As good as I was feeling at Mile 8, smiling for the camera as I ran along Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I felt twice as bad at Mile 11.
I knew I couldn't finish this race. I had gone out too fast, trying to keep up with my dear friend and running partner, Maggie Jenkins, and I had really lost my rhythm in Mile 10, struggling to ingest a Gu packet while trying to breathe on a day when my sinuses simply would not cooperate.
The Indy 500 Festival mini-marathon May 8 was my second half-marathon, just me, Maggie and 35,000 or so of our closest pals.
I had no idea what to expect in terms of my time, given the crowd and the 26 mph winds (!), so I just set out to run with Maggie and get through the race with a shred of dignity intact.
I was doing just that, not worrying about time, until the Gu debacle in Mile 10. It was then that Maggie started to pull away from me a bit, and my natural, God-given lack of athleticism reared its head.
I was tired. Limbs and digits were starting to hurt, and the mile markers started feeling farther apart. And at some point came the kiss of death: the realization that I potentially could run a good time if I just didn't blow it.
From that point on, my mind was out of the game. I managed to catch Maggie and I told her I was going to need some help. I was, with just 2 miles to go, genuinely doubting my ability to finish.
She dutifully gave me the encouragement and support I needed -- and that I immediately rejected. There was no scrap of belief left in my brain.
Nevertheless, I kept going, and we made it to the Mile 12 marker. Yet still I was 100 percent certain I could not finish this race. I was utterly spent -- I had run as hard as I possibly could run for 12 miles at a pace I never before had achieved for that distance. And again, Maggie started pulling away, just enough.
That's when I started going backward. Well, technically I was moving forward, but people were passing me right and left. Where were they getting this energy? Why was I the only one in quicksand?
I made it to the sign that said there was 3/4 of a mile to go. I was ready to cry. I couldn't get up to Maggie, and I felt completely pathetic. And so I caved.
"I need some help," I whimpered.
Instantly, a young blonde woman a few paces ahead turned and ran back to me and grabbed my left hand. "You can do it," she assured me.
Seconds later, Maggie looked back and saw us. She, too, ran back and took my right hand. The three of us ran along -- all the while, me still doubting my ability to cross the line, which seemed to be several cities away, somewhere on the other side of the Alps.
Both Maggie and my new mystery friend -- Kim from Evansville, I learned post-race -- offered me everything they had. All I could offer were my apologies and my profound gratitude.
What has followed has been a mix of emotions I cannot quite describe. Our time was 1:53.32. I was stunned. That bettered my Key West time in January by four minutes. For me, it was blazing fast.
I was thrilled. I felt good, even proud. Happy. Satisfied. We stood in Military Park taking pictures and celebrating.
And then there was Sunday, when I saw the finish-line photos.
On came the guilt, for bringing down Maggie and Kim, who could have run much faster.
And the embarrassment, for needing to ask for help from a total stranger because I lacked the physical and mental strength to persevere on my own.
And the regret, of seeing Maggie cross the line with a huge smile on her face while I huffed and puffed and ruined what should have been a triumphant moment.
I don't have the words to convey the debt of thanks I feel to Maggie and Kim for sacrificing their own times to help me keep going to the finish line. It was such loving kindness -- how can you repay such a thing?
I can only hope both women know how much I appreciate what they did and how much I respect them. They are extraordinary gals with open, generous hearts.
All I can do is try to follow in their footsteps.
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