Years ago, I ran my first half marathon. I trained like a mad woman, followed strict schedules, nutritional guidelines… I did it all “right.” And though I finished, my performance stunk. This was mostly to environmental factors, but it still stung a little at the end. My best efforts did not yield my best results.
Over the past few years, I’ve trained for several half marathons, but didn’t actually complete them. Once I got sick the weekend of. Another time, I injured myself the week before. So I learned to love the process of training, if not the race itself.
With the promise of ARTs looming, I decided to try for a half one more time. But I was so disorganized about it. I staggered my long runs, didn’t do a ton of strength training. I also trained with Mr. O– which I didn’t love (but didn’t really hate either.) When you race, you’re out there alone. So training with another person, I wasn’t sure if I was also building my mental endurance too.
The night before I was nervous– and I have NEVER been nervous for a race. Ever. Other things continued to go wrong, like my phone battery couldn’t hold a charge. This meant that I couldn’t use my running app to gauge my pace and was without Spotify for music. So I loaded up an old iPod with the most random 3 hours of music I own. I had run out of my mid-race fuel of choice, and had to scramble for a back-up. Mr. O announced that he was thinking of taking the morning to run errands, rather than wait the two hours it would take me to finish. (Insert sad face here.)
Things were not looking good.
As I lined up, I honestly didn’t believe that I was about to start. There must be something out there that would smote me. The gun went off, and I started to run. I could hardly believe it. I was finally here. I was doing this thing I’d wanted to do for years. I almost cried.
I held it together, because mile 1 is not a time to lose your shit. I had 12.1 more miles ahead of me, and I was still vaguely convinced that something was going to happen that would prevent me from finishing.
And here is where my luck seemed to turn. It was a beautiful day for a run. A perfect 60 degree day, sunlight bouncing off the fall leaves. I still had no idea how I was pacing– I just ball parked it off the time at each mile marker. And I was making pretty good time, based of my math.
During my training, I had only gotten to 10 miles on my long runs. This is doable, but not ideal. Prevailing thought is that you’ll be able to finish it, but you usually want more from your training. So when I reached mile 10, I went a little bit quiet. At this point, I had to trust my body– not my training.
As I closed in on the last 800 meters, I was on auto pilot. My legs knew what they were here to do. I had closed out the rest of the world. Which is why I hardly noticed Mr. O cheering me on from the sidelines. I was over the moon when I saw him, and those last few strides felt like flying.
As I hobbled over to Mr. O at the finisher’s tent, he delivered the great news. I hadn’t just beat my previous record, I had CRUSHED IT. I literally shaved an entire minute off my pace time, finishing well ahead of my previous time. I screamed. I jumped up and down. Then I ate a hamburger. And a protein shake. And a banana.
Running has taught me so much about patience, endurance, and mental toughness. I am so profoundly grateful that I found this sport 7 years ago.
There is a part of me that feels like this is my swan song. If all goes well, I will be pregnant soon. Running will become harder and harder- let alone running 13.1 miles. This half marathon couldn’t have happened at any other time. Or at a better time.
Even though thousands of other people finished before me that day, it still feels like winning.