Despite those doubts, I went to Houston... not calm- definitely not calm- but it felt a little easier to find the positive words in my head. There's also something to be said for having failed SO many times that you know you'll be okay if it doesn't work out again and just keep on trying.
I knew the weather was going to be challenging, 98% humidity and 69 degrees, but it would be almost identical to the weather in New Orleans when I ran 20:00. So while disappointed, I knew I could still do it. I also knew I had to run without a shirt. My coach, Heather, had suggested it in NOLA, but I just couldn't gather the confidence, and I always wondered if that would have made a difference. This time I would ditch the shirt. I scoured the #sportsbrasquad on instagram for encouragement and decided no matter how the race went, I would at least get this victory. I doubted my ability to go shirtless right up until race day when I threw it off and put it in my drop bag. But once it was off, I ignored anybody looking at me, did my strides and drills and just slithered my sticky, sweaty naked-feeling body through the corral to the first few rows of racers. Take your marks... BANG!
I tried to concentrate on keeping a steady, reasonable effort without the help of my watch. The next quarters ticked by:
Then, there it was. A side stitch. I (and Heather too) had anticipated this with the high humidity making it harder to breath. I followed her advice to think about ANYTHING else. I thought about my feet and my stride, my nose, my shoulders, etc. I knew I had a fast start so I wasn't out of hope yet.
1:42 (ack! speed up!)
1:37 (I can't, the side stitch!)
1:41 Oh no. I started to worry a little but tried so hard to keep my self talk positive and encouraging, 'don't give up!'.
1:43. I started imagining talking to certain people about how it just wasn't meant to be again. I saw it slowly slipping away. No way I could go sub 20 with 4 quarters in the 1:40's?? As I approached a water stop I seriously considered throwing in the towel and stopping for some water.
But then I saw Heather and James again, and they were screaming at me to go for it, keep going, finish strong, and I could hear them still yelling well after I had passed them. It totally got me going again and out of my fearful head space. I then looked down at my watch and realized 2 things. One- I was going to hit 3 miles in under 19:15, the time I knew I had to be at to go sub-20 if I was able to sprint, and two- IT WAS TIME TO SPRINT! I always wait too long to start sprinting! My watch lapped 1:27 and I took off.
I did it.
I FINALLY EFFING DID IT!!!!!
4 days later I was still tearing up thinking about it. By far the highlight of my running "career". I know it might be hard for some to see how a 5k could be my highlight, but I have never worked so hard for so long or had so many fails at one single running goal in my life. Knowing I finally went sub-20 on a less than perfect day just makes me want to burst. I am SO happy, and I hope to take this fitness to the half and full marathon and see if I can get some PRs there too.
Thank you all for your support and encouragement, huge thanks to coach Heather of course, and to my friends who don't run for putting up with my obsessiveness, even when they thought I was nuts (and maybe in over my head). <3