Just moved this over from another blog site. Seven months later, I still do think about this race.
When you’re running a half-marathon, you have plenty of time to think. In my case, about 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Yesterday I ran the Cleveland Half-Marathon in 2:21.07. Two weeks ago, I ran the Flying Pig Half-Marathon in 2:22. On March 16, I ran the Jerusalem Half-Marathon in 2:20.
Those aren’t times I can get very excited about, honestly. (My first half-marathon, in Key West in January 2010, was a 1:58!)
But then it hits me: three half-marathons in two months’ time, intermingled with two overseas trips, kettlebell training and a minor leg injury. That ain’t too shabby.
Cleveland was one of my slowest races ever, and also one of my best. I feel like it was as mentally tough as I’ve ever been.
Mile by mile
I hadn’t run a step since the Pig. I decided to register for Cleveland because it had been in my head for weeks and I just wanted to see if I could do it. I knew the course was largely flat, and with my husband running, I knew I’d feel bad if I were just a spectator.
Not unlike at the Pig, the weather in Cleveland was HOT. And in the third mile, I already was thinking about how uncomfortable I was and how much I would rather be doing anything but running. My back had tightened up big-time after kettlebells on Wednesday. My IT band and my hip were hurting. And it was just … so … hot.
I decided to get to Mile 3 and take it from there. Happily, there was some shade and a good amount of crowd support. So I decided to go to Mile 4. Made it! Decided to go for 5 with the hope of 6 — I know I can run a 10k, right?
I took it mile by mile up to 9, when I decided around 9.2 or so to walk. It was interesting, though. I never felt like I was giving up. I felt like I was taking a break I needed to stay strong later. I also knew that from the 10 marker to 11 was the Carnegie Bridge, which I’d handled on a training run in 2010, and I was determined to conquer it again.
And conquer it I did. But just after the 11 marker, I got a little wimpy. There was no shade in sight and I was melting. So I walked a bit more, up until I saw the road bend. With that visual cue, I started running again and kept it up through the end.
That was a big deal for me. I have trouble in the last mile of every race. It’s as if my mind just shuts down on me with anxiety. In the final mile, I absolutely know I cannot finish the race. Bizarre but true.
But yesterday, I found some power in my playlist. The surprise hit was “Always Love,” by Nada Surf. This was its debut on a running playlist; I only recently downloaded it after being reminded of it in an episode of “One Tree Hill.” (OTH is now responsible for three of my favorite running songs!)
In addition to just generally rocking out, I was struck by the lyrics differently than usual:
To make a mountain of your life is just a choice
But I never learned enough to listen to the voice that told me
Always love … Hate will get you every time
Always love … Don’t wait til the finish line
Slow demands come ’round, squeeze the air and keep the rest out
It helps to write it down, even when you then cross it out
But Always Love … Hate will get you every time
Always Love … Even when you wanna fight
Self-directed lives … I want to know what it’d be like to
Aim so high above any card that you’ve been dealt, you …
Always Love … Hate will get you every time
Always Love … Hate will get you
On to the finish
Maybe it was the heat, but I had the thought that that song was perfect for that moment. It was a choice whether to make that last mile a mountain or not. And it was a choice whether to turn that run into an exercise of self-loathing (as per usual) or to decide that, by God, I was going to feel some love for myself and what I was out there doing.
And it worked! It wasn’t easy; I mean, I still was thinking, “OK, when I turn this corner, I have to walk.” But then I turned the corner and kept running. And then I turned another corner and saw the 13-mile marker and the finish line.
I finished the race running hard and strong and rocking out — singing, even — to Shinedown’s “Sound of Madness.”
The mystery of running
It’s odd to me that my time was basically the same as my Pig time. During the Pig, I had a huge mental meltdown at Mile 4, followed by a bunch of other wimpy moments and one more huge mental meltdown in that dreaded final mile.
What it tells me is a) I’m much more affected by heat than I am by hills or even injury, and b) running is just weird and hard. Period. It’s just an unpredictable pursuit. And as my mom suggested on Facebook, maybe that’s exactly why I do it.
During the Cleveland expo on Saturday, Joan Benoit was speaking and made the comment: “Every finish line I crossed, I always found a reason to keep going.”
I loved that. And even though those exact words didn’t run through mind during the race, I did keep finding reasons to keep going.
And so another finish line has been crossed. I’ve run eight half-marathons and one full since January 2010. There might be more in my future — or maybe not.
It’s up to me; it’s my choice. I’ve already aimed high above the cards I’ve been dealt, athletically. I think that counts as a “self-directed” life.
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