i ran a half marathon this weekend. it was sort of unceremonious. i trained, but not so hard. i put in the miles, but i didn’t stress about it. i tried to eat well in weeks that led up to the race, but there were times i just wanted a bowl of cereal before bed. to be honest, life and school and the ebb and flow of those things got in the way of running this race like i got paid millions to do it. i ran like it was my hobby. i didn’t have a dedicated training schedule on my fridge for the first time. in fact, i vaguely knew what i was going to run each week, based on what i vaguely recalled i ran the week before. my long runs were stretched out by a couple of miles from the week before, and then every so many weeks, i backed them off to a distance that felt like near cheating, they were so short. my tempo run distances were based on how long i felt like running; no greater formula was employed. one day i ran long and fast, and the next day i ran, i ran shorter and faster; this was my tempo formula. as this marathon approached, i felt no sense of urgency. absolutely none. i didn’t worry that i couldn’t complete it, or that i wouldn’t do well. a part of me simply didn’t care what my time would be, but another part of me was just confident that i was coming into myself as a runner.
maybe i actually know myself; my running self enough to know what works?! wouldn’t that be rad.
as the week of the race approached, i tapered down my runs, and i just looked forward to seeing what happened out there on the course. i had never run it before, or had even been to the area where the race was run. it was advertised as a smooth, flat BQ course, but so many are. i’ve yet to see a marathon advertised as “designed by satan, hilly, and a pain in the ass to run!”
YOU’RE GONNA HATE RUNNING THIS BITCH!
by the end of the night on monday (the week of this race), i was pretty sure i was sick. my lungs were burning. i couldn’t get good breath in, and i felt like i had a bowling ball on my chest. i went into the doctor on tuesday, who confirmed for me that it was crazy bad allergies, and with my lungs already being trashed from the embolisms, this was my new seasonal allergy “normal”. he gave me all kinds of medication to try to clear up the mess… singulair, albuterol inhaler, flonase….but i was a snotty, coughing mess. i still was in good spirits though. ready to just get out on the course, and see what happened. coughing or not, it was just going to be whatever it was. i slept like a baby, while g. tossed and turned with anxiety over a race that was still five days away.
as the week progressed, g. fell ill with stomach flu. he was not as gracious in his illness, which is understandable. it’s harder to run when you are throwing up. he was also running the full marathon. he didn’t eat all week. he didn’t run. he slept and worried. even up until saturday morning of the race, he was still not sure he would get out there and run, because it is hard to do a race of this size without having eaten properly in the days leading up to the race. he decided to go ahead and see what he could pull off. if he couldn’t finish, at least he tried.
the morning was gorgeous, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the site that we realized that this was a marathon by trail…. not road. for those of you who have ever trail raced, it’s a different animal than a road race. it’s more grueling, for sure, and involves a lot of terrain changes. in this case, not so subtle up and downhill grades. i love trail running, but i do it only a couple times a month, for the sake of novelty, not because i am great at it. i decided to stick in though, and buckle up for 13.1 miles of it. i was told, though, by another runner that 2 of those miles were paved. this was some sort of bonus, apparently. a chance for your legs to recoup. all i know is i am glad i had no idea what i was in for until i was about to run away.
at the start line, i realized my garmin had not properly charged over night. i would not really be able to time myself throughout this race either. in a way, it was sort of liberating, and in another way, it was a little terrifying. i like to see where i am so i know to push when i need to. i instead loaded some running app on my phone, and just set it to track my run so i would have some rough idea of how long this little romp through the woods was taking me. i would be happy with a 3 hour finish time at this point. lungs on fire, and now i am running through the woods. g. all but vomiting at the start line. we are a fine pair, we are.
as the runners took off for the start line, i began to just feel my legs not care what sort of race this was. i heard kanye in my ears singing, “gone”… and i took off. too fast, possibly. no, i’ll answer that right now. it was totally too fast. i didn’t judge well for the fact that the rest of this race was going to be so up and down, and not on the sort of surface i was used to running on. i blew out the first five miles too fast. by the time i got to the ninth mile, i was hung out to dry. whooped. i wouldn’t walk. i would rather die. i shuffled though. steadily moving. up some steep inclines. thinking….
this is your flat, fast boston qualifier? on. what. planet.
