Commentary: Whole day of memories from OC Half Marathon

It's 4 a.m. Sunday. Evie calls.

Worried about street closures, she summons me to her house on Bayside Drive earlier than our 5:30 a.m. meeting time.

My Saturday night had been a lovely 50th wedding anniversary party, bedtime past 11 p.m. Evie's call subtracts a precious hour of sleep.

Turns out to be a day of timing.

Before I met the "Serious Saturday Runners," I raced with the goal of finishing and eating. They stressed time — complete a half-marathon in under two hours.

Working hard, I did finish in under two at Long Beach, Orange County and Surf City. However, lately, my times had dropped to 2:0l, 2:05 and 2:03.

OK, we slow with age. Maybe.

At 6:15 a.m., Sunday, I stand at the start of the OC Half Marathon, hearing the "Star-Spangled Banner," willing myself to finish in under two hours.

The gun sends me off, following the "2:00 pacer," a guy grasping a dowel with a "2:00 card" mounted atop. I review my strategy: Run with the two-hour finishers, then pull ahead in the last .1 mile to finish at 1:59-ish.

Seconds matter.

After a panicky, breathless quarter-mile, I fall into rhythm with a 9 minute, 10 second pace per mile, enjoying the soft beat of synchronous footfalls — shoes hitting asphalt. We turn corners through Corona del Mar, conquering Mile 1, 2, surprised by 4. Where was 3?

Then, disaster: the bottleneck. Thousands snake under the Coast Highway Bridge. In the crush, my pacer evaporates. I fall behind as we climb Dover. Circling Castaways Park, I get my final peek at the 2:00 sign ahead by the Soldier Statue.

My goal: Catch him! Looking at my race record, I increased from a 9-minute pace to an 8-minute-50-second time.

Fueled by a big chocolate bar, I spot a fellow racer with graying hair.

Suspecting she's in my age group, I run past her in a burst of speed.

At Mile 8, I celebrate, "More than half way!" After another infusion of melting chocolate, washed down at a water stop, I turn up Irvine Avenue.


Driving up Irvine, I love views of Saddleback above the Bay.

On foot, I slow, due to the incline, my two-hour-finish a distant dream. The pacer, long gone.

Discouraged, I walk through the next water stop. But then there's different runner with that "AARP look," wearing a shirt that says, "Body by Ed." I surprise myself by leaving "Body by Ed" convincingly behind. Suddenly, my friend and mentor Jake is on the sidelines; he waves and I call a greeting. No stopping for hand slaps or hugs.

In the homestretch, Mile 11, I see the fairgrounds and chomp my last glob of melted chocolate to the mantra, "Finish strong!"

However, I'm crumbling. I don't realize it until a friend rides by on her bike. Taking a day off racing, she cheers runners on. "Get your head up!" she commands.

I snap my head upward, elevating my chest, improving my breathing.

Entering the fairgrounds, I manage a last push. Hard work.

Ahead, "Body by Ed." When did she pass me?

She's stronger; no catching her.

I see something else. A pacer holding her card.

Myopic, even with corrective sunglasses, I assume she's a 2:10 pacer, but cannot read the card.

"What's that pace card say?" I ask runners. Ear buds on, they don't answer. Then a young woman holds up two fingers. The two hour pacer, not the male I followed, but a female. With chocolate-fueled finisher's kick, I pass the pacer.

I don't catch "Body by Ed" and forget to look at my clock time. Instead I cross the finish and cling to the chain-link fence, chest heaving.

Later I check my time and my place. I finish at 2:00:41, second place behind my good friend, Jeanie.

And, thank you, "Body by Ed." Turns out you weren't in my age group, but racing you brought me within seconds of my goal.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is an award-winning teacher and runner whose articles have appeared in Coast and Sassie magazines and the Los Angeles Times.

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