Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Thanksgiving day half marathon

Thanksgiving day half marathon

    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.

At the finish line

At the finish line