I woke at 5am feeling nervous about whether my ankle was going to hold out for me to complete the half marathon in the beautiful wine country of Santa Barbara, California. I wasn’t just running to achieve a goal for myself, or to take in the beautiful scenery surrounding of the Santa Ynez Valley, but running for a cause. A close friend in New Zealand has a wonderful son who battles with pain day and night. He has rare ‘Prune Belly Syndrome’, amongst other conditions. His name is Elijah and through all the pain he suffers he keeps his humour and fights to embrace life with all he’s got. His spirit is supported by his wonderful brother and sister. They are amazing in helping their solo Mum take care of Elijah.
I’d given myself just eleven weeks to train for the half marathon. Before the training I’d never ran past 10 km (around 6 miles). I had to work to build up strength and stamina, whilst all the time feeling grateful and in awe of what my healthy body could achieve the more I trained. Along the way friends, family and strangers rallied around to donate to help Elijah, through the fundraising page I’d set up on Give a Little NZ – Running for Elijah (which is still open for any last minute donations!). I hoped to raise $NZ 500, but my hopes were gratefully exceeded.
Race day came and my hubbie woke early with me. We were lucky to have a friend staying from NZ and she’d kindly said she’d look after our three daughters, whilst hubbie drove me to the race (a 40 minute drive from Santa Barbara). It meant the world to me having him there.
He dropped me off at the start point, where I picked up my bib and took a swig of energy drink. Then I joined the lines of people waiting to use a porta loo, where the humour and pre-race atmosphere was high. In the sky above the throngs of runners, nearly 3,000 in total, a Go Pro camera hovered on a mini helicopter device, taking in the scene.
With minutes to the start time, of 7am, I dashed from the porta loo (made it just in the nick of time, phew!) to the race. I looked for the pacer holding the two and a half hour sign. I knew, if I wasn’t for my ankle, I could have lined up with the 1 hour 50 minute pacer, but I was planning to start out at a comfortable pace and hope to high heaven my ankle would hold it together.
In training I always had a tendency to start off fast, but there was no chance of that in the race. I was surrounded by a sea of bodies moving happily in the same direction and the pace was comfortable.
After the first mile I started to edge forward, until by the sixth mile I knew I was going to finish the race. The sea of bodies had turned into a gentle flow over the country lanes. I had space to run and had found my pace. The scenery was beautiful. I felt like I was back in New Zealand, in the wine country of the Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.
Along the course locals stood at their gates with coffees in hand and cow bells clanging in support. Every couple of miles friendly folks offered up water at the water stations and gave words of support.
The course undulated over rolling hills and for every uphill push there was a flying down hill decent, which I leaned into and relished.
By the tenth mile I felt a little lag in my legs, but just kept going. My energy levels were dropping a little, but my spirit was strong. The uphill sections felt a little tougher, but the supporters along the way kept me running, along with my inner voice telling me to just keep on going!
I was so relieved to see the finish line and the throngs of people cheering me in. I scanned the crowd, looking for my hubbie, but heard him before I saw him. ‘Sarah!’ he called out. Hearing my name from his lips was music to my ears.
As I crossed the line in 1 hour 57 minutes and 16 seconds, a friendly face handed me a medal and I slowly walked through the crowds to my waiting hubbie.
I did it! I couldn’t believe it and was so thankful to my ankle for holding out.
Elijah’s running tags on my laces had given me strength and a sprinkling of fairy dust 😉
After strolling around Solvang, and getting in a post race latte, hubbie drove me back to Santa Barbara, with the top down on the VW and the sun smiling down on us.
My daughters gave me a wonderful greeting when I walked in the front door and spent the rest of the day telling me how they wanted to race too. Miss 8 even took her Daddy out for the first stage of a couch to 5k training schedule (whilst I rested my ankle on ice!).
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