Thursday night, I packed and made a mental list of a few other items I needed to pack, but would not do so until the morning. I woke up on Friday, made my last check of all the required items, and headed out to the airport. Thanks to Jen Pfaff, the airport was a breeze as I cruised through security and was walked immediately on to the plane before everyone else. As the plane sped down the runway to take flight towards Houston, I sat back and smiled. The very first thought which brought about that smile was the memory of the plane speeding down the runway on route to New York City. On that July afternoon in 2010, I was scared. I was headed to NYC where I would meet Brendan Hermes and attempt my second NYC Triathlon. The fear I felt for the Hudson River swim was overwhelming. On this January day in 2013, there was no such fear. I have always been scared during race week. I am always nervous. This entire week though was different. I was relaxed. Dare I say, I was borderline confident. I am never confident before a race. There I was sitting on the plane attempting to make myself scared and nervous for the Houston Half Marathon, but I could not convince myself to be scared. After all, the beautiful and talented pro triathlete, model, and actress, Jenna Parker had prepared me to be in the best shape of my life. The equally beautiful and talented marathoner, Jennifer Pfaff was going to guide me to an almost certain personal best time. Every single race in which Jen guides me results in my breaking a personal record of some kind. There was no reason to think that would not take place on the streets of Houston once more.
Arriving in Houston, Jen and I were met by our friend, Christopher Cardenas with whom we would be staying all weekend. We went directly to race expo to pick up our race bibs and to walk around. Wanting to be fitted for shoes, Christopher and I walked to the Fleet Feet booth where I tried on some new kicks. I mentioned to the person helping me that I knew a man in the area who has the best products in town. He said, "You must know Andy Stewart of Finish Line Sports. Everyone knows him. He is the best!" Indeed, I was talking about Andy, the owner of FLS and one of the best race directors in the country.
On Saturday, the highlight was attending the lunch-in for the C Different Foundation. Executive Director for the Texas Chapter, David Adame, did a splendid job organizing every aspect of the weekend for CDF. The food was spectacular and the conversation was lively. Every C Different athlete and all their guides had the opportunity to speak and share their excitement for the next day's race whether they were running the half or the full marathon. I had the great privilege to see the Sharps again. They were the husband and wife team of professional videographers who put together a fabulous video on the weekend for CDF in January of 2012. Elisa came up to me and said, "Hi Sexy Isra." I thought it was wonderful that she remembered me from last year. I also met high school junior cross country runner, Timmy and marathoner, Tom who had been assigned to help me for Sunday's race. I figured Jen could focus on guiding duties while Timmy and Tom would clear a path for me warning runners of a blind runner as well as getting me water or gatorade at aid stations so Jen and I could keep running without stopping or slowing down fighting through the crowds at these stations. C Different founder, Matt Miller, spoke. My highlight was when he stated, "Israel is my hero." He discussed how he remembers the first time I ever ran in an event with C Different. He remembers how I struggled through the AIA Half Marathon and how impressed he was at the improvement I have made over the years especially my preparation for racing. After the lunch-in, Jen, Christopher, and I met up with Tim Farrell for dinner.
As I prepared for bed, I took out my race bag which contained my shoes, tether which Jen uses to guide me, and new racing uniform from my sponsor, Pinnacle Performance Company. It was then when I began to feel scared. I kept attempting to calm myself down by telling myself, I did everything Jenna demanded me of me. She has done her job to prepare me so now it is my turn to do everything to show that I am ready. I have put in the work so go out and prove it. I was confident that I would break my personal record of 1:57:23. The question was could I break the 1:45 mark? From my calculation, if I maintained an eight minute per mile pace the entire 13.1 miles, I would finish in 1:44:48. That was not exact, but it was my best estimation. I tossed and turned. I do not feel that I slept at all that entire night. I kept asking myself could I run eight minute miles? I have only run that pace once. It was at the Chicago Marathon last October. The only mile in which I achieved that feet was in the final mile of the race so what made me think I could now run that pace for an entire half marathon? My only response to myself was Jenna Parker! She is the reason I should believe in myself. I need to trust that she has prepared me to run like never before.
