The Timp Half is my race. It starts at one of my all-time favorite spots in the world--gorgeous emerald green Tibble Fork Reservoir--and runs out my favorite American Fork canyon. And, as luck would have it, the whole thing goes down just minutes from my home. Perfection? You bet.
I wanted to run it last year, but my sister and running buddy was busy moving to Washington that particular Saturday, so I skipped it. When my neighbor mentioned that she was considering it for this year, I invited myself to join her and that was that.
I've trained for four months and I was ready. Eager. Excited. Shin splints were behind me. My wobbly knee had been wobble-free for the last ten days. No doubts. No butterflies. I was going to bring it.
And if you asked me how I did, I could spare you the details and give you the long-story-short: A trio of friends trained and conquered. I couldn't have been more pleased--I ran with good music, injury-free and easily bested my last half-marathon attempt.
But if you wanted details, you'd be in for a good story.
It started here:
It was a good crowd. And though it was chilly at 5 am, I was feeling good and ready to get started. I got to the honey buckets before the super-big lines--it's a real science, figuring out how to go as close to the start of the race as possible, without getting stuck in a huge line, and I timed it just right. I downed a banana, some Greek yogurt and a slice of whole wheat to keep it all settled.
I snapped one last (lousy) shot of my canyon lake as the sad out-of-air air-horn signaled the start. I was way in the back, with plenty of time to slip my phone into my arm band, start up the Nike+ app and cross the starting line with my two neighborhood companions.
As we rounded the water, runners were already jostling and passing and being slow enough with their backpacks (seriously who brings a backpack?) that they needed passing. I'd been separated from my friends, but as we came up on the drop and I saw the long pack of runners stretch out and slip under the trees in front of me I almost choked up. I love being a part of a community--something big and great and exciting. I was going to enjoy this, so I put my head down and ran.
It was well before the first mile marker that I noticed the itchy palms. It wasn't significant, but just enough to wonder what I might've touched. The condensation on my water bottle seemed cool enough to allay the itch.
I noticed the tickle in my eyebrows right before mile two. First my right and then my left. Both just faintly itchy, but I gave them both a little rub and wondered if I should've put on some bug spray before leaving home.
And then, I sneezed.
It might be a good time to tell you a funny, little story that happened when I was about 15 years-old. One evening I'd gone out running with my dad--just a few miles around the neighborhood. As we returned home, I reached for the front door and was overcome with the sneezes. Fifteen sneezes, right in a row, before I could stop and catch my breath. My dad asked if I was okay and I shrugged my shoulders, stepped into the house and sitting on the bottom step started sneezing again. I could feel the swelling rush into my head, nastiness replacing the good air I'd just sneezed out, getting worse with each sneeze. A dozen-plus sneezes later, I looked up to answer my dad, but something was very wrong and seeing my father's eyes grow to saucer-size confirmed it.
When I found a mirror, I saw a pasty-white balloon looking back at me. There were eyebrows and slits where my eyes were fighting to see. Nostrils, but no nose. Fat lips, but no mouth. All accompanied by the uncontrollable desire to scratch that balloon face right off--itchy at a whole new level.
That little sneezing fit landed me at the ER with a couple shots to get my face back to normal. We never found out what caused it--I've always blamed it on the nearby steel plant that would open their smoke-stacks at night and let out who-knows-what into the air. From time to time, I've had seasonal allergies and occasionally pollution will get to me (remind me to tell you about my visit to China, sometime--worst. pollution. ever.) but as soon as I recognize what it is--the tell-tale sneezing and must-draw-blood itching--I pop two Benadryl and I'm on my way. Ironically, my allergies in general have been getting milder and milder--this past spring, when my usually allergy-free husband was cursing the cottonwoods, I was breathing clear.
So . . . I'm running, I'm running, I'm itching, scratching and . . . I sneeze.
Just once, so I was probably okay. And then it hit again--in triple. And with each sneeze, I felt the yuck coming on in.
It was about two minutes later that I noticed I could see my eyebrows hanging over my eyes, followed ever so closely by my nose and puffy cheeks stretching up to make their way into my line of sight. Not good.
