Trin looked at me like an overbearing librarian."Pand, shut it!"
Desi was standing next to Trin, looking at me with surprise.
"Don't worry, Desi, she's always like this before a race. Never heard anybody moan so much about doing something she loves."
"Who's effing idea was it to do this? The sun is barely up." I moaned. "It's alright for you, you'll be done by nine 'o' clock. I have to wait about for another half hour to start and then I'm not going to finish for over two hours. This isn't fun. I'm surrounded by thousands of lycra clad people, all thinking exactly the same thing. This is shit!"
"Pand, shut it!" repeated Trin and Desi in unison.
Okay, I admit it. Part of my race day plan is to moan for at least ten minutes before the race. If I'm not getting clocked in the face by some person taking off a jumper, or tripping over a pram or having a dog growl at me, I'm being freaked out by the crowds - or in today's case, just a bit tired and grumpy because I didn't quite get enough sleep and I'd been up since 5.45. Desi, arrived at 6.20, Trin at 6.30 and we walked to the event together. You have to have a little bitch about that....
Thing is, my grizzling is my way of shedding my nerves. I'm standing there knowing that I have 21.1 kilometres to cover. Yes, I'm nuts. Yes, nobody else signed me up for this. Yes, I know I've done the training. Yes, I know I've done the distance before. But still! It's 7.30 on a damp, cool Sunday morning and I'm standing there about to wave my friends off on their ten kilometre run and I still have to schlep down St Kilda Road, Round Albert Park Lake and back again.
My race started at eight. Double Phooey.
I was thinking about going back to bed.
Once Trin and Desi were on their way, I continued my internal moaning, whilst doing some gentle stretching and keeping an eye out for Anna from the gym. She was down for the half as well. I didn't find her however. Nevermind.
Today was my fourth half marathon.
The first one was done in Adelaide in May 2009. Reindert walk/ran it with me (he did the full marathon - just met up with me at the two kilometer mark of the half. Two hours thirty nine it took me.
A few months later, I ran the Melbourne half marathon. A warm, sunny day, a bit too warm in many ways. Two hours forty four that one took me. Lost a toenail too.
Last year, in May, I did the Williamstown Half Marathon. Possibly the proudest moment of my life. I ran all the way. It was a seminal moment. It proved that I could do ANYTHING! The official time came in at 2.33.58.
Then I got injured and needed surgery and I had to give up running for six months and that was bloody awful. I was getting back into it in October and I did my right knee. Things didn't look good.
A year later - here I was lining up for the half again.
Of course, all of the rituals were performed the night before. A big bowl of pasta for dinner, my clothes set out, $20 put near my bra to go down the front of it (cab fare). The bum bag was packed. Credit card, driver's licence, gels, light weight house keys. Done.
Desi, Trin an I walked the three kilometres to the MCG. Halfway there Trin said she'd left her heart rate monitor behind. I stopped myself from saying something. My heart rate monitor is like a critical piece of equiment - up there with my two bras. Being a control freak, I need to know what time I'm doing, where I'm heading, how I'm tracking. It was then I realised that I'd left my hat at home. Oh well, buy one when I get there. Which I did. Can't run without a hat. That's the rules on race day.
Finally, I set off. Passed through the arch at 8.03.
I've learned a lot over the last few years of running.
I don't hit my true stride until the five kilometre mark - I bitch and moan internally until then - and it's all a matter of seeing this period through.
Not being as fast as I would like doesn't upset me any more. Today's humidity made my apply the brakes a bit. Humidity and I don't get on - thankfully it wasn't any warmer.
There are all the normal obstacles to overcome. Not tripping at the drinks stations is one, the sea of plastic cups can be lethal.
The mental obtacles get easier as the race goes on. You tell yourself to be somewhere at a certain point - make the ten kilometre mark by 65 minutes (I got there around 66 minutes - okay with that - certainly not a failure on my part) Have a gel at the eight and sixteen kilometre marks (I had the spare at eighteen as well - was feeling a bit whooshy). Give encouragement where encouragement is due. You chat to a lot of people in the last few kilometres, egging each other on getting each other over the line.
