This evening I took down the half-marathon training schedule from my refrigerator door and tallied up the number of miles that I've logged in the past eight weeks.
One hundred and sixty-seven miles.
It looks impressive when you write it out this way, don't you think?
Given slightly different circumstances this final number would have come to 168 miles, but I'll get to this in a moment. Let me first begin where all half-marathons begin, which is at the starting line, surrounded by roughly 25,000 fellow dry-fit clad runners who are shaking out their arms, stretching their legs, and fidgeting with pent-up energy as each corral is brought forward and released onto the course.
I clicked my watch as I crossed the starting line, breathed deeply, and temporarily felt propelled by the crowd. The first several miles were spent jostling for placement, passing some runners who were moving slowly, looking for small windows of space to fit through, and keeping my excitement at bay in order to maintain a sustainable speed.
By mile seven, I was in a good rhythm and safely keeping my goal pace of 9 minute miles. Focusing on breathing deeply, I scanned the scenery and absorbed the unfolding scenes along the city streets: thousands of runners surging ahead, bands playing, cheerleading squads cheering, water cups being tossed and trampled.
I glanced at my watch as I passed the tenth mile marker, and I couldn't help but smile when I saw my time. If I could complete the final 3.1 miles of the race within a half hour -- which seemed like an attainable goal -- I'd fall under my goal time of two hours. You've got this, Robin, I told myself, and headed into mile eleven.
Ah, mile eleven.
I must say that I don't recall much about mile eleven, except that the punk band at the side of the road was painfully loud, and that my temple suddenly throbbed, and that for one brief moment as I was nearing the twelfth mile marker, it seemed as if everyone was starting to pass me and the ground was spinning.
My next recollection was looking up into the face of a paramedic while lying on a gurney on the side of the road.
Granted, I wasn't thinking too clearly at this moment, but I could register one thought: This really can't be good.
"What's your name?" the paramedic asked.
I answered. Correctly, I must add.
"How old are you?" another paramedic asked as he hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff.
"Thirty-three." In my mind, I figured that they were checking my level of coherence. If they wanted coherence, I'd give them coherence. I launched into a brief autobiographical sketch.
"I'm here with a group of friends." That's where I paused. Technically, I only knew one of the other runners in my group well. I just had met the other members the day before when we had carpooled for four hours together to the race. Upon closer thought, I wasn't even sure I could accurately recall all of their last names.
I retracted my statement. "Actually, I'm here with one friend and a group of her friends. I really don't know the rest of them. Not well, anyway. I just was invited along." Oh, man. I was babbling. "They're all going to be wondering where I am at the finish line." One paramedic raised his eyebrow at the other.
"Don't worry about that right now," he said.
"Can't you please just let me go? Let me at least walk to the finish line. I'm totally cognizant of my whereabouts."
There. I had used the word cognizant, which clearly is not a word that would be selected by someone who wasn't just that. Couldn't they see how lucid I was?
A female paramedic came to my side, squatted down, and spoke directly to me. "Look. You were out cold. You hit the pavement. Your knees and hands are scratched up." I drew my hands toward my face, inspecting my palms as if they weren't my own. She gestured to my arm. "You're hooked up to an IV."
I had no recollection of this. None of it. She continued, "You tried to fight me while we brought you to the medical tent and insisted that you could finish the race. Right now your blood pressure is extremely low and your heart rate is too high. You're dehydrated."
I sank back into the gurney and watched the steady stream of runners passing by.
A group of paramedics looked at my monitor and conferred. "You're going to need some more help and tests than we're able to give here. We're calling in an ambulance."
As I stared up into the sky, I prayed. Lord, this wasn't supposed to happen this way. This is entirely wrong. I'm not supposed to be here.
I was in a strange city, separated from a group of people that I didn't even know well, unable to get in touch with anyone, and about to be transported to a hospital I never had heard of by ambulance. I totally had screwed things up.
My mind raced, spinning unproductively over the unknown logistics of how everyone would find me in the hospital, what alternate carpooling arrangements would be needed for the long drive home, how I would get in touch with Joel, and the eventual emergency room bills that would be coming our way.
And then, one final realization: I absolutely cannot believe that I'm going to have to write a blog post about this.
Then I resigned thinking altogether, scanned the inside of the ambulance, and watched the blur of the hospital walls as I was wheeled into the emergency room and hooked up to probes and monitors.
"So, young lady, what happened to you?" one technician asked as he hung up a new IV bag.
"I was running the half-marathon, and well, I collapsed, I suppose."
"How far did you get?"
"How far is the race?"
"Thirteen point one miles."
"Dang, girl! You were almost there!"
Point duly noted.
Words can't adequately convey the relief that came when I saw my friends eventually enter the doorway, still in their running gear and bib numbers. I filled them in on all the details that I could recall. They asked smart questions to the doctor. When I joked that I didn't get much opportunity to stretch when I finished running, two women that I hadn't known twenty-four hours prior massaged my stiff calves. "You did just run twelve miles, you know," one reminded me.
That's precisely when the tears welled up. I was disappointed, embarrassed, and had a terrible headache, but only one thing struck me: even though we had driven to the race in multiple cars, no one was choosing to leave. I was blown away by their incredible kindness and support, silently thanking God for turning this situation around through these amazing people rallying around me.
After five hours, two IV bags, one chest x-ray, one CAT scan, and four small containers of orange juice later, I was discharged. The diagnosis: low blood pressure and low blood sugar. Apparently, when low enough, this combination is enough to knock a girl off her feet.
"Have you ever passed out before?" the doctor had asked.
I had -- twice in the past few years, actually. Both times had been characterized by missed meals. I thought back to my morning's half banana and few bites of toast. Obviously, that hadn't cut it.
When I walked through my front door much later that evening, I dropped my bags, bear-hugged each girl one by one, and settled into Joel's arms on the couch. The girls climbed up on me. I didn't want to let anyone go -- or to have anyone let go of me.
"Mommy, does this mean that you finished last?" Reese asked, an impish grin on her face.
"Well, that certainly is one way you could put it."
Or, you could say that instead of a finisher's medal around my neck, I instead earned a hospital band around my wrist. Not as glamorous, that's for certain, but certainly earned.