Sunday morning came and I could not get up. I was sick. I was so anxious. The weather was cold, windy, and rainy. Mentally, I felt I could handle it. After having breakfast, I put on my Pinnacle Performance gear. I was ready. Christopher and Jen were set. We headed out.
We would start in corral A. Timmy and Tom joined us. Twenty minutes to the start. It started to rain heavily. After a few minutes it stopped. It was windy. Finally, with only minutes to go, I started to settle down. Once I crossed the start, I had to keep moving and get to the finish before 1:45:00. The gun sounded. Jen lead me across the start. It was on! Cold. Rain. Wind. I did not like it. I felt so miserable. I was scared. We made our way up a bridge. Jen was telling me to focus. I was not running in a straight line. I was scared. I was already doubting if I had the heart and ability to overcome these conditions to break 1:45. Then I hear, "Whoa! Is." I get rattled. I am not quite sure, but I think it was Jen, Timmy, and Tom who all yelled out. I only know I was startled and I twisted to my left only to trip and fall. I put my hands out and slam down on a cinder block. My leg felt like it was scraped or gashed. I could complain, but I knew that is not what "Big Boys" do so I tried to fight the pain. Jen demanded I shake it off immediately. I better not let it get to me. A woman had somehow started with some of the faster runners, but she was clearly not an elite or fast runner. she was not even running. she was walking. Tom and Timmy had tried unsuccessfully to move her or at least warn her that I was nearing, but she did not budge. Instead, she was in my path of travel. when all three yelled out, I freaked out and had slammed into that cinder block. Now I was in pain all because that woman had somehow been where she clearly did not belong. Cold, wind, and rain. Now this? I could already tell it was going to be a long possibly miserable day. Then again, it's only half a mile into the race. Maybe I could turn it around. I could regroup and go. We reached the first mile. Nine minutes. We had to go. Jen said it was time to turn it on. In fact, I had to make up time so I would have to start running faster than I originally wanted. Again, I had only run one mile at an eight mile pace. Now I would have to run faster than that to make up the time. Second mile was complete in eight minutes and twenty-three seconds. We were still running behind. More and more Jen demanded I needed to turn it on. At this pace we would not come close to my goal of breaking my personal record by at least twelve minutes. By mile three I was finally moving. I was moving faster than I ever had in a race. Same as the next mile. Likewise the next. I was moving at a 7:40 clip. I was even more worried that I was moving too fast. What if this pace would cause me to not have anything down the home stretch? What if this pace would cause me to fade yet again? Then Jen tells me me that elite marathoner, Tera Moody went flying by us. As nervous as I was and as much as I was doubting my ability, I needed to hear those words at that time. Tera is one of those athletes who I find very inspiring so to think that I was within meters of her excited me so much that it gave me a major emotional lift. I kept moving. Tom and Timmy kept clearing a path. they would get me liquids as Jen kept trying to get me to focus on her instructions and running faster. I kept going back and forth between listening to her and spending time in my head telling myself to not be scared. Of course, when hanging out in my own mind, I would lose focus and start veering off to one side or the other. This would make Jen's job tough as she would have to get me righted again.