One of the highlights of this race was passing a girl I ran with in the 2009 race. She and I sat on the same pace in 2009 and we helped each other along for an hour or so. It was lovely to see her. We ran together for about a kilometre before I bid her well. She was aiming for around 2.40. I was looking at around twenty minutes quicker. No point slowing myself down to that pace. I had some things to prove to myself.
The only downer to the race - invisible kilometre markings. Psychologically, these markers are critical. Just seeing that you only have seven, three, two kilometres to go can give you an edge. I remember seeing the one, two, three, six, ten, eleven, seventeen, eighteen and twenty kilometre markers only. Not happy, but I was running well, so I took pleasure in that. At the nineteen kilometre mark, one of the volunteers said that it was just ahead. I let out a whoop and a "thank f*ck for that!" before running around the corner and not finding it.
Oh well, I was nearly home.
Did I walk. For twenty or so metres at each drink station (sorry, I can't run and drink) and twice, I walked for about fifty metres to regulate my heart rate, which was up a bit high. No shame in that. Ostensibly, I ran all the way.
My legs held up really well, my breathing was good, except for an occasionaly dry cough - the joys of blossoms flying off the trees down St Kilda Road.
Finally, in the last kilometre, it dawned on me - I've just done this. I wouldn't say it was easy, but I've done it. My knee was good. My legs, though a touch stiff, were good. I was pretty tired tired, but fine.
Two hours, twenty one minutes and thirty five seconds after running through the first arch, I finished.
Twelve clear minutes faster than my last personal best.
And I cried.
Why cry, other than I'm physically wrecked, my toes feel like they're about to drop off and there are thousands of people jostling about?
I cry for a stupid reason. There is nobody here to meet me.
It's like, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
I run a half marathon, nobody is there to collect me at the end - have I really done it?
Well, I have. I did it. The results will be up in the next day or so on the website. Pandora Behr, aged 43 - runs a 2.21.35 half marathon, making the 10 kilometre mark at 66.05. I've done it! It will be a matter of public record in a day or so.
Despite not having a friend to meet up with, I regained my composure in a minute, found the water table, downed two nurofen and settled myself. My achilles throbbed for a few minutes, nothing some concentrated stretching didn't fix. Gathering my showbag, going to the toilet, buying a SPIbelt as a well done present (Small Personal Items Belt - much more efficient than the bum bag I've been using to haul things about during races) then I walked the three kilometres home, chatting with another half marathoner down Bridge Road and grabbed a coffee and a finger bun as a treat.
Reindert was very pleased - we caught up on skype when I got home, me, all sweaty, but happy. It's great to rehash a race with somebody who understands.
Doing a body check after my shower, my breasts have not been cut to ribbons. My toenails are intact. My limbs are working well. Just a bit tired, that is all. It's great.
Two years on from my first half marathon, what have I learned, other than I have the spirit of a warrior, that running requires generousity of spirit, tenacity and commitment, that not cutting your toenails can hobble you, that like cycling gear, running clothing is not particularly sexy and that not drinking at each water station should be done at your own risk?
What else other than reaping the health benefits of far fewer colds, a toned, slimmer frame, healthy bones and muscles and far more energy?
I think that running has taught me that I truly can overcome anything. If I can beat myself, I can take on the world. It's taught me that I am worth the time and effort it take to keep fit to such a level. It's taught me that there is some suffering that is truly worth it - that the sacrifice of mornings in bed, of drunken nights out, of time out on the road pays more dividends than the initial sacrifice. I'm truly worth all this effort.
Running has given me a sense of peace. Long may it continue.
I've just finished a book about barefoot and distance running. "Born to Run" by Christopher Mc Dougall details the lives of ultra-marathon runners, including a tribe of Mexican Indians, the Tarahumara and the wonderful, barking mad, inspiring Caballo Blanco - a guy by the name of Micah True.
Get the book. Read it. It's one of the best non-fictions books out there about running. Even if you're a non-runner.
Everything they say about the 'soul' of running is what I've believed for a while.
We're meant to do this.
After all, running is just the process of repeatedly falling down and getting back up again.