually felt significantly better running than I did walking. I was still grateful to hit the U-Turn just past mile seven because then I knew that I was on my way back toward the finish and more than half way done!
The only thing I didn’t like about this course was that it wasn’t closed to the public for the race so there were lots of bikers. And many of the bikers had poor etiquette. I was okay with the ones who would ring their bell or yell “on your left” before passing me, but some of them shot past in silence and one nearly hit me. I was listening for them, but was still surprised several times.
One of the things I loved about the course was all the music! There were tons of areas with speakers and several live bands, including these drummers:
At mile eight I was looking at my watch and my pace tattoo wondering if I might actually come in close to my three hour goal. It was still too early to hope for it and I knew I probably shouldn’t, but I kept running and feeling better running than walking. I made a bathroom stop in a regular bathroom just past mile nine and then put my camera away to focus more on my running pace.
I hit mile 10 at two hours and eighteen minutes according to my watch. That gave me forty-two minutes to finish the final 5k. Tough, but not impossible. At best, I’d be right at three hours.
I took a mental mission moment to think about who I was running for: my brother and my Mom first and most of all, my friend Lauren in the hospital, my friend Patrick and his family, my friend Leigh, myself. And I kept going. Lots of people were still out cheering and every “Go Team Challenge!” sent me running further. I ran until I got tired and then walked a couple minutes and ran again. Around mile twelve I ran with a group of Team Challenge participants for a few minutes and then continued on past them. I felt fast (well, fast for me). I felt healthy for the first time in weeks. Maybe, with how sick I’ve been, I shouldn’t have been running that much, but I couldn’t help it. (I think I was getting lots of extra energy from my Team Challenge gecko – thanks Patrick!)
I started running out of steam as I got close to mile thirteen and was anxious for the finish. The course winds around at the end so you know that you must be close to the finish, but you don’t actually see the finish line until you’re almost across it, which, to be honest, was not fun. Luckily, there were a few lingering spectators yelling, “Go Team Challenge! You’re almost there!” And I believed them.
I crossed the finish line alone to the PA announcer: “Erin Hutton from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This girl is all kinds of sparkle.” (It was the skirt. 😉 Thanks Beth!) And that’s a perk of a small race: hearing your name as you cross the finish, no matter how slow you are.
Later that day, I did discover that I met my goal. I finished in 2 hours 59 minutes and 50 seconds. My personal best. YES!
I met up with Beth and her new friend Rapeesa at the finisher’s party and we had Malnati’s pizza before going back to our hotel for some time in the hot tub and a nap.
I love running with Team Challenge. I’m so excited to do it again someday and to find out how my brother likes Team Challenge race weekend when he runs Napa in a few weeks! Right now he’s still fundraising and training. 😉 I’m not sure when I’ll do another Team Challenge race, but I know I will (unless of course we find that cure first, which would be even better).