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2011 Marine Corps Historic Half official finish time: 2:12:50.

I discovered that running in an official race is very different from running through the farmlands of New Jersey, and not just because of the hills.

The dawn air was electric. Grey clouds hovered over the course, but the rain held off, thank goodness. As I approached the starting area, 100’s of port-o-pots lined the street. “Ridiculous,” I thought. “Go before you come to the race.” I quickly found out why port-o-pots are a critical part of a half-marathon experience.

My nerves tickled me and my stomach turned upside down. I felt excited and scared to death all at once. What if it wasn’t going to be a good running day for me? How could I commit to something if I wasn’t sure how I would feel? What if Hospital Hill kicked my ass and I had to walk? Worse yet – what if I got hurt and couldn’t even finish? These, plus a thousand other thoughts spun crazily in my mind as I took my place at the 2:00 – 2:30 expected finish-time mark.

The invocation… the National Anthem… Drew Carey’s brief opening words… and then the shot.

The crowd began to move slowly towards the starting line, breaking into a slow stride just as we crossed onto the course. I coached myself, “This is my race. Run my own race.” The familiar tunes in my ears reminded my feet to slow down and not worry about the dozens of runners who were passing me like I was standing still.

The zen of solitary running became a distant memory as I struggled to absorb what was happening around me. The worry of being in someone’s way soon became less important than figuring out how to move beyond a crowd in front of me. Silent breaks between music tracks were filled with the rhythmic sound of 100’s of shoes landing on pavement and the kicking and crunching of paper water cups underfoot.

We had driven the course the night before, but short of a couple of prominent landmarks, I had no idea where I was most of the time. I just followed the pack. And those hills that didn’t look too intimidating in the car nearly did me in.

I felt a zap in my energy during mile 8 just before a woman appeared out of thin air and kept a beautiful pace right beside me. She begged off at the beginning of mile 10 for water and wished me a nice race. My angel.

The worst climb, affectionately known as Hospital Hill, kicked my ass hard and almost convinced me to walk. But the humiliation of admitting I had to walk part of my run was too much, so I slugged out the mile-long son-of-a-bitch and declared victory in the end. My relief at the top was short-lived, as another incline immediately followed, leading to a grueling uphill finish.

But finish I did, and I am very pleased with my pace for this challenging premier run.

And if lowering my head for a female Marine to place that beautiful medal around my neck wasn’t reward enough, the greetings I received from my loved ones afterward was simply overwhelming. Twenty-five-year-old friendships warmed my heart with smiles and hugs, and Facebook posts and texted congrats filled me up with gratitude for being blessed with such wonderful people in my life.

I’ve never felt quite so loved and supported.

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