I knew I should probably get to some Benadryl, but that would be at an ambulance working the race and the nearest one would be at the base of the canyon, around mile eight. Without being able to see myself, I didn't know if it was really all that bad, or if I was just letting my mind go wild. For certain, I didn't want to whine to the medics and find out that I'd made it all up in my head and I was just a big pansy.
Over the next few miles, I discovered I couldn't breathe out of my nose--which would have been okay, except the inside of my mouth felt numb--and I lost the hearing in my right ear--mostly just a pain because I prefer hearing my tunes in stereo.
At mile seven, I grabbed some GU and a cup of Gatorade from a cute kid with big eyes who stared me down as I came and went--a bad sign. I swigged the punch, but could only taste it in part of my mouth--also, probably bad.
As I rounded the turn out of the canyon and saw the ambulance in front of me, I had a new worry--that maybe I looked bad enough that they would stop me. Perhaps downing a couple Benadryl on the run wouldn't be an option. I was still debating in my mind when a police car pulled up in front of me and the officer directed the EMTs to check out his passenger's ankle. I squinted hard, then opened my eyes wide, hoping no one would notice my slowly ballooning face, and crossed the road to mile eight. Only five miles to go--I was nearly there and wasn't nobody going to stop me now.
I know what you're thinking. Stop, right? I should've stopped. I get that--my body was shutting down and there's no logical reason to keep going. I don't even really like running--I do it so I can eat cookies and keep my crazy in check. But even days later, running still seems the obvious choice. I had no intention of stopping--that race was mine for the taking. Can't explain it. I had to run.
That's when the itching spread to the rest of my body. I reached up to flick off a bug only to find that my whole shoulder and arm and chest was on fire. And speaking of fire, my back was crawling-with-ants itchy, too. I scratched a little and then a little more. But the more I scratched the worse it itched, so I forced myself to ignore it and focus on the run. It didn't occur to me that they were hives until later, so I can only imagine how I looked. I didn't give anyone too much of a chance to see me, that's how fast I was running. Or so I told myself.
Craig called at mile 9 and I could barely hear him through my earphones. I gave him an ETA and told him to bring Benadryl to the finish. "Benadryl?" I think it was a question. "Yes, Craig," I yelled, "bring Benadryl."
I almost felt silly asking for it--I was already starting to get better. I was trying to stretch out my mouth and eyes while running alone through the tree line and it was working. Whatever it was, I'd pushed it out of my system with my speed and I was on the mend. By the finish line, I would be over it and no one (outside of the poor water boys, scarred with the horrific image of disfigured me) would ever have to know.
Craig wasn't sure what the Benadryl was for and he couldn't find any, so he came to the finish line empty handed. I flew by so quickly, that Craig thought I must've been crying, until he flipped back through the pictures.
So here's the thing. In all those pictures up there, I'm not in the slightest bit of pain. I'm happy. I'm smiling. Or, at least, I thought I was smiling. And the worst of it had passed three miles prior--this was me on the mend.
I crossed the finish line and headed back to watch my friends come in with Craig. But then Craig saw me up close and decided that I needed drugs. He put me in the car (despite serious protests--I wanted to cheer my friends and join the party) and we drove straight to the pharmacy (where he wouldn't even let me go in because I was too hideous) and then home to survey the damage.
Between the two hours of sleep the night before and a double dose of Benadryl, I slept away most of what was left of Saturday, which made me mad. I was in good shape and had plans to celebrate. It was almost 24 hours before I looked close to normal, and even then I was sporting saggy eyes at church. Good thing I wear glasses, eh?
Also, my know-it-all ER-nurse baby sister told me that I should probably become one of those epi-pen carriers, since allergy attacks like mine can kill people. And she's not making this stuff up--first-hand knowledge this girl has. She knows victims by name. I like to call her happy-fun girl as she has the best stories--she probably rents out for parties if you're in the market. And by "best stories" I mean awful, horrible either disturbing or disgusting or sad stories that she likes to whip out when you don't take your health seriously.
But here's the takeaway, kids, and what I want you to remember:
I finished that half-marathon. In the throes of life-threatening anaphylaxis, I finished that half-marathon in . . . wait for it . . . two hours and thirteen minutes! Besting my last half by over 23 minutes and beating my personal goal by seven. Those are 10:09 minute miles, baby. And if I can do that while I'm nearly dying, what can't I do?
Runner's high, folks. It's totally real.