Well, I did it! I finished my second racing half marathon! It wasn’t at all as I had planned–this was supposed to be the race I would PR in and where I finally hit sub 2:30, but that didn’t happen and I am okay with it.
Training for this half was touch and go and there were times where I wasn’t sure if I should stick with it. At the end of February shortly after a 10K training run I was hit with the worse case of flu/bronchitis that I’ve experienced since college. It hit really hard and took me out of training mode for 3 weeks. Three weeks might not seem like a huge chunk of time, but it was and it left me with just 4 weeks to retrain my body to run 13.1 miles.
I went in without high expectations and accepted the fact that this would not be the race I had initially hoped for. What I didn’t account for was how mentally challenging it would be. This race was probably one of the most difficult ones to date. I was (and still am) fighting yet another cold with a cough and the medication I take does wonders, but it also dries me out. By mile 4 I was regretting my decision to stick with the half–I kept wishing I had just downgraded to the 10k. I was parched and my lungs burned as I sputtered out dry coughs.
The inner dialogue I had with myself was at times comical, but mostly I kept repeating, “FUCK! Why is this so hard? What am I doing here. Why didn’t I downgrade. 9 more miles?! What in the actual fuck? How will I make it through”.
I am a slow runner, but this is the first time I’ve truly experienced true back of the pack racing. It adds to the mental challenge. You find yourself racing solo and the walk breaks are so much more tempting. The urge to quit is that much greater and every ounce of pain is magnified. I had no music to distract me and no friends to push me forward. It was hard. I felt like I was failing.
The rolling hills didn’t feel like rolling hills, they felt more like a constant gradual incline with the occasional downhill. With the steeper hills I found myself walking and fighting so hard not to lose momentum. I’m not typically a run/walker–I would much rather keep a slow and steady pace than break and restart. This is the first race (aside from the full marathon) where I continually needed to walk and it was frustrating.
Though I spent a lot of time running alone, I was sandwiched between a couple of runners, yellow shirt guy and neon shirt lady. Both had pulled ahead of me at various points during the race and my goal was to stick with them. I didn’t want to finish behind them so I did my best to conserve my energy for a strong finish. I took advantage of the downward hills and used them to catch up, but they still remained ahead of me until mile 11-12.
Having the finish on one of my regular routes was definitely beneficial for my final stretch. I knew after mile 12 that the remainder of the course was on a slight downhill. I knew that I’ve run down that same path on Tower road and that I would always finish my lunch runs strong. I knew that I already had 11 miles behind me and that giving up in the last mile would have been for someone weaker than myself. I knew that my heavy legs still had some life in them.
I powered through and pulled ahead. I passed both yellow shirt guy and neon shirt lady. I know it probably didn’t mean much as far as boosting my finish time, but I dragged myself across the finish at 2:55:30. It was 21 minutes past my PR and I was legit 592/598. It almost embarrasses me to post that time and place, but what can I do? Why be embarrassed?
It’s these moments of humility that strengthen us. It’s these moments where we wanted to quit but didn’t that show us we are capable of greater things. I know I will do better and that this race doesn’t define me as runner. If anything it has taught me a lesson about perseverance and pride. Pride for those back of the pack runners. No one knows true strength and determination until you’ve experienced running a race at the back of the pack. It’s an experience every runner should feel. I know it’s opened my eyes for appreciation of what our bodies and minds can achieve.
Did you race this past weekend? Were you at Skunk Cabbage? Have you ever experience a lesson in humility during one of your races?