As the miles kept going, I kept running faster than eight minutes. I could not believe it. People yelled out words of encouragement as we passed them. Some complimented Jen, Timmy, and Tom for doing such a selfless act by guiding me. Others yelled out "Go C Different!" Many wished us luck. As Timmy and Tom would run ahead to warn runners that a blind runner was nearing them and was about to pass, one woman apparently refused to believe it. She said there was no way I was blind because there's no way a blind person could be fast enough to pass her. It almost sounded like she was angry that I was passing her. I was tired. I had no time for that. I needed to keep moving. We reached the turn-around point. Jen said it was time to head for home! Just over four miles remained. At that very moment of the turn, we were greeted by a very stiff headwind. Jen yelled at me to not let it bother me. She insisted I must fight through the wind. No one else was making excuses. I better not make any either. I kept trying to fight through it. I was nervous that I would have to push through this the rest of the way. I was worried this would prevent me from reaching my goal. For the next several miles, I had to run into this stiff wind. I could feel myself tire out from working so hard. Jen was pushing me to fight on. Mile nine. Then mile ten. The wind continued. The most frustrating part was this is where I would normally start to fade. I was starting to slow down. Yet again, my pattern was making an appearance. I was beginning to fade. I could not let this happen. From this point, Tom left us to go join another C Different athlete guiding crew so it was going to be Jen, Timmy, and me the rest of the way. I needed to push. I could not let myself slow down. Jen yelled at me to keep on. I made it through mile eleven. My pace had slowed. The good news was we made a right hand turn on the course which took us out of the headwind. In fact, from here, there would be no wind restrictions. Almost immediately, I felt pain in my quads. Apparently, the headwind had masked the soreness in my quads, but now I could feel it. I better not let this stop me from reaching my goals. There were two miles to go. I still had a shot at my goal, but I would have to move. I was slowing down. I needed to turn it on. Even as I struggled, Jen noticed something which I did not realize until she mentioned it to me after the race. The moment we made that turn and were clear of the headwind, she said, I became a new Israel. I became a stronger Israel. My pace showed it. I was flying! Timmy kept encouraging me. Jen kept demanding I drive my legs forward. Then Timmy made an adjustment where he too started pushing me. Where before he was shouting compliments at how well I was doing, he started to demand I not slow down or make excuses. He kept saying to trust that he and Jen would get me to the finish, but I had to do my part and keep moving. I did. I picked up the pace so much that I ran a 7:38 mile. One more to go! It was coming down to the wire and I had to keep throwing down. I kept telling myself, these are the miles of which I have been visualizing. In training, I would picture Jen along side pushing me towards the finish. During training, I would visualize that I was throwing down in the last 400 or 800 meters. This was the moment I had to prove to myself that I am not mentally weak. I will not fold up like a cheap tent. I needed to prove it to myself that everything I learned from Jenna would now pay off in this final mile. I owe it to Jen, Timmy, and Jenna. Above all, I owe it to myself to go out and take this personal record. I kept running. Faster than I have ever run any mile during a race. I could not slow down. Jen shouted for joy, "Is, for the first time ever while guiding you, we are running!" Being an elite marathoner, Jen is use to flying at a certain pace. When guiding me, she must adjust to my slower pace. I have never been able to push the pace until this very moment. I was moving at such a pace that it allowed Jen to gallop to the finish while guiding me. We were cooking. Timmy and Jen kept informing me how close we were. Less than 1,000 meters to the finish. I was really kicking it into high gear now. In fact, since get out of that headwind a few miles prior, I had turned it on and had not let up. I was on a mission and I was maintain a pace like I never had in my previous events. I was truly racing! We neared the finish. About 200 meters to go. I instantly thought of the many sprints Jenna has me do. I thought to myself, now is the time to throw down for Jenna. I called upon any remaining speed to push me across that finish line. Jen and Timmy were excited. I was too. We crossed one mat. One more to go. Just a few more feet. Finish! Jen and Timmy had taken me 13.1 miles. I had let it hang out and stormed home in a way that would hopefully make Jenna proud. I found out we had run a 7:29 final mile to cross the finish line in 1:44:01. Yes, I had done it. I had shatter my personal record at the half marathon distance. I had done so by reaching my goal of finishing in under 1:45. I could now celebrate.
I enjoyed fun times with friends the rest of the day. Christopher had also run the half marathon. He had broken his personal record by five minutes. On Monday, it was time for Jen and I to say good bye to Christopher and head home to Chicago. It was time to enjoy my achievement even more as the congratulations rolled in from Facebook friends. Thank you to Timmy and Tom for aiding in my quest. thank you to Jen for being such an amazing guide and even more amazing friend. Thank you Jenna Parker for helping me achieve. Before Jenna came along, I had goals and dreams, but they were only dreams. Jenna has helped make them a reality! I look forward to continuing to improve. I know she will continue to make me better than I ever thought possible. Thank you to the C Different Foundation for the opportunity to run in the Houston half Marathon. thank you David Adame and Matt Miller. Thank you Christopher Cardenas for opening your home and heart again. Thank you Pinnacle Performance Company for the amazing support, race gear, and sponsorship. I hope this initial race while wearing your colors has been a successful one to make you proud.