Sunday, October 25, 2015

Because I'm Only Half-Crazy

I just completed my first (!) half marathon.

Crazy, right? Who'd have ever thought?

4 years ago, I ran regularly on a treadmill, working up to 7 miles. One of my New Year's resolutions that year was to run 10 miles, but I never did.

Last year, I started running again. My gym membership expired and I decided not to renew. Running is a cheap sport, right? This time I took it outside. I realized I enjoyed dodging chipmunks a lot more than staring at numbers on a screen.

Earlier this year, I ran my first 5k. It was a color run, so it was just plain fun with no pressure. It was so much fun in fact that before I knew it my friend had talked me into registering for a half marathon with her. She is extremely persuasive, not to mention optimistic.

These past few months, I've been training. I used a schedule that helped me build my mileage each week. I hit 8 miles, the longest I'd ever run. Then 9. Then 10 - my 2011 New Year's resolution! My confidence grew and a half marathon seemed possible. I even stopped using the word "allegedly" as I told more people of my plans to run 13.1 miles.

The morning of the race, anxiety hit. What if I couldn't do it? What if I had to walk, or even worse, stop? What if I didn't taper correctly? Did I run too much the week of? Not enough? It was going to be 30 degrees. How much should I wear?

My alarm was set for 5AM. I woke up at 3. There would be no more rest. I tried to talk myself down from the ledge but there was no reasoning with this panic attack. Spreading peanut butter on a piece of Ezekiel bread gave me something to do, but the smell turned my stomach. Twenty minutes in the car on the way to the race and I'd swallowed two bites. Woof.

As soon as my friend and I arrived on-site, I started feeling better. This was real, this was happening and it was all going to be fine! I promised myself that after this, I never had to run again if I didn't want to. That was, um,  super reassuring.

Bundled up in our extra "throwaway" clothes, we waited in line for the port-a-potties. We wanted the full experience, after all. In no time at all, the race was on and my adrenaline was kicking into high gear. No corrals, so there was some confusion. Close to 5,000 runners made for a crowded start.

We started out and it was odd but exhilarating to run with so many people. The first 3 miles were a blur. I couldn't believe how quickly they went. I got my first "taste" of an aid station and enjoyed the true race experience of grabbing a cup from a volunteer's hand and attempting to drink the water while running. (Result: failure and mild humiliation with a side of dribbling.)

Around mile 7 and 8 things started getting hairy. The never-ending rolling hills had me fearing every turn. It felt like we kept climbing and climbing. Periodically I would chew another gummy from the bag I was tightly clutching and visualize an energy boost. I kept thinking that I COULDN'T stop and I WOULDN'T walk. No matter what. I was going to run the whole way.

My saving grace was the spectators. People of all ages, bundled up outside their homes and on the streets with signs and cheers of encouragement. When I was trying to remember why I had ever thought this was a good idea, I heard cries of "You can do it!" "Great pace!" and "You're doing awesome!" I'm so thankful for people who will get up early and do this. I'm sure for a lot of runners it made the difference between carrying on and quitting. I know it did for me.

I hit mile 11. The farthest I'd ever run previously was 10.5. I hit mile 12. One mile left! How hard can that be?

Pretty hard, apparently. It was the most difficult mile as I subconsciously increased my speed and started feeling like I didn't have much left in the tank. It was a surreal final few minutes as time seemed to slow and I felt so. spent. Trying to keep myself distracted, I cued up what had become my theme song of the past few months, "On My Way Home" by Pentatonix. Most of my training runs had ended with that song. I had tried to imagine what it would feel like to finish 13.1 miles. Now it was finally happening.

At the end I strained to at least beat one woman who was ahead of me, you know, because I'm that cool. As I slowed to a walk my legs did NOT like it and I felt like I would fall over. I received my medal and walked around in a state of stunned silence. 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 34 seconds. I had thought I would perhaps cry or smile or leap over the finish line or something. None of that happened, just a sort of numbness.

Reflecting on my experience now I have to remind myself to be proud. This is a big deal! I did what I set out to do! Slower than I wanted, and not with as much pizzazz, but I did it. Sadly I am tempted to compare myself to others who passed me along the way, but I'm not telling their stories. This is mine. My journey. My sweat. My pain. My fears. My determination.

This race has reinforced for me a lesson I've been learning all year: I am stronger than I think and I need to find opportunities to prove this to myself. Adventure, travel, discovery: I want to say yes! My fear is that years will pass one after another, all the same. I am determined to take advantage of new opportunities and not let fear or complacency hold me back.

I will do hard things. If only to prove to myself I can.