Yesterday’s poem, Invictus, was the one poem that came to mind immediately when I was pondering poetry for this week’s Monday Poetry. In so many ways, it conveys the pride, desperation, and keep going mentality that marked Saturday’s half marathon.
A bit of background for you. I consider my running start date June 11, 2011, which was my 30th birthday. I’d tried running before, but it never stuck. I gave up, started, gave up, started, gave up. But, 2011 marked a year of changes and working to become healthier. I started the Couch to 5K program and felt stronger and [dare I say it?] braver than I ever had. Since then, I have run a number of 5Ks (3.1 miles), a 10K (6.2 miles), and two ten mile races.
This past Saturday was my first half marathon (13.1 miles).
We signed up way back in December 2011, figuring that the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race in April was a good start to getting us to half marathon readiness by October. And, had we kept up with our training, it would have. Only… we didn’t. Looking back at the mileage I’ve covered over the year, training peaked in June and then fell off the charts. (Taper is too kind a word.) We did a few shorter runs in the weeks leading up to the half marathon – peaking at 5 miles (once).
All that background to say that the fact we finished is pretty freaking amazing. We finished just under four hours and it included a whole lot of walking, because if you didn’t know if before? Baltimore is hilly. The finisher’s medal even says at the bottom, “What hills don’t kill you make you stronger.”
The half marathon started about two hours after the marathon, and the marathoners were looping around where our start point was, so it was incredibly humbling and amazing to be able to see the marathoners racing and to cheer them on. We started in the last corral (back of the pack runners) and it was a great start. Around mile three, the halfers and the full marathoners merged into one race route, so that was also fun to be joining in with the runners who were on mile 17 or so. To be honest, the first seven or eight miles went by in a flash. We did a fair amount of walking, but took advantage of every single downhill, taking the chance to stretch and run and enjoy the beautiful day. Those miles felt almost easy. I was enjoying being on my feet, being able to take in my city in a way that I rarely get the chance to. Plus, being back of the pack runners, we get to engage with a lot of runners and walkers who don’t take things too seriously. We’re out there and we’re proud we’ve made it out there.
We saw great signs and had cheerleaders through much of the race. (One of my favourite signs was “Go random stranger go!”) And there were residents along the route who were outside in lawn chairs, cheering us on. There were two people, dressed as tigers, standing on top of a car, blaring “Eye of the Tiger” and dancing around. There were small children with hand signs for “FREE HIGH FIVES.” There were pleasant law enforcement officers. (Including the very kind one near the end who promised us there were no more hills and that we were in the final stretch. God bless that man.)
All that said, it was around mile 9 (of 13.1) that started looking pretty ugly for me. Where Every Single Part Of My Body screamed at me. My hips. My thighs. My calves. Everything. My stomach had also started playing topsy turvey with me, and that was less than ideal. (It meant I was also scared to take any of the gels I had with me, because I wasn’t sure what the additional sugar would do. I think taking the sugar/caffeine one first was probably a Bad Idea.) I was feeling really thirsty, but the more I drank, the sicker I felt. It felt like every single step was getting me further away from the finish.
Like I said, pretty ugly.
The last stretch of the race was one of the physically hardest things I’ve ever done. I was running on empty, I was this.close to bursting into tears, curling up in between the numbers at Oriole Stadium and just calling it quits. (This was less than a mile from the end.) Can I say I am grateful beyond measure for Sarah, who kept me going those last few hundred yards and that she pushed with everything left in her to make it the strongest finish we both could have had. Together, we reminded each other of why we run. (She beat me by 3 seconds. I have challenged her to a rematch next year. As long as we train.) It took every single thing inside of me to not give up, just say forget this, and walk (limp) away.
So, here I am, a few days later, and I can say how freaking proud I am of Sarah and myself, for not giving up, even though we were both tired, cranky, and really really sore. I can laugh about how it felt and know that when I talk about practice, it’s practice that can help me improve and it’s practice that helps me see the story I was telling myself. (Not in the moment. I hadn’t been practicing, remember?)
Here is to learning.
Here is to trying.
Here is to not giving up.
Here is to doing the best I could, where I was.
Here is to amazing running partners.
Here is to hills and putting them on our training route for next year.
Here is to what helps us move forward.
Here is to the first half marathon, completed.