The Path To My First Half Marathon

Running for pleasure still seems like such an odd thing to do. It isn’t necessarily easy. It makes my muscles and joints hurt like I’ve been in a car accident. And frankly it is hard to make time for. So why do it? Because it is so easy to get caught up in the competitive spirit that you find at races. Additionally, the people you meet are fantastic.

I never ran as a kid. EVER. I was on the varsity track team for 4 years, but that was only because I lived in a tiny town and only participated in strength events. I have a paralyzed vocal chord and it has always made any kind of strenuous activity difficult. The old advice of still being able to talk while running has never held true for me. I truly can’t walk and talk without long pauses between sentences. As a kid it was easy to just say that I couldn’t do it. After all I had an excuse. As an adult my perspective changed. “Why can’t I do it?”.

I started running a little over a year ago. I ran my first 5K with our families best friend on little more than a whim. She asked me to run with her and I registered at the race that morning. I ran slow but I was thrilled with the results. I ran a little less than a 10 minute mile and had a smile from ear to ear. After this I conned this same friend into another 5K and ran a little over 24 minutes. Unfortunately for me I own a Garmin which immediately pointed out that the course was short. I still ran less than a 9 minute mile which fueled thoughts of yet another race.

So, crazy running girl sends me the site for the Warrior Dash and I said why not. I tried to recruit every person I could find. I figured that it was  a perfect fun run. A couple of brave souls stepped forward including a couple of my close friends from Bowling Green. We did indeed have a great day and I ended up running the Warrior Dash again a few months later.

So, to help you with the math, I had run 2 5Ks and 2 fun trail races that were about 3.5 miles long to date. Then my friend from Bowling Green announces that she is going to run the Columbus Marathon trying for the third time in a year to break 3:30. It was like putting candy in front of a baby. I hadn’t even remotely thought about a half marathon, but I started thinking that I just wanted to be there when she accomplished her goal. So, after a little thinking and maybe a couple of glasses of wine I registered. Oops. What the hell was I thinking?

Too late. Misery loves company, so I immediately tried to recruit support, once again starting with my running wife. She, apparently as crazy as me, accepts.

So, now I’m in this thing… how do I train? Thank goodness for Amy and Todd Ahrens. Amy was the one targeting sub 3:30 and they were my go to couple for any of my running questions which seemed never ending. They agreed that Hal Higdon’s programs were fine so I started training. Then the wheels feel off.

I took a job.

I know, it was a silly thing to do. I had been lucky enough to stay home with my kids for over three years, but they were both now in school full time and dad really wanted to talk with adults again.  An opportunity came up in education and I decided that it was a good opportunity. Only problem was that it took up a huge chunk of those daylight hours. I also have kids that really wanted dad’s attention when I came home. It made it really hard to get away on runs and I skipped out on a LOT of runs. My training program was horrible. I skipped weeks of running and when I did run, I would run 3 – 5 miles at a really slow pace. Occasionally I would get a long run in on the weekends but I didn’t run nearly enough.

I started panicking the last couple of weeks before the race and started sending an email a minute to my friend Amy. “What do I eat?” “What do I wear” “Can I make it?” She in typical fashion patiently answered all of my questions. One of our conversations still stands out.

2 weeks before the race I was talking with Amy about being nervous. She simply asked what was the longest run I had run and how far did I run that day. Simple question right? Sadly I knew that I didn’t have a good answer. I had only run 10 miles once and had only run 2 miles that day and it felt like a thousand.

Her response. “WTF!”

Enough said. The next week I ran about 4 times but nothing more than 5 miles.  This is going to be a long day.

So getting to the race. My running wife and her husband picked me up about an hour and a half before the race. It took us only about 30 minutes to get down town and get parked. It was cold. No really. I was shivering. I had worn an old long sleeve shirt that I planned on throwing off along the course and it wasn’t cutting it. My friend was laughing at me as he stood there in his Notre Dame stocking cap and jacket. No fair. Truth be told, even he was cold.

In the last few minutes, Angie and I slipped into our corral and waited patiently for the time to come. Then it was here. The start gun, fireworks etc., all suggested that the race had started. But we were at the back. It took almost 10 minutes for us to reach the starting line. After that it was off to the races.

Angie squirted out onto the course and weaved in and out like a woman on a mission. I didn’t know how the day was going to go, but I knew that her pace was going to kill me. As a side note. Angie must weigh about 90 lbs soaking wet. I’m 230+ lbs and 6’6″. She was like trying to chase a rabbit through a briar patch. She would slip through a gap and I would get blocked by bodies. I would then wait for my moment and then accelerate, weave and push my way back onto her heels. By mile 3 I knew that I couldn’t continue this chase. She started to pull away and by mile 4 she was out of my sight. In a way I was happy. She was running a great race. But now, I was alone in a sea of people.

I had an mp3 player that I really had debated about using at all. I wanted to experience the sounds and excitement of the course. In the end I really wanted it and was glad I had it. Of course, my arm strap broke and I carried it in my hand for the last 10 miles or so.

The course was beautiful. For someone living in the suburbs, it was like taking a tour of my own city. The crowd was fantastic and I had a couple of friends that I hadn’t seen in 20 years yell out my name. What a surprise!

I know you want to know how the run was. Right? Well, good, sort of… Strangely I never thought about the mileage or stopping. It really didn’t seem to register. I had a pace where I could still breath fairly easy and I tried to keep my cadence as high as possible while not exhausting myself. Before the race, I was really concerned about doing anything aerobically for 2 plus hours. I was used to a 30 minute cardio workout being the norm. Now I was trying for 4 to 5 times that length. In the end, my mind was some place else. The negative thoughts never entered my mind. I just knew I had to keep moving.

By mile 9 I was getting tired. Significantly tired. I became way too aware that my right hamstring felt like a guitar string. Every time my foot hit the pavement I felt like it was playing it’s own little painful tune. I kept moving. My pace started slowing significantly my mile 10. By mile 12 I was really hoping that the race would end soon. This was the first time that I thought that my legs were going to cramp bad enough that I wouldn’t be able to finish. They really hurt at this point. My calves and hamstrings were pleading with me to stop. The only time I stopped running was to walk through the water stations. I tried to alternate between gatorade and water.

The last half mile for me was brutal. I knew where the finish line was. I knew all I had to do was to climb a tiny hill, turn left and run down the hill. By the time I reached my little summit I couldn’t even accelerate down the hill. I just kept slugging through my last few steps. Then I was done.

I took my solar blanket and bowed to have a medal placed around my neck and then stumbled into the reception village. I was on the verge of crying. My legs hurt so bad I just wanted to sit but there wasn’t any place to sit. Eventually I made my way to the end of the field and sat in the grass wrapped in my foil blanket. I had never been so happy to sit in wet grass.

My final time was 2:23:45. I was happy. I ran under an 11 minute mile and had just ran 3 miles farther than I had ever run in my life. I was asked that night if would I try a marathon next. I said ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! I didn’t even want to think about running a half marathon again. But I’m not 100% sure now. The pain does eventually fade.