COLUMN: Personal records are possible, even when sick

This was the first time that my pre-race ritual included Nyquil. I had never been so scared for a race in my life.

The day before the half-marathon, I had a runny nose in the morning that slowly escalated into an hour-long sneezing fit, watery eyes and a foggy head. I went out for a pasta dinner with my race buddies, but honestly, I couldn’t even taste the food.

The thought of running in this condition made my stomach churn — as if I needed another symptom to add to the list of miseries. Not to mention, I had to be up around 4:30 a.m. to Uber to the race. I laid out my running clothes and headphones that evening and fell asleep at 9:15 p.m., hoping that the water I had chugged and the medicine I had taken and the sleep I was getting would cure me by morning.

When I woke up the next morning, my throat was still a little sore, but my nose wasn’t congested or runny and I wasn’t drowsy from the Nyquil. I hurried out the door to meet my friends Jenny and Edwin for our race.

Hollywood Boulevard looked nothing like the rest of sleepy Los Angeles at 5 a.m. on a Saturday. There were thousands of people warming up, waiting in line for the bathroom or corralling  into groups based on their estimated finishing times.

The lights from the famous El Capitan Theatre lit up the street while pop music blasted from speakers. A big inflatable arch with the Hollywood letters marked the starting line. Jenny was on the lookout for Kiefer Sutherland, the star of the TV show 24. Our Uber driver had told us he was running the half-marathon too. It was funny to think celebrities would be sweating and struggling alongside us through the upcoming 13.1 miles.

Struggling is the key word. Even though I felt okay at the starting line, I knew that could change in the first few minutes of turning a walk into a run. I recalled traumatic memories from that one day of P.E. when my third-grade class had doughnuts right before running the mile. Then, the buzzer went off and I was back on Hollywood Boulevard, breaking into a run to start the half-marathon.

I spent the first mile or two weaving through the crowd, trying to find a crew that was running my pace. At first, I tried to keep up with a woman wearing a tutu and speakers. When she ran the slight downhill, she’d let her arms flail out in front of her to the beat of the music. It was entertaining, but I lost her at a water stop. During half-marathons, there’s a water stop every few miles, and I needed to stop at every one to drink a few sips and keep the sickness at bay.

The miles passed, and the illness never made an appearance at the race. I felt good. The course was mostly flat, and I used that as motivation to lengthen my stride and pick up the pace. I never did find a steady crew, but that’s because I was having too much fun picking off people. I gave my targets nicknames like “Cheeks” (because a certain body part was sticking out of her shorts), and then I’d catch up, I’d pass them and choose a new target.

That worked well until the last mile. I knew we didn’t have much time left, but I couldn’t see the finish line. Then I saw Jenny running on the other side of the cones lining the middle of the street.

It meant there was a turnaround. We shouted some words of encouragement at each other, but I was already dreading whatever else was left because I knew there was way more of it. Where I was sure the finish line should have been, I saw a barrier of cones signaling the turnaround. By then, I had lost all sense of distance and I had no idea when to start sprinting to the end. Finally, I turned a corner and the finish line was just 100 meters away. I blasted past the clock and the fake Oscar statues and my friends who had come to cheer us on. Jenny wrapped me up in a big hug at the finish line, and the runner’s high kicked in.

I was so happy with finishing, with finding the strength in sickness, with embarking on this crazy endeavor with my friends. It turned out I ran a 1:56 half-marathon, beating my previous time by almost six minutes. I may not have won my age group, but I still felt like a champion. After all, that is the reason I run.

Meghan Coyle is a senior  majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the online managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Chasing Pavements,” runs Tuesdays.