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.
And here's something else I've worked on quite a bit in 2012: a new digital magazine, called Liberty+Vine. Check out our free sample issue, which includes an article I wrote about my experience of running, specifically in the Jerusalem Half-Marathon in March.
As good as I was feeling at Mile 8, smiling for the camera as I ran along Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I felt twice as bad at Mile 11.
I knew I couldn't finish this race. I had gone out too fast, trying to keep up with my dear friend and running partner, Maggie Jenkins, and I had really lost my rhythm in Mile 10, struggling to ingest a Gu packet while trying to breathe on a day when my sinuses simply would not cooperate.
The Indy 500 Festival mini-marathon May 8 was my second half-marathon, just me, Maggie and 35,000 or so of our closest pals.
I had no idea what to expect in terms of my time, given the crowd and the 26 mph winds (!), so I just set out to run with Maggie and get through the race with a shred of dignity intact.
I was doing just that, not worrying about time, until the Gu debacle in Mile 10. It was then that Maggie started to pull away from me a bit, and my natural, God-given lack of athleticism reared its head.
I was tired. Limbs and digits were starting to hurt, and the mile markers started feeling farther apart. And at some point came the kiss of death: the realization that I potentially could run a good time if I just didn't blow it.
From that point on, my mind was out of the game. I managed to catch Maggie and I told her I was going to need some help. I was, with just 2 miles to go, genuinely doubting my ability to finish.
She dutifully gave me the encouragement and support I needed -- and that I immediately rejected. There was no scrap of belief left in my brain.
Nevertheless, I kept going, and we made it to the Mile 12 marker. Yet still I was 100 percent certain I could not finish this race. I was utterly spent -- I had run as hard as I possibly could run for 12 miles at a pace I never before had achieved for that distance. And again, Maggie started pulling away, just enough.
That's when I started going backward. Well, technically I was moving forward, but people were passing me right and left. Where were they getting this energy? Why was I the only one in quicksand?
I made it to the sign that said there was 3/4 of a mile to go. I was ready to cry. I couldn't get up to Maggie, and I felt completely pathetic. And so I caved.
"I need some help," I whimpered.
Instantly, a young blonde woman a few paces ahead turned and ran back to me and grabbed my left hand. "You can do it," she assured me.
Seconds later, Maggie looked back and saw us. She, too, ran back and took my right hand. The three of us ran along -- all the while, me still doubting my ability to cross the line, which seemed to be several cities away, somewhere on the other side of the Alps.
Both Maggie and my new mystery friend -- Kim from Evansville, I learned post-race -- offered me everything they had. All I could offer were my apologies and my profound gratitude.
What has followed has been a mix of emotions I cannot quite describe. Our time was 1:53.32. I was stunned. That bettered my Key West time in January by four minutes. For me, it was blazing fast.
I was thrilled. I felt good, even proud. Happy. Satisfied. We stood in Military Park taking pictures and celebrating.
And then there was Sunday, when I saw the finish-line photos.
On came the guilt, for bringing down Maggie and Kim, who could have run much faster.
And the embarrassment, for needing to ask for help from a total stranger because I lacked the physical and mental strength to persevere on my own.
And the regret, of seeing Maggie cross the line with a huge smile on her face while I huffed and puffed and ruined what should have been a triumphant moment.
I don't have the words to convey the debt of thanks I feel to Maggie and Kim for sacrificing their own times to help me keep going to the finish line. It was such loving kindness -- how can you repay such a thing?
I can only hope both women know how much I appreciate what they did and how much I respect them. They are extraordinary gals with open, generous hearts.
All I can do is try to follow in their footsteps.
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