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My 15th Half Marathon: No Watch, No Chip, No Problem!

I went into Sunday’s Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon To Benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society with one thought— “You’re an idiot for forgetting your timing chip.” With naked wrists, no chip and my boyfriend 4 minutes ahead of me, I was really running blind when it came to time. Waiting for my corral to take off, some guy commented, “Man, how are you even running?” Thanks, dude.

What could have easily turned into a catastrophe for this sometimes time-obsessed runner actually turned out to be quite the positive experience. For the first time in a long time, I slowed down to soak in my surroundings, both along the course and in the race. The spirit of running has shifted since Meb crossed the finish line first in Boston on April 21—it’s something you can feel full force, all around you, every day. People rallied along the sidelines for nearly the entire 13.1-mile distance. Running around the neighborhood Mountain View loop, “Meb was here!” “Go Meb” and other encouraging words were chalked on the ground as I stomped passed. You could almost feel the energy radiating from his 1:30 pace group—the greatest marathoner in the country just ran past 8 minutes before me! (I wonder if he took a tequila shot from the guy on the corner.)

I had been battling illness for three weeks leading up to the race, and difficulty breathing kicked in toward the middle miles. Well, at least you can drop out if you fall over, I thought, which was oddly calming. But looking back on my last half marathon and the disappointment I felt, I tapped into my inner runner spirit and love for what was happening around me, and I kept moving with more controlled breaths. The great thing about the San Diego course, aside from a familiarity with the roads, is that it seemed to have been created for me. For the runner who loves variety in her runs, this course was perfect—no major uphills, but just enough elevation gain to keep your legs, and your glutes, on their A-game. I smiled as I approached Balboa Park for the final descent and threw my arms up at the kids with the squirt guns—who happily soaked my shirt and giggled with one another.

As I cruised down the gradual downhill toward downtown San Diego, I saw my dad ride up alongside me, pacing the lead hand cyclists to their full-marathon finish. Although I was still gasping for extra oxygen, I felt a momentarily since of relief to see him. Running track in high school, I always had my dad on the sidelines, yelling running tips and encouraging words into my ears. I hardly ever heard anyone else’s voice but his during those meets. And now, as I prepared to finish my 15th half marathon, there he was, ElliptiGO and all, saying something about the hand cyclist and his brakes. I didn’t hear everything he said this time, but I saw his face, and that carried me through the finish at—according to mathematical consensus—right around 1:40.

It was as if the run gods packaged all inspiration and positive energy into one big race this weekend—from the cheering spectators, to the smiling runners, to the signs on the ground and in people’s hands, to Meb’s presence, to the entertainment (Aloe Blacc is totally suave!), to my now-favorite half-marathon course, the 2014 Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon To Benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was a total all-around slam dunk—and a pinnacle definition of why running is the greatest sport in the world.

Caitlyn Pilkington

Caitlyn Pilkington is the web editor for Women's Running. She started running competitively in 2001 and has completed three marathons and tons of half marathons. Her proudest moment as a runner was crossing the finish line of her first marathon in 3:29, qualifying for the 2016 Boston Marathon.