I decided to run in the Thanksgiving half marathon the night before the race. I thought it would be a good idea to get some additional mileage under my belt and it would be a structured way to train on a day that I might otherwise lack motivation. I convinced myself that this race was merely a training activity. I didn’t cycle down the week prior. In fact, since it was such a last minute decision on my part, I ran a hard nine miles two days before. I was anything but rested. This would be my first “running only” race (not involving stairs or mud). I had no idea what to expect.
I never run on pavement.
I never track my pace.
I run by feel. When I go uphill, I alter my stride to what feels comfortable.
When I go downhill, I do the same. When I’m tired on a long run, I find energy from the plants and animals that surround me.
I don’t think about the clock. I don’t listen to music. I just breathe and listen.
I arrived at the event an hour early since I had to register that day. It was a bitter forty degrees and there was a freshly formed frost on the grass. My fingers tingled from the cold when I took my gloves off to use the pen. After signing up, I had fifty minutes to kill, so I started to think of a good goal time in the warmth of my car. I knew that I wouldn’t be competitive with the top runners, but I thought that running the race under two hours would be achievable. Though I’d only been running for six months, and exclusively on the trails, I really had no basis for my goal other than knowing that a sub two hour half marathon was a solid time for a beginner runner.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous before the race. As it started, the congestion created an anxiety deep within me that caused me to run fast to get away from the polluted path. I quickly settled into what I thought was an easy ten minute mile, though I still had no real gauge for time. My lungs weren’t stressed, and it felt easy. I listened to my body, and continued at the pace. I drowned out the pounding and monotony of the pavement with music: a new concept for me.
I ran with a group of three people who were at my pace, and I followed them to the turn around. This was the first time that I looked at my watch: it showed 1:01. I knew I had to pick up the pace to get under two hours. As I left the aid station, I lengthened my stride and turned up the music. I had one thought: must go faster.
It was a lonely six miles back. I did not enjoy the run. I listened to the music… the words, the beat of the bass… anything to get my mind off of what I was doing. At mile 11, my legs started to feel sore from the pavement. I gritted my teeth, lengthened my stride even more, and distracted myself even further into the abyss of Nikki Minaj and Usher. I tricked my body… if I couldn’t feel it, it wasn’t happening.
I saw the finish line, and crossed it with a deep sigh of relief. On one level, I felt a great sense of accomplishment: 1:55. I was elated with my time and my performance. However, as time went by, I started to feel conflicted about the race. While I achieved all of my goals, and I learned a lot, I didn’t have fun during the race: I did everything within my power to block out the experience as it was happening: the impact of the pavement, the impact of the competition, the impact of pass/fail goals.
On the Sunday following the race, I went for my favorite nine mile run up Windy Hill. It was a foggy cold day at the base. However, once I got above 1500 feet, the sun was shining, and I could see the fog sitting below in the valley. I went slowly, and enjoyed all the views. I even stopped a few times to soak in the sun. This run reminded me of why I love to run…
I love to run because it makes me feel good
I love to run because for two hours a day, I can lose myself in the wilderness, connect with nature, and center myself.
Although the 50k is only a month away, the half marathon was an invaluable training experience that taught me more about myself than I could have imagined.