This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, where I wrote about how scurrrrrred I used to be of exercise. Our story continues in mid-2008.
So my friend talked me into running a half marathon against my better judgement. I. Was. Terrified. And since I had nothing better to do with all that fear coursing through my veins, I used it in my training. It’s a great motivator.
Here’s the really cool thing about training for your first half marathon: on each long run, you run further than you’ve ever gone in your entire life. Every week is a personal best for distance! That knowledge really helped me feel more confident. Eight, nine, ten miles all looked straight-up insane on paper, but when approached gradually, cautiously, it just works.
Side note: I used one of Hal Higdon’s plans and loved it. He has tons for every distance and ability level, and they’re all free. Jeff Galloway also has free plans for beginner runners that use the run/walk method, and although I haven’t used any of them personally, I’ve heard good things about them.
My personal life was pretty turbulent during this time due to a not-so-healthy dose of existential angst and a quarter-life crisis. One of my only constants was my training. I clung to my training plan because it offered a distraction from my crazy roommate (and I don’t mean that in a zany, fun-loving way; I mean the girl was certifiable — but that’s a story for another time), from a temporary, yet very painful breakup, and from the string of terrible match.com dates I went on.
And so I ran. Slowly, but with determination, I ran.
I hit a few setbacks in my training, which is completely normal. Most of them were a direct result of me running when I really shouldn’t have — like, the day after I donated blood and passed out at the donation center. Those seven miles were probably seven of the worst miles I’ve ever run. Not recommended. Or like the time I thought that I should try to race my 13 mile training run, because apparently my brains had been replaced with egg noodles that day. That was two weeks before the race and I definitely pulled something; I’ve had on-going hip flexor issues on that side ever since.
But the weeks passed, and I set my sights on the finish line. I visualized myself crossing it not in a gasping, wheezing heap, but with a triumphant fist pump.
The day of the race dawned cold and early. I toed the starting line alone, since my friend wasn’t able to train as much as she needed to to safely run the race. I had no iPod, because I took the race organizers seriously when they said “no headphones.” (NEVER AGAIN.) I had no fancy-pants GPS watch –heck, I didn’t have any watch– because I didn’t know anything about pacing or negative splits or gun time vs. chip time.
My strategy was simple: first cross the start line, and then, some time later, cross the finish line. Preferably under my own power and not on a stretcher or the truck of shame that trundles along and picks up runners that are going to slowly to finish before the race closes.
I had plenty of time to think about the insanity of distance running for fun during the race. With a small field of about 1,600 runners, the herd quickly thinned until it felt like I was running nearly alone. The road stretched far, far ahead of me, and it was just me and the sound of my feet on the pavement. You know how I feel about that.
But I kept going. I walked at times, but mostly I ran. I pushed myself, but not too hard, since I didn’t know what to expect (despite having successfully survived a 13-mile training run; that extra .1 at the end is really what gets you). Eventually the few spectators I passed actually meant the enthusiastic things they were yelling (PRO TIP: shouting, “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” at mile six is not funny, not ever, except for the other people who are there to see me punch you in the face) and the stadium where the finish line was came into view.
As I entered the stadium I could see my family and a few friends in the stands, and I figured this would be a really embarrassing place to pass out, so I ran on. Only to get passed, seconds away from the finish line, by a little whippersnapper who wasn’t even old enough to drive. Seriously. SHE WAS TEN YEARS OLD. WHAT THE HECK. GET OFF MY LAWN.
So I clotheslined her, obviously.
Ok, maybe that only happened in my mind. And it was glorious.
Equally glorious was crossing that finish line.
To go, in the span of six months, from “I can’t run a mile without walking” to “I WILL DOMINATE YOU, HALF MARATHON” (ok, I’m paraphrasing a bit here), was, well, amazing. I’ve never experienced anything else like it, although labor and childbirth are similar. The key difference being that you get to go home and have a nap after your race, whereas after childbirth you will never sleep again. Ha! Ha! So funny!
After that, I was hooked. I love racing and I love running, although I am, without a doubt, a fair weather runner. I trade my running shoes for fuzzy slippers and prepare for hibernation from November until April (HATE YOU, New England winters).
I will never win a race, unless it’s a 1-mile Kids’ Fun Run. Other parents generally frown upon that sort of thing, though, so I have to be content with competing against myself. I will never go to the Olympics and I will never get any swag from companies dying to sponsor me.
But I love trying for a personal best. I love running fast, and then seeing if I can go even faster. I love the time that’s just for me, not for anyone else, when I’m out on a 2-hour long run. And these days with a busybusybusy toddler trying to beat her own personal speed record, that time absolutely keeps me sane.
My 6th half marathon is coming up in just a few weeks, and I know poor Will is sooooo tired of hearing me talk about my strategy for conquering the hills, and what my pace was for my latest run, and debating the merits of wearing these socks or those socks. Hey, your socks can make or break your run. Ain’t nobody got time for blisters.
But I can’t help it. I’M SO EXCITED. I’m not scared; I’m ready to rock and *crossing fingers* beat my own best half marathon time.
If I’ve learned nothing else these past six years, it’s that anyone can do it. Seriously. The key is you have to want it. If you’re not excited about running and you don’t enjoy challenging yourself physically, then no, it’s probably not going to happen. But have you seen a half marathon race lately?
I’ll forgive you if you haven’t. I love to run and I still think that being a spectator for a distance event is boooooring. #truthbomb
Next time there’s one in your area, go watch for a bit. You’ll see such an amazing cross-section of people, it’s unbelievable. Short, tall, young, old, every size and shape on the whole spectrum of humanity. You don’t have to be super skinny, and you can even walk the whole race if you want to (just make sure you check and see how long the course is open before you register!).
It’s both encouraging and humbling, and it gets me itching to lace up my shoes, again and again and again. No matter how crazy it seems.