I’m not entirely sure what came over me. When I left the house that morning, I fully intended on cheering for my hubby as he ran the New Trail South Half Marathon. I had no intention of actually running the race myself.
I did have on running shoes, tights, and a tank top, and I had my trusty Nathan water bottle with me, but that was only because the U.S. National Whitewater Center, who hosted the race, was something of a mecca for outdoors-y types living in the Southeast. I wasn’t sure how I’d entertain myself while he was running so I dressed accordingly. This place is seriously amazing. There are rock climbing walls over pools, zip lines, obstacle courses, and a giant lazy river encircling lookout towers and a pub, except the lazy river isn’t lazy at all, it’s actually flowing really fast so that kayakers and rafters can practice navigating in rapids.
As I gazed around at all the fun ways I could spend the hours while my runner was out on the course, I thought to myself, “Or you could just run the half marathon with him.”
That thought came out of the blue, and it caught me, and my hubby, by surprise. Nevertheless, he encouraged me to go for it. He even paid my entry fee, since I’d left my wallet in the car. Next thing I knew, I’d pinned on my bib, tightened my shoe laces, and we were lining up at the far back of the pack, waiting for the signal to GO!
We started out slow, and the beginning of the race was actually… enjoyable. The sun was out, we were on a new trail, and life was good. I didn’t even get discouraged when a tiny stump leapt out from under the leaves and tripped me in mile two. I tucked and rolled, checked for blood, and kept on going. The course was hilly, but it felt easier than the trails I’d run regularly in Oregon, and the new terrain kept the course interesting without feeling too taxing. Everything was going smoothly. Until suddenly, it wasn’t.
We’d formed a little bubble with a couple of other runners who liked hubby’s pace. At first I enjoyed their company, and I found them a welcome distraction. But as the hills got a bit steeper and the mileage started to creep past the 5K mark, I started to panic. Now this is one of the reasons I don’t like racing very much. I still feel like a bit of an imposter, and although I try to squelch the negative self-talk, I become convinced that not only is it impossible for me to maintain that pace, I’m also slowing everyone else down and getting in their way. If I hadn’t gotten the sudden urge to run a half marathon, hubby would be way ahead of this mini-pack, and if I didn’t finish this thing, he wouldn’t either. The pressure was on, and I was choking.
Now I know the only one putting pressure on me, is me. In reality, I told my favorite running partner that I needed to slow down, so he did. Our companions took off up the next hill at their own pace, and we saw them again later during the course of the race. I took a few deep breaths, pretended that we were just out for a hike in the woods, and I started to feel better. Like many distance runners, my brain is my own worst enemy.
So for the rest of the race, along with focusing on my form so that I didn’t blow out my IT bands, I focused on keeping my brain in check. I approached the whole thing as an interesting experiment in discomfort and pain.
My toes frequently go numb when I run, but during my first half, I discovered that after the numbness comes pounding pain and then aching acceptance. And I could keep moving.
I learned that Gatorade upsets my stomach, and when you run with heartburn, you feel like there’s a 50/50 chance you might vomit at any given moment. But I didn’t puke, and I kept moving.
I found out that beyond a certain temperature and distance, I stop caring what other people will think if I’m running in my bra, because running in the heat increases my perceived difficulty, so it’s more important to cool off than look respectable. So I ran in my bra, but I kept moving.
I decided that there was no point in thinking about all the ways I could be spending that moment in time instead- like rock climbing, drinking a glass of wine by the finish line, or taking a nap in the car- because I hadn’t made those choices. I’d chosen to run, so I kept moving.
I sang to myself, talked things out with hubs, and even silently repeated mantras to myself like “nothing hurts, nothing is in pain” and “glutes, quads, glutes, quads” to convince my brain that I was fine and remind my body which parts needed to fire to get me up the next hill. Through it all, I just kept moving.
I know that completing my first half marathon in just over 5 hours is not an amazing feat compared to the distances that ultrarunners cover regularly or the pace road runners set to qualify for Boston. My brain and my quads (and glutes) were being overly dramatic in an attempt to get me to stand still for a minute.
However, I’m proud of myself because I kept moving forward until I accomplished my goal. Now that it’s over, I know, on some level, that when I set an impossible goal, or when anxiety sets in, or when I think I just can’t keep going (whether I’m on a trail or at work or at home), I can dig deeper than I ever thought possible and keep moving forward. That’s a good thing to know about yourself.
I have no plans to run a half marathon again anytime soon. If I do decide to run another half, I think I’ll plan and train for it next time. But I’m glad I spontaneously decided to run my first half marathon.
PS- I also know how lucky I am to have a partner who will stay by my side and won’t ever quit on me. Thanks for sticking it out with me, coach.