I signed up for the E. Murray Todd Half Marathon at the encouragement of my co-worker, who won the race in 2002 with a time of 1:12 and change. He told me it was a tough course. He warned me about the hills. He advised me not to expect a PR.
After a rough week, I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to even go to the damn thing. The weather was shitty to boot, and I can’t stand running in the wind.
I talked it over with Coach on Friday, and he understood if I chose to sit it out, but he also gave me an earful about the strong woman he knows me to be, and she doesn’t give up, he said. I decided Coach was right. I would take it all out on the hills. Fuck the PR. It didn’t matter. I had a race to run.
I showed up to a gymnasium full of not-your-average-runners. Everyone was lean and fit. This was a no-bling, 39-year-old race for serious athletes only – a whole new league for me. What was I thinking? I don’t belong here… yes, I do. I’m fit. I’m a serious runner, albeit somewhat of a newbie.
I watched the advanced runners warm up with extravagant stretches and rituals I’d never seen. I stuffed my personal belongings in a locker and prepared to hit the starting line. Forgot my iPod. Crap. Back to the locker again, and I was so nervous, I could hardly set the combination. Music in hand, I headed towards the start once again. I saw a young woman fooling with her Garmin. My heart stopped. I forgot that, too! When I was finally put together, I lined up with a field of very impressive competition and lots of friendly faces in a bitterly cold wind.
And I was scared.
I had told the world I would be happy to break 2 hours on this tough course, but secretly, I wanted to be able to brag to my co-worker (and to Coach, and to everyone else) that I PR’d. Why not? I’m stubborn as hell. I’ve been training really hard.
Ultimately, my Fear was my undoing, I think. I was afraid of the hills, which ironically, were no different than the rolling hills on my training routes – they were just all bunched together. I went out too fast, strategizing that the hills would drag me down and I needed to make up time.
I was too afraid to slow down enough to take fluids and gels. What little I got into my mouth barely whet my whistle, and I’m pretty sure I wet my pants while I was struggling to bite open a stubborn Hammer gel. It wasn’t pretty.
I was so far into my Fear that Love didn’t stand a chance. I remember a couple of nice views through the farmlands, but I don’t remember enjoying any part of this race. The only time I smiled (a little) was when Justin Bieber’s song came on.
I wanted to stop at least a couple of times in the first 3 miles. This was a bad idea. I didn’t belong in this race. It was too hard. What was I thinking, anyway? The wind sucked. My lungs burned. I couldn’t breathe…
But at the 5 mile split, I was averaging 8:40’s. At 10 miles, I was averaging 8:49’s – still plenty of time for a PR.
At mile 12, I heard a trumpet blast, and there was my co-worker at the side of the path, encouraging all of his friends in the local running community with shouts and gestures. After a high-five, I felt a small bit of energy return to my spent body, and I pressed on. The last part was flat, but I was exhausted.
I suppose I made a conscious decision at some point in the final stretch to yield to my body. My head lost the game. I decided I didn’t care about anything except finishing. And every step from then on was excruciating except the one on the finishing mat.
I ended up 49 seconds away from a new half-marathon PR on a tough course with painful weather conditions. After my initial disappointment, I decided I was pretty damn proud of that.
I stuck around for the awards ceremony to admire the talent I had witnessed in this very well-run race. A PR wouldn’t have mattered; I was still such a very long way from competing with the amazing women in my age group.
I made my way home and into a hot shower and then bed. I was too tired to move and too wound-up to sleep, but eventually I grabbed a nap. After another 11 hours of sleep overnight, I’m still tired today. My legs feel fully recovered, but my chest still feels heavy and breathing is slightly painful.
Damn cold wind.
Amazingly, I’m ready to do it again. Next year, those hills had better buckle up, cuz I’m taking them for a ride.