it felt like months between miles 10 and 11. i kept thinking the volunteers at the race had mismarked the course and forgotten to mark mile 11. wouldn’t that be an awesome surprise!? i’d just come across mile 12, out of nowhere! but then… there… mile 11. it showed up and it felt like i had seen someone kick a dog…. off a cliff. i tried to distract myself for a mile, and i started watching the other racers in front of me. a younger girl had stopped to walk. she was sort of walking, and i’d pass her, and then she would run passed me, only to stop to walk again. i could tell she was fighting some pain. she wanted to cry, but she was holding it back. people can be pretty tough on marathon courses, and honestly, anger and determination will keep you from crying on the course until you finish a lot of times. it kept me from crying on at least two occassions until i was done. i watched her do this walk-run business a few times until we both had caught up to an older man who was running alone. she tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned to see her, he sort of sadly smiled and hugged her. he slowed way down and jogged next to her, instead of the run he was at. it was her father. when she saw him, i could see her eyes well up with tears, although she wiped them up fast. as i passed them both, they began to walk. maybe it wasn’t her day to run, maybe it was his… but they were going to finish together.
i couldn’t help but think of my own father. he had decided to answer my letter with a business like phone call a few days before i left for this marathon. he left a message on my voicemail. he stated his first and last name and his phone number, and then asked that i called him back. he didn’t say this was “dad” or that he had gotten my letter and hoped we could talk. nothing warm. nothing loving. i thought for a minute that maybe he had misdialed my number and thought i was one of his business associates. i deleted it. i knew i wouldn’t call him back. as i passed that father and daughter, i smiled at them, and i felt really happy for them both. that they had each other. i didn’t feel jealous or sad for myself. they were blessed to have each other. i felt some sort of power come over me as the 12 mile marker came into view.
i knew i was almost done, but it was something more. my brain began to churn about all people i hold dearest. the family i have. the love i am granted.
if all i have is all i have. just me. my husband. my kids. my brother. his family. i am going to run my heart out. this minute. i am going to run my heart out for them. i am going to keep going until i can’t anymore. i am going to leave everything here. finish strong. run hard. go home.
and i did. i picked up my pace, and just started whipping by people. the fatigue i felt in those two tortuous miles lifted, and i knew i was going to hurt, but i just kicked it in as strong and as hard as i could. the last 1600m of this race WAS a race. i ran my fastest mile split of the entire race right there. as i moved past people, who had so gloriously sped past me in my 11 mile slog, i couldn’t help but smile nervously. i felt great, and i only hoped i could continue to hold my speed until the finish line. i had no idea if the finish line was at the top of an enormous hill of fire, or what the final moments of this race would hold — but as long as it was a straight shot, or even better, downhill — i was good.
and downhill it was. so lovely. i’ve not yet seen the debauchery they call race photos, but i’m sure my finish photo will be me grinning ear to ear. my finish time wasn’t even my greatest. i’ve not got any “trail marathons” to compare it to, but as far as road races go, i’ve had better times. it was just kind of average. i’ve run enough of these races by now, though, that most races are somewhere in the middle. there is the one that will always be “great” and the one that will always be “horrid”…. and then everything is comfortingly somewhere in between those. and i’m really, really okay with that. i run for the joy of it. i run for the lessons. i run to support the other runners.
g. did finish. i met him at several points during his marathon, and he looked as though he might not make it, but he just kept going. marathons are about will more than most things. he continued on, and i met him just before mile 26. as he rounded the bend with his last half mile to go, i ran with him for a bit. i talked him up a bit, telling him that he didn’t have far to go, and it was all down hill. he looked weary. weary in that way that only another marathoner knows.
it’s all downhill. you can do this. run, man! RUN!
and with that, i picked up my pace, and he picked up his. i started racing him and laughing, and he smiled. he took off, and before i knew it he was gone. i cut across the field to where the finish line was, and met him again. i was screaming for him to finish. to beat the guy ahead of him. it was totally unlady like. unsportsmanlike. i was in the moment. i wanted him to WIN! he is my people. he’s one the only people i have. i ran so fast for him. i wanted him to run fast too. i looked at his time. he had wanted to do better, too. he is a perfectionist, and i was worried that this was going to be hard for him. he had trained 6 days a week, by a strict schedule, for 20 weeks. he had not anticipated a trail race, and certainly not stomach flu, but he met both of those challenges. he had hoped to be 30 minutes faster than his gun time. i sighed, and found him on the other side of the finish line.
he was weary and eating a banana. he said he thought he might be sick, but wanted to eat this banana before the threw up. i laughed. then he handed me the banana and went to the port-o-john. when he came back, he wasn’t upset. he said he was fine. he finished. and he said he was so happy to see me when i ran with him, he got emotional. he said he probably wouldn’t have run so hard at the end if i wouldn’t have been there. i knew what he meant. running a marathon is emotional. it does make you a little delirious. you go through moments of doubt and pain, but there is something so wonderful about finishing that you are willing to put yourself through it over and over.
on the way home, instead of lamenting over his time, g. instead asked if i’d like to start (and finish) our next marathon together. we have never, ever done that in lo, these many years. we have always just gone our separate ways at the start line, and then met up at the finish. i told him that it would mean he would do all that training to basically finish a half hour slower than he normally would with me. he said he didn’t care.
sometimes we should finish what we start with the people we love.