Sunday I ran a hard race. It was a half I had really set to be a goal race and looked forward to for a couple months. It ended up being a comedy of errors and my whole weekend became filled with tears, so by the time I started the race (with our two-hour weather delay), I couldn’t have been in much worse of a mental state. And physically I had hurt my already-sore back more. The race was so humid, I couldn’t breathe (messes with my asthma), and hilly even for me, a person who regularly runs hills. I finished with an asthma attack, crying with relief as I crossed the finish line. Truth is, it’s the second best half I have ever run as far as time, but it scared me a bit because I could not have run to 14 that day. I was spent and it took all I had to run that whole way, but I knew after the personal pain of the weekend, and the struggle to run, that I had to keep running and deal with my back and breathing later. I did, and I feel good about it—especially after seeing I ranked pretty much in the middle. In a race that size, I am usually below that, so I knew I had really overcome. But boy was I ready to redeem it. And today I did.
People think all I do is run and so it’s not a big deal, but after 5 half marathons, the farthest I have gone is maybe 13.5 when I did not run the tangents in my first one, and likely it was closer to 13.4. So this month includes 3 very long runs, and today was our scheduled first one.
Shout out to a friend who has run two marathons and knows that the runs are hard alone. She got her bike ready and we set dates for the 16, 18, and 20-miler. The 20-miler is the key in marathon training. If you can do that, you are home free if you stay healthy and uninjured. But the very idea of running more than a half was daunting to me.
See, most of you know, I am not a natural runner. I do seem to handle distance pretty well, but I run my body. In school, I made so many excuses to get out of PE that often I actually dropped out of school to avoid the class. No exaggeration. I hated running more than anything. I could have survived anything but running. As a kid, I was teased all the time for being fat, for being slow and uncoordinated. Every run remains a miracle to me. Every picture I take becomes a reminder of that miracle. Often I look through my silly running selfies and I cry with joy and gratitude. There have been times those pictures have inspired me to keep going. No one else is going to do it for me. Running is you vs. you. Today’s run left me with many take always and thoughts:
First, today is May 2. Three years ago today I had major surgery. It was hard. There was a complication with a nerve and I was home alone in my apartment for about a month in pain. No visitors, no solutions. It was the worst and most debilitating pain of my life. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that much pain and live. It hit me as I got in the car after the run. From that monumental day to this one. It seemed appropriate for a date person.
This run was so much easier than Sunday’s dodge-people half in the hills and humidity. If you would have ever told me 16 could be easier than 13, I would have laughed at you, but it was. The small of my back hurt quite a bit past the 10 mile mark, but not much more did. At ten miles I was beaming.
Mentally, I was strong, talking the entire time. Laughing, having fun, all of it was a joy, even when it was harder. Sometimes I got tired or winded when it got warm or I was going uphill. I would slow my pace, but never stopped or walked. I had planned to if needed but I didn’t need to. I felt strong. It reminded me of the amazing Fairview Half where I PRed.
This brings me back to race culture. Runner’s World posted a picture this week about why we race—to be with each other.
Everyone knows I'm an introvert, and I'm usually a solo runner. I've never had a desire to run with people, but Fairview amazed me because I loved running with the others and falling into conversations whenever I was with someone. Our pace leaders held me for 7 miles, then I met up with two girls until 8 or 9. I had fun. And I ran my fastest ever half pace, so it didn’t slow me, but it made me speed up. If you recall, my comments on OKC were that the race culture was not as fun or friendly. And I really had an awareness this week of the importance of race culture to a successful race. I don’t run to win of course, so the experience is the reward. Today felt like Fairview, the joy of talking to someone. I was having fun, and she was making it easy for me. We race to be with each other. For now on my races will be more carefully selected. I will probably never run with someone exactly because I still believe in running my own race, but some races are conducive to that friendliness. Fairview was. And today felt like one of those.
We ran blind, not knowing which route we were taking, despite planning a couple. In the end we just started out and went. I run that way often and was just fine with not knowing where we were. Psychologically, the less I know, the better I am with distance. I do not want to know how far it is or what’s ahead. My Garmin and RunKeeper let me know the distance, but ultimately, just running out and back was ideal. We went all over the roads behind the hospital on 52nd to cross 82nd and almost to 112th before we turned back.
I realized how actually small our city is as I ran across most of the west side. I loved the open fields. Finally I turned on my favorite Chris Tomlin music but not with my headphones, just in my running pack. Chris sang, and sometimes we joined him, but mostly we talked.
The friend handed me water, GUs, a banana when I needed it, my inhaler, which I used proactively after the asthma attack last Sunday. I felt free, alive, happy, strong. To have someone alongside me was a gift. It was a first, apart from total strangers in races.
I do like to run with people. This has been my revelation is since the Fairview Half. The right company alongside you makes all the difference. I am a solo runner, and this is a real newsflash for me. And for daily runs, I would never want to be with people constantly, but long runs, put a friend next to me for the whole duration, or even strangers I like and laugh with like Fairview, and I am going to be successful. This blows all my running theories out the window.
When I hit that 16 mile mark today I was beyond excited.
We walked around a bit. I took pictures. I coveted the Diet Coke across the road. As we approached returning I said that it looked like a mirage—was there really a big Diet Coke that close to me? Neither of us had cash, but she used her debit card, true sacrifice. I guzzled and gulped that thing like I had not had one in years.
On the way out, we were walking and I was gulping. I was so giddy already that I was gushing to Cindy.
“Thank you so much. You’re my new best friend,” I said like a junior high kid.
Then I glanced back and some random lady was laughing I told a total stranger she was my new best friend! Oops! Cindy was behind her and was laughing too. I was amazed and amused. The lady looked at Cindy and said “Is she having a good day?” Cindy told her I was. That’s all she said. I’m pretty sure that lady thought I was drunk or something.
We got in the car to go home and I was still laughing about telling the stranger she was my best friend—and then I couldn’t stop laughing. I started laughing and laughing and laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Suddenly it was the most hysterical thing ever. The runner’s high had gone into full gear. It was wonderful. There hasn’t been too much laughter in my world lately—especially that uncontrollable belly-ache laughter, not for some time. For that reason alone I can imagine the 18 and 20 mile runs coming up.
We got back to the house, and I continued giggling and gushing to her family as I got myself together to go home (via work where I had stopped for bragging rights!). I felt like a new person. I went from a rotten, heartbreaking week to being on top of the world.
It only took 16 miles.
(See below for video of my obnoxiously happy self post-run)