In which I stand on a podium for the first time ever, but have lingering doubts.
One-sentence recap: I set a new personal best time of 1:45:20, placed in my age group, and saw two friends finish their first half-marathons.
In October, I obliterated my half-marathon record that had stood for 18 months. I took four minutes off my best time, and I generally had a ball, finishing with a great feeling of euphoria: “Oh my gosh, I ran a 1:46 half-marathon!!” I still remember that feeling.
The funny thing is, I remember that feeling a lot more than this race that I ran a month later — where I actually ran a faster time. I reached that 1:45 mark I never, ever imagined back when I ran a 2:14 half-marathon. But even now, three weeks after the race, it’s still a blur.
What does stand out in my mind is one word: friends. The friend, Lia, who gave me coffee and stored my dry clothes for me during the race, and even cheered and took a picture when I finished. The friends I used to run with before I moved, who saw me at the start and greeted me with hugs. And my friends, Marc and Melinda, who ran their first half-marathons.
I’ve known Marc for a long time. We worked together, we’ve each helped the other one move, and we’ve stayed in touch through those moves. Marc always said I was crazy for running, and he would usually add, “and I am plenty crazy.” Marc didn’t like running or have any interest in it. But then one day, Marc messaged or emailed or texted or somehow communicated to me that he’d been walking. He was not just walking 10 minutes at lunch; no, he was walking five miles a day. And he wanted to turn that walking into running. I’m pretty sure I replied with a lot of exclamation points.
Marc and his wife, Melinda, had joined Weight Watchers and both lost a bunch of weight. Melinda had quit smoking. They asked if I would come speak to their group about running. I was very honored, and quite excited — I like public speaking, and I like talking about running. So I went and jabbered about running, about how you don’t have to be a natural and how you can defy the odds. I talked about how it’s perfectly fine to walk, and that you just have to start. I took a couple race medals with me, which turned out to be a good thing: I wouldn’t learn until the St. Joseph’s half-marathon that the medals were what got Melinda to start running more — she wanted a medal, too.
I had told Marc that if he ran a half-marathon, I would do my best to be there. My schedule was up in the air until a week before this race, but it ultimately worked out. November 3 found me driving a little over an hour at a dark hour in the morning to Stockton. Yep, I was going to voluntarily run through one of the country’s biggest crime capitals. (Spoiler: I survived.)
I got there with time to spare and discovered that @runcalifornia was there with free coffee. We chatted for a while, and then Marc and Melinda arrived. We hugged, and I think I was just as excited as they were nervous. Along the way, I found myself chatting with the sheriff, the race director, a couple wine makers, and some other people — yep, that’s the norm when a former journalist visits her old stomping grounds.
Anyway, we all lined up at the race start, wished each other luck, and then we took off. I had no idea what to expect, because my IT Band (which connects the hip and knee) had been cranky so my mileage had been a lot less than I’d planned. The crowd thinned out quickly, as there were only 335 half-marathon finishers, and I found myself running in wind on a course with no spectators. There were, however, a few out-and-backs so I saw fellow runners — I saw Marc twice but somehow missed Melinda. There were some unpaved sections, and at one point we had to run down a gravel embankment, which is really fun when you’re running sub-8:00 pace.
Miles 1-6: 7:56, 7:49, 7:55, 8:00, 8:10, 8:12
I reached mile 6.2 in 49 minutes — so that means I had a 10k PR (personal record). That’s not generally a good thing to do when you still have seven miles to run. Oops. That started taking its toll in mile 10, when my lungs were struggling and I was feeling some twinges in my IT band. Shiloh, who I had just finally met in person before the race, caught up to me around mile 10 and we ran together for a while. But she had clearly trained better and run smarter, and she soon took off. Mentally, I was done. I found myself walking. I tried to pull it together when a woman passed me, but I just didn’t have any fight left in me. It’s too bad, because that woman finished only four seconds ahead of me, and the next one was only 18 seconds ahead.
Miles 7-13: 8:16, 8:04, 8:14, 8:18, 8:23, 8:09, 7:47
We had a side wind most of the way, and we had very few spectators. The course was forgettable, and music only went so far in keeping my spirits up when I was not quite at 100 percent physically. However, there was one spectator who did help. I was wearing my crazy colorful shorts, and she started cheering wildly, “I love your shorts, girl!” I smiled and mouthed “thank you” (no breath to talk), and it gave me a little boost. If only that boost could have carried me on for a couple more miles.
I was just really done when I crossed the finish line. My watch said 13.0 miles instead of 13.1, so I didn’t know if I’d set a PR or not. The race officials say the course is 13.1 miles, someone said they also showed 13.0, another showed 13.1, and yet another friend showed 13.08 miles on his watch. Who knows, but since I’ve been robbed of PR’s due to long courses, I suppose I’ll take it.
- Time: 1:44:20 (8:02 pace)
- 3rd of 53 women in my age group (top 5.7%)
- 9th woman of 190 (top 4.7%)
- 45th out of 335 finishers (top 13.4%)
Marc crossed the finish line in an impressive 1:50, and I hugged him and then said, “You can never again give me a hard time for running — sorry, you’re one of us now.” He agreed (he may have been delirious, but that’s too bad). Then Melinda finished and I got to do the “you’re a half-marathoner!” cheer all over again. It was all very exciting, especially since those two are now on the marathon track. Honestly, it is just so rewarding to see people reach running milestones, and I got to see two of them that day.
After calming down and getting into some warm clothes, we got our free breakfast burritos from the race — which turned out to be pretty awful. So I had more coffee instead. Marc and Melinda headed home, I talked to Lia a bit more, and then I decided to wait for the awards in case they were deep enough to reach me. Places hadn’t been announced, but I knew there hadn’t been that many women ahead of me. But I was still really stunned when they reached my age group and called, “Third place, Layla Bohm.” I went and collected my medal from Tony the race director, and stepped onto the third block of the podium. I have never in my life stood on a podium, and I must admit that it was a pretty cool feeling.
And that’s a wrap. Well, not quite: While I was still hanging around the finish area, a woman congratulated me. I looked at her, thought she was familiar, and soon figured out that she was the spectator who had complimented me on my shorts. I thanked her profusely for cheering, and told her she really helped lift my spirits. We runners only see spectators for a millisecond, and we rarely get a chance to thank most of them. There, in a city known for its crime and for being the first large city to declare bankruptcy, I was able to thank one of the spectators who stood out on a Stockton street on a Sunday morning, cheering for people running through her city. Stockton, sometimes you’re OK.