"I got a medal! Did you see my medal? Look, I got a medal!"

Okay, I admit it: I’m quite proud of myself. I ran my first Half Marathon on Sunday, and had the pleasure of crossing the finish line at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, where many of the greatest runners in the world have raced. I was expecting to feel relieved. I was not expecting to feel proud.

The thing is, I’ve never really liked racing, and I sort of allowed myself to get talked into this Half Marathon by my new running partner, Rebekah, who used to work in sales. She also lived in Alaska once. I think she could sell ice to Russians from her backyard if she decided to.

Of course I said yes. How could I say no to running with these two three times a week for the past few months?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with running. I did my first 5K fun run in college back in 1984. I didn’t like it much. I ran too fast at the beginning, and crashed at the end. So I didn’t do another one until 2005. Crashed on that one, too. Then I did a 10K that year, which I also hated. Racing’s just not my thing, I figured.

I met Rebekah a few months ago when she came to a Tuesday noon run my with Chubby Mommy Running Club. She used to run before Ruby was born, 18 months earlier, and she was ready to start again. I had taken some time off running due to minor surgery, and we were both quite thrilled the day we ran 2 miles without stopping. She decided we should train for the Eugene Half.

Huh. Maybe, I said, in that polite way I do when I want to say no, but for some reason I don’t. But she told me we really were going to do it, and the next thing I knew I was signed up.

I checked in with Coach Robin, my friend over at Every Mom to Iron Mom. She thought it was a fine idea, and made a training plan, which included me attending one of Keith McConnell’s Chi Running workshops to help me with my form, swimming on the off days, and limiting my running to three days a week. Oh, and we had to add a mile a week to get to the distance we needed by May 1st.

Wax on, wax off...do you feel a rope coming out the top of your head, pulling your spine straight? I do!

Fine, I said to myself. I guess I could try. I guess I need a goal. No, I thought, I need more than just a goal. I need to set a goal and accomplish the goal. I need to do a hard thing, to remind myself I can do hard things if I decide to. And I need to go public with this goal, for accountability.

Plus, think of all the good blog fodder!

This shirt was made for me!

So we started training, and adding a mile a week, and we felt proud. Then, a funny thing started happening after we hit the five mile week. I couldn’t figure out how in the world my body would allow me to run 13.1 miles, but I realized five miles felt better than it ever had before.

And six miles was a big deal. I’d run six before, but my knees would always start hurting at the end. Not so much this time. The Chi thing was really working. I was making small adjustments in my form, which were making a huge difference to my knees and ankles and everything else. Running felt more natural. It didn’t hurt, and I was getting into a groove.

Plus, Rebekah kept assuring me we’d get to 13 miles without a hitch. We had this whole thing in the bag, she said. She did not waver once.

We kept adding miles, tried to pace ourselves so we wouldn’t go out to fast and crash near the end, and figured out what and how much to eat and supplement during the longer distances. Week after week, I was surprised at how much I started enjoying running. Six, seven and eight miles seemed very normal now. My body was getting used to it, didn’t complain too much.

I know it's not Paleo, but man, I love this stuff!

Still, the fact remained that Rebekah is ten years younger and likes to run about a minute faster than I do. I could stick with her 11:00 – 11:30 per mile pace on the 7, 8 and sometimes 9 mile runs, but when I tried to keep up with her on the 10, 11, and 12 mile runs, I’d get crashy. I told her to go ahead a few times, and she did.

We talked about running our own races, and swore we would. But we liked running together. That was the whole fun of training for this thing! Dang it, we’d become friends!

Even our shoes like each other!

Robin called me the night before the marathon to check in. I had a few questions.

“Rebekah and I are in different starting stalls based on our times when we registered,” I said,”but we can start together and run together, right?

“Probably,” she said, “but you have to remember, running is an individual sport.”

“Maybe for YOU,” I (half) joked, “but I started a running CLUB, remember? I want to run with her!”

“Just sayin’,” she said. “If you try to keep up with her, you will probably crash and feel like crap at the end. And she needs to run her own race, too.”

Blah blah blah, I thought. I know, I know, I know.

So race day came and we were excited. I picked her up at 5:50 a.m. and we got to the Shuttle in plenty of time to get to Hayward Field and warm up with Keith’s group. We had our timing chips on our shoes and our numbers on our T-shirts. We looked like real racers!

Even if she wasn't wearing the shirt, you'd know which one is hanging out with me, huh? Yeah, I know. We're so much alike!

We made our way to the starting line, way, way in the back. Finally, the crowd of 8,000 runners started moving and we made our way across, with music blaring, and 16,000 polite elbows trying not to bump each other.

