I signed up for a half marathon at the end of 2016. I wanted to change my life for the better. To do big things fast. Tackle the one thing I hated, running. Trust me, I realize how ridiculous this sounds now.
So a month or two ago I fell off of my training regimen. After two weeks of bad moods and even worse runs, I actually stopped training. Life had gotten too chaotic trying to figure out what life after college would be like. I got caught up in the uncertainty and anxiety of it all. I gladly changed my registration from half marathon to 5k. I felt light. I felt good. I knew I could run a 5k no sweat.
Race day came around. I was tired from a bonfire I’d been at the night before and a tad dehydrated thanks to Stella Artois. My alarm went off and I sat bolt upright. The only thought in my head, “I’m late.” I rolled out of bed. I threw on my clothes. I sped to the race start. I got in line. I ran. 13.1 miles later I collapsed into the drivers seat of my car.
When I got home I swung open the door to the porch barely able to stand up right and I told my roommates and assorted friends, “I just ran a half marathon by complete accident.”
How did this happen? Honestly I don’t know. It could probably be chalked up to too little sleep, stress about other things all rolled into me being perpetually late to things and imagining in my early morning grogginess that I was in fact late. Maybe it was fate. The universe just answering my earlier wishes, ‘You want a challenge? How about a challenge you weren’t prepared for?’ Whatever it was, it didn’t hit me what was actually happening until mile five.
It started off like a typical race. If you haven’t done one before it’s filled with crazy energy. People are excited, ecstatic almost, to run. They’re all a little insane in the best way. I remember in my half awakened state, limply stretching, looking around at the people getting ready and thinking, there should really be a photographer here. These are some of the happiest people I’ve seen in months.
I probably looked a little nervous or just out of it because a woman next to me smiled and said, “Hi! You’re first one? Me too. I’m a little nervous. My niece talked me into it. She’s way up there with the fast ones.”
We chatted for a little bit longer until the race gun went off. Looking back I should have realized in that conversation that I was at the wrong race. That in reality I showed up an hour early. But I didn’t.
I remember running and running and thinking that the mile markers were pretty far apart for a 5k. That’s when I hit mile five and I knew something was wrong. At mile eight I finally worked up the nerve to talk to someone. I’d kinda figured out that something was wrong. I took me three entire miles to work up the nerve to ask someone. The options were look like an idiot or not know what was going on. I took the route of intelligence and I waved down a woman who had headphones in.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“This isn’t the 5k is it?”
I ran/walked the next mile with that woman who I didn’t catch the name of. This was her 20th half marathon, her daughter’s first, and as a diabetic she was struggling to maintain her blood sugar throughout the race. She was my first insight to the race mindset I was starting to understand.
She said, “I used to worry about my time. Now I don’t care. It’s just about getting in the miles and crossing that finish line. No matter how long it takes.”
I asked her how she got into running half marathons/marathons and her reply hit home,
“I don’t have a reason to not do this. I feel more balanced and more focused at home, at work, and in every other aspect of my life.”
At that point we were on a trail with houses on one side and a ravine with a creek on the other and I had two options.
- Flag down the next race volunteer, admit I’m on the wrong race, head straight back to the starting line, sit down, grab some McDonalds on the way home and, in that process, get disqualified.
- Bite the bullet, walk/jog the last five miles while my body screamed at me in pain, and finish what I started.
I took option two.
Hands down this was one of the hardest physical and mental things I’ve ever done. It hurt to move my feet. I could feel blisters forming on my heels. My calves cramped up back on mile four. I had muscles in my hips that were sore that had never felt that way in my entire life. And I still had miles left to go. It may sound absolutely miserable physically, and it was, but it was even tougher mentally. Do you know how hard it is to keep going when every part of your body and half of your mind is telling you to quit?
I had to keep telling myself just one more step. Just one more half mile. Just one more mile. Take it easy. Keep it simple. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. You got this.
I was one of the last people to cross the finish line. But I crossed it with almost no training and with a woman named Brenda. The last two miles were almost impossible and I don’t know if I would have made it without her conversation. She had gotten off a flight at midnight the night before, was in bed by 2am, and still managed to get up and tackle a half marathon. We talked about the race and running in general, her job, my college experience, and other random stuff. I could barely walk the last half mile and I know she could have went on ahead without me, but she didn’t. She stuck by me, chatted, made me feel a little less alone, and as we rounded the corner to the finish line she turned to me and asked, “Ready to run a little bit more?”
And we ran.
Crossing that finish line and walking to my car were some of the most emotional moments of my life. I just started crying. All of this emotion was released after holding it in for 13.1 miles. I felt accomplished, embarrassed still at my mix up, disappointed I didn’t have anyone to share in the moment with at the end, and so damn proud. I felt like I’d aged 50 years and in the same moment rediscovered the giddiness of a five year old. Who would have thought that without training, without eating breakfast, completely oblivious that I was running the half marathon until around mile five or six, that I actually did it?
It’s been almost a week since the half marathon and my body is finally, almost recovered. There are eight blisters on my feet, three of which are particularly nasty. My hips are still sore and I’m not sure my legs will ever be the same again. But the rest of my body that wasn’t actively involved in the moving of my legs isn’t sore anymore. All I’ve wanted to do while recovering is run. That’s something I never thought I would say. I want to run. I want that runner’s high and the meditative state I hit a few miles in.
So would I relive the events of that day all over again? Hell no. I had a really laid-back twenty year plan for running my first half marathon. The universe obviously wanted me to keep my commitment though. Would I run another half marathon? As a non-runner who fell in love with running at mile 11, it might be worth another shot. Maybe this time I’ll actually stick with my training…Maybe.