My Race

I ran a half marathon. I’ve run off and on in the past, but only this summer have been doing it seriously and consistently (for me at least- 3 times a week). For my birthday in April my wife bought me a Nike watch with GPS and that’s partly what encouraged me to run consistently. It tells distance, pace, all that stuff, and even shows your run on the computer. So I’ve been building up over the last 3-4 months but hadn’t yet run anything even close to this distance. My longest run before this one was 6.22mi, or 10K. This one was 13.1mi. (21K); over twice as long. So here’s how it went:

I woke up at 6:45 with Micah (our 2 year old) crying a little bit earlier than usual. I didn’t sleep that well because Owen (our 6 month old) slept in our bed for the first full night (which I never feel that comfortable with). I was also feeling a bit upset in the stomach; before I left I went to the bathroom twice, and as soon as I left the house I felt like I should have gone a third time! So I wasn’t feeling that confident going in. I was actually pretty nervous.

Once I started though, my uncertainty about my bowels soon subsided and I was surprised to find that over the first 3 miles I was keeping a better pace than I had expected, and comfortably.  I was nervous because I had no idea how to pace myself for such a long run. I kept feeling good though, and the route I had picked through the river valley was working even better than expected. I broke off of my usual route just past Muttart Conservatory and headed west along the river. I’d planned to double back at Groat Bridge, but realized that there was still plenty of clear trail through Government House Park. I knew I needed to head up to downtown at some point and thought about going up at Victoria Park hill because it wouldn’t be as far into my run (to do a big hill), but I wasn’t sure about that route so I headed back the way I came to go up at Louise McKinney, where I usually do. This would prove to be a mistake.

I still felt good on the way back, from mile 7.5 – 10ish, although I felt the sensation that the novelist Haruki Murakami talks about in his book about running, in which each body part takes its turn letting you know about its pain. Still, all things considered I was feeling great. It slowly became clear however that the steepest and longest incline of my run would come right near the end, and at about mile 11 I started struggling as I tried to prepare for the hill at McKinney. I was losing steam just as I was preparing to run the hardest portion of my run, and between miles 11 and 12 my pace dropped considerably.

I hit the start of the incline right at the 12 mile mark: only a mile from my finish line (well, 1.11mi. away to be exact). I hit it pretty hard and for about the first 10 seconds felt like this would be hard but good. I figured that in pushing through it like I was I would get through this painful portion faster. Then reality caught up and that pain quickly turned to agony as each moment brought me closer to feeling that there was no way I’d be able to continue without walking, or that I’d have to stop all together. I had this sick, kind of nauseous feeling all throughout my body and I wondered if I would puke, then wondered if I might crap myself. I had a thought about telling my wife that I hadn’t made it and then I had a thought that if I hadn’t put the giant hill right at the end I’d have been fine. The sensation in my body was one I recognized as having had before- in my running club in elementary school. I wasn’t that fast back then and only at this moment did I realize that it wasn’t that I was lazy or couldn’t handle pain, but that it was just that: I wasn’t that fast. I was amazed then by how hard I had pushed it as a kid. Somewhere in all this I thought to give a try to slowing down and just running a very slow pace before resorting to pulling up altogether. I did this and after a few more excruciating moments I realized that I might actually have a chance of getting up this hill.

It didn’t get a lot easier, but enough that I knew that I would make this and somehow complete my run. I got to the top with absolutely nothing left, but the knowledge that I would be able to finish the rest of the mile and complete my race. There was a discouragingly large portion of this mile still left though. It turned out that this monstrous hill hadn’t chewed up much distance and I still had well over half a mile left. I gutted it out and pushed to get back to a reasonable pace, although I didn’t get close to my previous one. I finished and felt good about it, but it didn’t really feel like I had just run that far; it was hard to grasp.

I walked to Lucky 97 on my way into work and treated myself to a San Pellegrino and a cold water, promising myself a cold beer later on (this is a tradition that Murakami seems to have, which seemed like a good one to me. His book ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ was a real inspiration to me in attempting to approach even a half marathon). I finished in exactly 2 hours, which was my goal, and immediately thought, “how am I ever going to do a full marathon in under 4?” I started working out times and splits in my head but finally realized that this was the time to just enjoy my moment and the completion of the ambitious goal I had set for myself for this year. Next year already has its own goal.

As an aside, there were two quotes that came into my mind, in this run and others. The first was off a billboard add (something to do with the Olympics) and it says, “This race is my race. There is no other.”, and the second was a quote I saw on an un-uniformed soldier in a U.S. airport one time, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I thought it extreme at the time, but it helps when you’re right in the middle of a run and feeling that pain to think that it’s making you stronger.

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