Ready, get set, flow! It was a slow start, but in a good way. No need to rush!

The first mile was a piece of cake. We even stopped at the bathroom in the first park we passed at mile one, knowing the lack of porta-potty line this early would pay off for us later. Oh, we felt clever and smart! And relieved.

The second mile was fun because we were passing a bunch of people who passed us while we were going potty. Not that we were in “race to win” mode, of course. We weren’t going too fast, or anything. It’s just that most of them were walkers.

By mile three I was feeling quite warm and fuzzy. My toes were no longer numb, for one thing (hey it was still COLD at 7:00 a.m.!) and I was surprised by all the people who were standing on sidewalks cheering us on, ringing cowbells and holding fabulous handmade signs. There was even a middle school boy playing his trombone on his porch for us while his dad held his music.

Hey, I'm proud of you too, I love you, man!

Mile four was nice because it occurred to me that I was calculating how many miles we had left to run, instead of how many we had run already. Somehow, the reverse math thing made me feel better, as in, hey, we only have nine more miles to go. I know I can run nine! Also, adding and subtracting kept me occupied, like usual.

There was an aide station at mile five, and we caught up with Miram, our friend we met at Keith’s 11 mile test run the month before. I was happy to see her because we run about the same pace, plus I like her, too.

Seeing her chance to ease on ahead without the guilt of leaving me on my own, Rebekah slowly and surely drifted on ahead. And I was happy for her. And for me, since I was just starting to slow down, and now we didn’t have to worry about each other any more.

At mile six, Miriam and I stopped at another park bathroom that didn’t have a line. The half a block jog there and back was more than worth it. And sitting down, even for 30 seconds, was nice!

At mile seven, I saw my mom! She was waiting for me on the street corner ringing a cowbell. Seeing her really perked me up. She’s always around for the big events, like when my babies are born, and this, my very first marathon. I felt very special and loved, and forgot about the heaviness that was starting to settle into my legs.

An hour after I bought Francine the mannequin, I introduced her to Mom, who is sweetly covering up Francine's lack of hands, for the camera.

At the beginning of the hill on mile eight, Miriam needed to slow down a bit, and told me to go ahead, so I did.

And then something cool happened between mile eight and nine, as I ran up that hill. I felt really good and strong, which I wasn’t expecting, and the hill was no problem at all. My legs just kept churning along at a nice even, Chi-like cadence. And I realized, full on, that running is an individual sport, just like Robin said, and that I like it. Really and truly, at that moment, I liked running.

I also realized that I only had four more miles to go, and I knew I could run four miles, which meant I knew I was going to make it. It wasn’t that I had really doubted it before, or cared if I walked. It was just nice to have that moment of clarity. Good job, Julie, I thought, you’re going to make it.

Of course, I still had to actually run those four miles.

At mile 10, there was live music! Two guys were playing guitars singing “I’m knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door!”

So appropriate, and appreciated!

My legs started feeling really tired as I ran along the path by the river, and I appreciated the cool breeze coming up from the water as we ran over the bridge. Just three more miles, I thought. I know I can run three.

At mile eleven, the course split from Half Marathon to Full Marathon, and I joked with the volunteers about not wanting to go the wrong way. I was well past the two hour mark, and knew the elite runners were already finishing their full marathons! Mind boggling.

At Mile twelve it was clear to me that this is the part of my race that I did NOT enjoy. I was tired, it was getting hot, and my legs felt done. I was not “crashing” however, meaning I did not feel sick at all. So, no excuses. I had to keep running. I wanted to take off my jacket, but knew my husband and son would recognize my orange-ness through the crowd at the finish line.

Luckily, I met up with two fun ladies from Keith’s class who were going the same pace. We distracted each other with jokes, and tales of gloriously running into the stadium to the cheers of thousands of spectators in the stands. We decided to join hands and cross the finish line together.

At mile thirteen, we were at the stadium! It was glorious! Nothing would stop us now! We ran the gauntlet of high-fives on the way in, then rounded the corner to the finish line. I felt just like Steve Prefontaine! Sort of.

They saw my orange jacket from way up high!

Finally. Finished. Wow, what a great feeling. And then they gave us medals, just like Olympians!

Yay us! We got medals!

And Rebekah was waiting for me over by the pancakes! We hugged and hugged and hugged and even got a little misty-eyed because dang it, we did it. Then we found Miram and Robin F. another CMRC-er, and took a group picture. Because we are club.

This is the the group part of the individual sport!

And now Rebekah says we’re going to run a full marathon. I think she’s crazy, but I did say maybe.